MōVI – a revolutionary handheld stabilized “Game Changer”

April 9, 2013

by Vincent Laforet

Vincent Laforet's Blog

My first memories from my childhood involve the dream of flight.

I imagine that I’m far from alone when it comes to having been terribly addicted to bolting down a hall as a child, my arms spread out like wings, and feeling the rush of gravity as I accelerated around a corner as fast as my legs could propel me, my eyes closed.  The thrill of reckless abandon and the sensation of taking the tightest of turns always trumped the risk of a collision with the unknown.

Flying is about letting go.

Many of us have in the cinema industry have never truly grown up.  We have found a way to hold onto our youth in flying cameras through scenes borne of our imaginations defying the laws of time and physics as we move through our frame.

But any filmmaker – professional or amateur – will tell you that gravity is all too often a cruel reminder of how hard taking flight can be.   Moving a camera in a steady path is one of the biggest challenges for all of us.

That is until you hold the handheld “MoVI” device in your hands and run, or drive, or fly only to see your clumsiness and bumps turned into a near perfect trajectory – thanks to insanely fascinating technology of gyro stabilization and accelerometers.  The “MōVI” produced by Freefly Systems based in Seattle WA.,  is a digital 3-axis gyro-stabilized handheld camera gimbal.

The completely silent device weighs under 3.5 pounds bare and can be operated solo, or with the help of a second “gimbal” operator with a joystick to pull off some incredible moves.

That’s just the beginning of what this thing can do (more to that below the jump) but for now, here’s a peek of the first shoot ever done with the MōVI – every shot was made with it, a Canon EOS 1DC and a Canon EFCine Prime 24mm 1.3 (at 1.3!) and a Zeiss 18mm CP.2 for the aerial footage:

MōVI from Vincent Laforet on Vimeo.

Here’s the MōVI gizmo in action:

MoVI by Freefly Systems from Vincent Laforet on Vimeo.

And the behind the scenes video with director and inventor’s commentary explaining exactly what it does:

So why do I think this is a game changer:

Some of you may not exactly get what this device does at first, why you might need it, or how you would use it.   That is until you get your hands on it – and then your way of thinking about camera movement and general camera support will change.  Guaranteed – everyone who’s handled the device agrees.  It’s going to be difficult not to have one of these tools on your productions going forward.

This device isn’t the end of the sticks, Steadicam, slider, dolly or jib to be sure… but it sure will make you think twice about using those tools on many of your shots when you find out how quickly this device allows you to execute a similar shot but in a fraction of the time.   It can literally take longer to explain a shot,  than it would to execute a perfect shot with the MōVI.    Heck you’ll even think twice about every using a tripod for a quick pan or tilt shot – when you realize you can do that with a “push” or a circular forward movement left (a curved dolly track…)  Except you don’t need to lay track down …

The danger of this device is that you’re going to want to shoot Scorsese’s famous Copacabana shot from Goodfellas every time you pick this unit up.  You’ll do well to remember that short takes and editing are the key to a nice flow in almost any piece.  Yet that amazing shot you’ve dreamed of accomplishing is closer to becoming a reality than it has before.   Obviously in this short my effort was to string as many long shots together as possible to show off the device – and that can be a challenge as a director.

That being said the beauty of this device is how quickly you can also make more simple shots.   A push or slide is done in seconds and near perfectly.   You can add a tilt or pan to that too to make it even fancier if you’d like with little effort.  And the speed at which you can work is hard for many producers (including a friend and long time producer I worked with on a commercial this week… until he sees the results and how quickly you can get them.)  Then you run down stairs, walk across a busy intersection, or ride in a vehicle and your head will certainly spin…

It’s unbelievably liberating.

Another big factor:  It will be affordable – the initial mid-level (in terms of weight support) MōVI M10 will sell for approx $15K and is already under production.   The second, smaller version, the M5 that will be on sale at some point in the near future (once the production capacity is in full swing) will be sold for a price point under $7,500.    If you consider how much we spend on handheld rigs, sliders, jibs (let alone Glidecams/Steadicams etc.) – the price of this device quickly becomes a no-brainer…  Another huge factor:  it takes quite a bit of time to set up a JIB, let alone weights, crew and skill to operate.  The learning curve on this unit is very very fast.

The MoVI can travel in a thin suitcase as carry luggage and weights under 4 pounds…  A steadicam is an awesome tool but takes years to master.   I was able to operate this device within minutes…   I will admit to having experience in operating Cineflex systems in Helicopters and Russian Arms on fast moving vehicles.   And I can say that the way the joystick on the two person configuration operates is nearly identical.    And the point is that the MōVI M10 is cheaper to buy with extra bells and whistles than it is to RENT a Cineflex for one day…  keep that in mind and why that leads me to consider this technology to merit the dreaded and overused term:  Game Changer.

The first unit that is being released – the M10 – supports a camera up 10 pounds with accessories.  That equates to a DSLR with a lot of accessories or a bare Epic and prime lens.  We’ve been using the Epic and the Canon primes and Zeiss CP.2 lenses all week on a commercial without a hitch.   A future version the M20 is slated to support an Alexa or Epic package w/ zoom, price and date TBD.   The guys behind this work with Epics and Alexas on a regular basis and are cinema guys.   Tabb Firchau & Hugh Bell have worked on several productions with me (JOB, Mobius) and Hugh is one of the best steadicam operators I’ve worked with in the industry.   The point is that these are passionate cinema people who are going to cater to what we need as filmmakers.

If you’re going to NAB you’ll want to look up Freefly Systems as they will be exhibiting these models live at their booth (#C9848) next week.

To see what this unit looks like on one of their RC Helicopters… check out the video below….


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