If you have missed the launch of Freefly Systems MoVi M10 rig then you must have had your head stuck in the ground for the past 6 months. This camera rig has hit the ground running with so much information regarding this supposedly ‘all singing, all dancing’ gimbal-based stabiliser strewn all over the internet through You Tube, Forums and the like. But, what is it really like to work with? I have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to use this rig in the field for the past 6-months (both as a Technician and now an Operator) having been in possession of the first unit in the UK. The projects I have worked on have stretched the spectrum of the industry from corporate films all the way through to high-end commercials and Hollywood feature films. There has been a steep learning curve with regards to the MoVi M10 and to say that we have pushed the rig to its limits would be an understatement.
The MoVi M10 is balanced on 3 Axis (Pan, Tilt and Roll). In order to obtain this balance the unit must to be on a sturdy, level platform away from external factors such as wind. Without this then you will find it difficult to obtain the perfect balance giving motor drop out, overheating and a low battery life over the long term. This is unlike Steadicam where, due to the nature of the balance, as long as you are not in hurricane force winds you can still obtain perfect balance – this is not the case with the MoVi M10. The MoVi M10 has to be perfectly balanced and still previous to engaging the gimbals. If at any time the rig moves by a physical knock or a gust of wind during this critical time then the gimbals fail to initialise. The process of initial balance takes similar time to that of Steadicam – allow a good hour. As you get more experienced with the rig then this initial balance time falls. On the safe side, always allow an hour.
Once the balance has been achieved and all the settings have been inputted then the rig is good to go. Unlike Steadicam, where the weight of the rig is taken on the Operators hips giving it a good grounding, the MoVi M10 is fully supported by the Operators arms and upper body putting a lot of strain on the triceps, shoulder and trapezium muscles. For many Operators, these muscles are not accustomed to holding this weight for a long period of time and, if not careful, can lead to injury. This puts the MoVi M10 rig at a disadvantage as it means the Operator can only go for half the amount of time a Steadicam Operator can go. Between takes it is advisable for a Grip to be present to take the weight of the rig. In the absence of a Grip then a camera assistant could follow with the stand.
The Operation of the rig can be performed singularly or as part of a pairing. There are three modes to choose between. The first mode is fully majestic; this is where the Operator holding the rig can have full control of pan and tilt. They can alter the settings of the gimbals using the Freefly Systems App to create the perfect movement depending on the shot in question. The second mode is to turn the MoVi M10 into a handheld remote head. Here there will be two operators: one, controlling the movement of the rig whilst the second operator taking full control of the camera head via an octocopter remote control. The third mode is a mixture between the two. Here, the operator controlling the rig has full control of majestic pan and tilt whilst the remote control operator can override the tilt. The idea behind this is so the remote control operator can concentrate on headroom in the shot. In my experience whenever a dual operator mode is selected then, as a must, the two operators need open mic headsets to communicate throughout the process. This takes away any form of spontaneity within the shots and they must be well choreographed in order to get the desired result. The preferred mode is that of single user majestic mode. This mode takes some time to master, in particular, how the Operators hand movements affect the gimbals together with the settings selected in the App. The biggest positive is that should your balance and gimbal settings be correct then the MoVi M10 will always hold the horizon and eliminate any roll.
As the MoVi M10 is a gimbal-based unit then the Operator will have to get used to a delay. This is how the MoVi M10 creates such smooth and seamless results by the amount of delay/smoothness that is applied to the gimbals. Without any of this delay then affectively you are just going handheld. If this is the case then you may as well shove the camera on your shoulder and go handheld. The smooth shots that you see shown all over the Internet are achieved by altering the smoothness/delay of the gimbals on the rig.
Throughout the filming day the rig will have to be tweaked whether that is through changing a lens, filter or battery pack. With an experienced Technician/Operator then this process can be the same as Steadicam (circ. 5 minutes). During this time, the balance will need to be checked and the settings altered for the next shot. It is always advisable to have a technician/assistant trained on the MoVi M10 to do this. I have worked on many productions with the MoVi M10 now and can report that the Camera Assistant or Focus Puller is not qualified to do this job. If you have a MoVi Operator who is happy to do these tweaks as he goes along then that would be a bonus (I do it on all the jobs I operate on).
Although, once balanced, the MoVi M10 can affectively be operated by anyone or anybody this is not advisable. In my experience the best MoVi M10 operators have been Steadicam Operators in the past. The reason for this is because of the knowledge of body movements and shot acquisition. There is a markable difference between someone who operates the rig from a camera background to that of someone with a Steadicam background. The shots are smoother regardless of any gimbal settings and of higher quality. The MoVi M10, in my view, is to be used in those situations where Steadicam can’t be used or is too expensive to be used. In particular, those shots going up and down stairs, in tight spaces or wanting to make use of the full vertical axis that Steadicam struggles with. It is far easier to use then the Alien Revolution (AR) Rig and have fewer issues attached to them. Should an Operator who is not qualified in camera movement use the MoVi rig then the quality of the shot cannot be guaranteed. It is well worth the effort of employing a MoVi Operator/Technician to make sure that you are getting the most out of the rig. In the right situation, the MoVi M10 is a powerful tool. Let’s embrace it with realistic viewpoints as opposed to thinking it’s the answer to cheap moving shots. In the right hands the MoVi M10 can do marvellous work. A great piece of equipment to add to your production kit list.