Using Robotics To See The Unseen
Capturing precise, dynamic action in high-speed with camera movement requires extensive levels of automation. Leaders in visual engineering, RiTE Media Group specialise in combining high-speed filmmaking with ground-breaking robotics, such as MRMC’s Bolt Cinebot rig, to create breathtaking visuals.
Collaborating with Director and Visual Engineer Steve Giralt, RiTE produced this beautiful short film – ‘Shoemaker’ – a visually arresting examination of the shoemaking process.
Steve Giralt commented “The Shoemaker is the story of the making of a leather shoe in a visually different way. A big part of my visual engineering storytelling process involves breaking down a thing or idea, examining its parts, and capturing the process of putting them back together. For Shoemaker, I examined the process of making a shoe and created a visual interpretation of that process through my eyes and the eye of the camera.“
RiTE also created a revealing behind the scenes video of the shoot, demonstrating the technical expertise and intricate, bespoke engineering solutions required to capture the amazingly detailed footage.
EXPLAINING THE HOW…
Colin Michael, a Visual Engineer at RiTE Media, explains in more detail how some of the shots were achieved here:
The approach is simple. It starts with understanding the shot we are after, breaking it down into its moving parts and working out the physics we need to control. The next step is to design a rig specifically tailored to the particular action to be automated for the shot.
When you’re shooting close up, macro high-speed action, it’s imperative that the camera motion control system and the actions of the subject are totally synchronised. This level of precision is made possible by MRMC’s Flair motion control system.
At RiTE we build our own specialised robots to work in tandem with our MRMC Bolt Cinebot rig, and the most satisfying part of building one of these bespoke shot-specific rigs is hooking it up to Flair and seeing it come to life. When I’m standing at the controls for the Bolt and our custom automation rigs, I often find myself thinking about how impossible it would be to pull this off by using human hands alone. Human reaction time cannot come close to the precision required to create these automated high-speed shots.
The pencil and Xacto blade shots required a horizontal motion across a surface as well as an additional axis to control pressure. We used a custom rig that I had initially built to pour and spin beverage bottles and added a regulated pneumatic cylinder to control the pen and knife pressure. The rig consists of a slider base driven by a 6-amp stepper motor, an MRMC model mover turntable mounted to that base, a custom 3D printed mount to house a mDrive 23 motor on the rotation platform, which finally drives a long rotating shaft. On the end of the long rotating shaft, we designed and printed a joint assembly that would hold the pencil or knife as well as the small actuator to control the pressure. This assembly was set up in Flair as three auxiliary axes, the actuator was triggered via Flair using MRMC’s trigger box.
THE HOLE PUNCH…
For the hole punch shot, we swapped the pencil & blade portion of the rig with a larger actuator fitted with the hole punch on the end. This allowed us to hover over the leather, punch a hole, move to the next point, punch another, and so on.
Being able to program the camera motion and the movement of the subject within the same interface was crucial to the success of these shots. This allowed us to spend more time focusing on other important details, such as lighting. Another slider was set up with a Hive 100c light mounted to the platform and we used a long actuator to send the light sliding across the background at very high speeds. This was also triggered using MRMC’s trigger box.
To create the hammer shot, we built a custom rig similar to a hold-down clamping actuator. We used Actobotics parts for the frame, a Festo actuator and a custom 3d printed clevis fitted with four shaft idler bearings for super smooth and repeatable hammer strikes.
For the sewing machine footage, we rigged a large Festo actuator to the same surface the machine was bolted down to. This was automated using Flair’s cyclic triggering mode which lets you repeat trigger on-off signals like a metronome, saving a lot of time by not having to manually input each command into a table with corresponding trigger commands. Overall, this project was a huge technical challenge but we’re all proud of the way it turned out!
Director: Steve Giralt | DP: Justin Dombrowski | Visual Engineer: Colin Michael Quinn | Producer: Jacob Kiesgen, Indiana Robbins | Edit: Nadine Mueller | Color: Dario Bigi | Sound Design: Paris Schulman, TJ Dumser, Drew Mullins | Musical Arrangement: Paris Schulman