Is the AR leading a Revolution… or just too Alien?

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

The AR from MK-V (AKA the Alien Revolution or the Auto-Leveling Revolution) has now been on the market for several years. Has it set fire to the industry? Unfortunately no.

The AR is an accessory designed primarily for MK-Vs sled that actively maintains the camera’s horizon (roll axis) AND it also allows the sled to be flipped upside down mid shot while keeping the camera upright and level. Basically you get low mode and high mode (and evening in between) in one setup.

There are some negatives though. First is that you flip the rig along the roll axis instead of the tilt axis. This ends up consuming a lot of real estate… So don’t expect to flip while moving down a hallway or in a stairwell. You need some space! Next, because of the way you have to flip the rig… You end up flying the rig much further away from your body than you normally operate. So it takes a lot more out of you.

Once you get past those two factors… It really is a cool rig! But why am I bringing this up now? Two reasons…

First would be to look at the success of the technology over the last few years. Although I don’t own an AR, I did train quite extensively with the system when it first came out. It really seemed like it was a game changer. But over time I found that it was a bit novel and most shots really didn’t call for the increased boom range. Then when you asked for additional rental for the extra gear… Producers just usually balked.

The second reason to bring this up for discussion is that Garrett Brown and Tiffen have a new product about to be released that offers similar functionality, but with a completely different approach. It’s called the Tango. Although I’m not a huge fan of the name… I am becoming more and more intrigued by the concept.

Instead of increasing the boom range of the Steadicam by flipping the entire rig upside down, Garrett has achieved this by combining a Steadicam with a Jib. It doesn’t actively maintain your horizon like the AR, but it does offer a huge boom range (which is even more than the AR offers).

At first I was turned off a bit by the weight limitation of the Tango which is only a 6 lb. camera payload. My first thought was that it was a toy designed for the prosumer world. However, I recently worked on a feature where the 5D and 7D played a large roll. And companies like RED are coming out with image sensor blocks like the Epic that will certainly meet the weight limits of the Tango.

Whats amazing about the Tango is that the trick is executed entirely mechanically. No electronics are required. Tilt, pan and boom the camera the same way you always have. Its really amazing to watch. And without all those motors and electronics you eliminate the noise factor of servos and the crash factor of processors.

But once again I return to the case study of the AR… Will the Tango be different or will producers avoid the extra expense. I think it will come down to pricing. The Tango doesn’t have a release date or a price tag yet… But Tiffen isn’t know for being the economy solution. The AR cost over $60K and due to the limited supply, operators were encouraged to charge $1000 extra per day plus a premium rate for labor. I think that’s a recipe for disaster. Even Garrett notes that the current range of the Steadicam is good for 80% of shots. So if pricing is prohibitive it will take a lot of convincing for production to justify the expense for 20% of the days Steadicam shots that, on the majority of productions, will amount to 1% of the total shots. Plus in addition to the expense of the rental is the time to configure the rig… Especially if production plans on using a 5D or similar camera with the Tango… It might mean having to rip of an A or B body camera from the Steadicam rig in order to build the Tango with a C body camera.

So I think the key factors will be affordability and compatibility. Keep the Tango affordable so I don’t have to increase my package rental rate. Then make it easy to use with as many rigs as possible. Garrett already used the term “Tango Compatible Rig” in one video I saw which most likely means it won’t work with my $66k Ultra 1 rig. Bummer!

Regardless I have high hopes for the Tango and can’t wait to see were it goes. Hopefully this rig isn’t too “alien!”

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