What is a Steadicam?
A Steadicam is a mechanical device which stabilises a handheld camera while the operator is moving, providing a smooth shot during motion.
In the early days of filmmaking, if someone wanted to take a moving shot, they’d either need to set up a dolly (a levelled and wheeled mount that would run along a predetermined track) or have the camera operator hold and move the camera manually.
The Steadicam was invented to give Hollywood filmmakers a mobile, camera-stabilising way of capturing smooth, dynamic movement. With a Steadicam, the camera operator could follow actors or create extended scenes without their shaking appearing on film.
What is a Steadicam shot?
A Steadicam shot is any kind of video footage filmed using a Steadicam. Normally, a Steadicam shot tracks a moving subject to produce an incredibly smooth action. It removes the need for time-consuming and expensive set ups using cranes or dolly tracks.
Steadicam shots are most useful when capturing footage:
- Along a road.
- Up or down a flight of stairs.
- Around corners.
- Through doorways into a building.
- Moving down a busy city street.
- During fight scenes.
Think about the last thing you watched, or bear this in mind for whatever you next watch, and you can easily spot scenes where Steadicam techniques will be in use.
What is a Steadicam operator?
Steadicam operators are trained and experienced camera operators. They wear a vest attached to a camera rig, which helps them move more freely and capture smooth shots wherever they walk - around corners, up and down stairs and along busy streets.
History of the Steadicam
The first movie to use a Steadicam was 1976 drama Bound for Glory, which went on to win an Academy Award for Best Cinematography. Since then, Steadicam shots have been used expertly in thousands of movies, from the Star Wars series to Rocky, Goodfellas and many more.
The Steadicam was invented and developed by Garrett Brown in the 1970s. Working as a cinematographer, his dislike for shaky, handheld shots encouraged him to spend months working on a prototype of the Steadicam. After a lot of fine-tuning, he made a reel of ‘impossible shots’ around Philadelphia with some friends using it – so-called as these shots couldn’t be captured with current Hollywood technology.
Soon, a manufacturing deal was set up and renowned director Stanley Kubrick even got in touch, telling Brown he would “revolutionise the way films are shot”. Another director, John G. Avildsen was also interested, which lead to Brown and the Steadicam being used to shoot the iconic steps scene in Rocky.
Brown has gone on to shoot more than 100 films with the Steadicam – including The Shining, Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom and Blowout. Today, you’ll find a Steadicam on almost every professional film set around the world.