Its development and use

Posts tagged “Panorama

Things that didn’t work

It took a year to develop the latest camera dolly.  A year of making mistakes, having ideas, building stuff and moving on.

I don’t mind this process – I spent 7 years doing scientific research and the only way to progress is to be wrong.  But you have to be wrong in the right way – you have to understand why you’re wrong and what you need to do next time.  If you don’t understand that, then you’re doing things more or less at random.  So everything I did wrong, I made sure I understood why before designing something else.  The internet helped a lot – there you can look at other peoples ideas, and, most valuably, look at what they did that failed so you don’t have to do it.  Saves heaps of time.

The way to be more successful is to make more mistakes.

Here’s some ideas that were simply daft in the first place, or failed for some other unforseen reason.


Grandma’s electric cart worked surprisingly well – but was far too fast for the dolly shots.  Nevertheless, for straight movies it looks like a good one.  However you do need a granny who is helpful, plus cart – I realise that all 3 are not necessarily available to everyone.


The golf cart not only looks silly, it doesn’t work either – too fast and too bumpy.  I then geared it down by 1/5 and put another motor on it, but it was still bumpy.  However worth bearing in mind that these golf carts have huge pulling power – they will take a pretty weighty load of golf clubs up hill, and are very well engineered.  Lots of them around – these were scrap for $5 each.


This one worked pretty well, and was robust, if a little big, but was too fast.  It’s made from a garage door opener motor and gearbox, printer paper roller, and the ubiquitous skateboard wheels (which have several grades, depending on the number of bearings in them: betcha didn’t know that).  It gave a really stable image, and I might revisit it one day.  Incidentally the idea of having lots of wheels on castors is to avoid jerks in the camera if there is any bump in the track.  It pretty well removes the effect of little ones (ie 1mm or so).


This was a clever one, pity it didn’t work, but the idea is right.  It’s a stepper motor and driver with a belt drive to 16 wheels on the tracks.  Worked well, was robust if a bit heavy, and was adaptable to any size of track (very important for what we’re doing – we want to be able to use anything that comes along if need be).

There were two problems – it wouldn’t go uphill, only on the level – the wheels slipped on the tracks.  And the belt, which was a rubber ‘O’ ring, stretched and slipped.  I could have got a better drive belt, but it was obvious it wasn’t going to work anyway so I scrapped it.  Lot of work though.


I also experimented with long track.  Ordinary black poly pipe just doesn’t work – too soft, too bendy and too hard to control.

Then I tried this green stuff. What I found out was you need support all the way, which means it has to go on the ground, or be made of something solid (like the steel section we used in Antarctica).  This is thick walled high pressure water pipe, pretty stiff but it still sagged between the sleepers.  It would work, but at the cost of a lot of infrastructure.  The ladder and beam arrangement of the West Coast trip illustrates this – we needed a 4WD to cart it around.

So what we’re going to end up with in the track department is probably a ultra-lightweight custom-made foldable track.  Either from thin steel and electrical conduit, or from a cheap light ladder.  The advantage of this is it will fold up and go on the back of a pack.  In theory.

The other advantage is that if for some reason we can’t take it with us (on a plane for instance) we can use a ladder from the location, or corrugated iron, pine studs etc.


Moving on

The Hurley Dolly had proved itself in many situations.  However, it was time to re-visit the mechanism, which, though rugged, was too heavy for easy transport off-track.

The aim was to produce a lightweight driver, which ideally would operate from a small battery, be simple to use, and fit in a backpack.

The demanding requirements of Fulldome Panorama 20 megapixel photography meant there was no room for a sloppy mechanism – it had to be very smooth indeed.  And reliable.

Operating under difficult conditions meant the controls had to be very simple.  I have built a lot of gadgets for remote areas, and one thing which you can rely on is – you can’t rely on the gear.  If it’s complicated, someone will stuff it up.  If it’s cumbersome, it will get dropped.  If it’s sophisticated, it will break.  People get tired, cold and hungry.  They make mistakes.  Just getting to some of these places is a huge effort, and, when it’s raining and people are tired, they want to concentrate on doing what they came for, not fiddling with equipment.

The gear has to be simple – preferably using bits and pieces easily to hand.  If you can’t fix it on the spot – your effort it wasted. And, though I take enough bits to mend anything common, there’s always something that’s missing.

Generally I have 3 ways of doing everything – so I have 3 options for power, 3 computers, 3 leads etc etc.  Chances are you won’t use them all.  If you do, you’re grateful, if you don’t, well, you’re lucky.  There’s no point in taking the kitchen sink, but you need backups.  I learned this lesson once and for all when I was flying in remote areas – my pilot was a fussy bugger who always filled the planes tanks everywhere he could, taking another half hour or so over it.  For a couple of years we flew around the Kimberly and landed back home with heaps of fuel.  I took the piss out of him for this.  Until one day we flew down to a tiny airstrip a long way away, and found the bloke on the runway up to his knees in water.  We turned round and flew home – with enough fuel in the tanks to land.  I shut up after that.

Julia Tarn

Julia Tarn is a small pool near the road which provided an opportunity for a more intimate view.

Dove Lake fulldome panorama

West Coast Tasmania fulldome panorama timelapse movie

A compilation of the movies taken from wilderness in Tasmania’s West Coast.

This is essentially raw 3.7k unprocessed footage used for preview purposes only. We have lots of ideas for Tasmanian content that we are developing.