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Motion Control Techniques In Visual Effects Industry Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 5419 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In this research we will see the motion control rigs and its contribution to create the realistic movement of the camera with help of the computer softwares. Though it is very difficult at the student level to create such a rig and experiment with it with the available budget I will try to build a motion control rig and control it with the help of the computer programming. It is a long process. The main advantage of the motion control rig is it is able to reproduce the same movement very accurately in a short period of time which is highly impossible for human hand to achieve. This report will contain the information about the motion control rig and its uses with advantages over the traditional camera cinematography to achieve the visual effects in the film.



The filmy camera action which is solely dependent on the work and instincts of the cinematographer is very difficult work and if you want to shoot the same scene with same action and the camera movement it is highly impossible to achieve that with a traditional camera work. Even if you try to create that action in the computer graphics software it is very difficult and time taking process, which requires too many efforts to achieve the goal. The main disadvantage of that is if you are not able to do it perfectly it can spoil all the work, time and money invested because the film won’t look like as you have imagined finally. So it’s a big loss of the everyone’s work process.

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The most recent technological improvement to solve the problem which too many studios are facing is they are developing their own hardwares and motion control rigs which can be controlled by the computer systems and can store the movement of the camera which a cameraman is handling physically. So the person can achieve whatever motion he wants repeatedly that to naturalistic. But everyone can’t afford these all the things to do and the person who is doing that must have sound knowledge of all the departments to build a motion control rig which needs to be done by experts. So subject is if this motion control system can be used at an affordable price to explore the ideas by the low budget and new comer’s film makers to experiment with visual effects.

Definition of Motion Control

In our day to day life if we go and check out the technology related to the entertainment segment you might hear very complex terms as multipass , go motion, slit scan, streaking which you might not be aware of but you have actually seen it on the screen in the movies and TV advertisements for example the Star Wars etc.

The technology of the Motion control system is developed for the need of creating the visual effects and animation and to have more control over it with the help of the computer programs. So motion control is the medium of technology to combine all the elements needed to create the amazing world of the special effects.

As you are controlling the motion of the camera with help of the computer programs you have more options and ideas to create a movement is an added advantage. The main advantage of the motion control systems that it repeats the same action with great accuracy and that is the reason this technology is being favored nowadays by most of the film makers. Many of us may argue with possibility that the actions which we can shoot easily with the motion control systems can be shoot by the traditional cameraman with the efforts but the accuracy level of that action won’t be the same at any level that shot been produced because we are shooting it with human hands with some limitations. And also it takes more time for completing the shot if you do it manually.

The main motive of using the motion control system is to produce the naturalistic camera movement within a short time and at the affordable cost to get the amazing output for the films..

“Motion control, is the foundation upon which maximum visual effects work stands” (Alex Alvarez, Director at Gnomon)

In this research report the main area of study is to explore the techniques used in the motion control systems and how those are far better than the traditional methods of shooting for creation of the visual effects. The literature study for the motion control systems will include the history of the motion control system and need for it and the future of the same. We will also focus on the use of the different cameras to be used on the motion control rigs and how that helps in the pre visualization stage previously. The last part of my research will conclude the main motive for this dissertation is how this technology gives more control and plays a vital role and also how it is a great tool or opportunity for the low budget film makers and new comers to create the new world of the visual effects.

Motion control the name itself derives that it is meant to be use to get control over the motion or movement which can be the change in the position of the camera or might be the rotation of the axis of the camera in the space. As explained above if we wish to create the wonderful world of the special effects it is the need to be accurate with our actions at the stage of the production while shooting the footage. This is the place where exactly the motion control plays the most important role to give the accurate and the repetition of the action or movement. But in earlier times because of lack of the knowledge and technology the reliability of the Motion control systems was an issue and the reason for not getting its credit for its vital role in the production stage. If you try out and go back to history you will find the only other option to create the spectacular special effects is to use the computer softwares and the virtual cameras in that which is highly complicated and a very much time consuming process which also requires the expertise in the softwares.

The Significance of Motion Control to the Film Industry

The significance and importance of motion control to the film industry, includes the research done with help of the literature and industry news along with views of the professional people in interviews. The people had very different views regarding the role of the motion control systems in the movies as well as its necessity to the industry. After doing this research I came to an approach that if you really wish to the movie with motion control rig it should be built very professionally and with quality materials or else if you do it with the temporary basis structure it is not reliable at any point to create the good output as you have expected or imagines with a waste of money and time.

The importance of the motion control systems for the film industry should be observed and clarified on the basis of its previous success and the failure reports and not on the persons likes and dislikes about the use of the technology. You can see the impact of the movies recently made on the viewer’s minds because of the spectacular world of the special effects is because of the use of the motion control system. “I would say it is not the most important aspect as before use of motion control systems, films were made just fine but it gives film makers more options with what they can do with cameras” (M. Thompson, personal communication, March 25, 2010). Here the point to be noted is that technology is not the ultimate source but just the medium that it helps to tell the story in a very different and a strong perspective. That is the contribution of the motion control systems to the film industry.

Motion control has given too much freedom to control the movement of the cameras while shooting. If you go back to history and check out if the films which were the greatest hits of all the times with the spectacular special effects would never have been possible without use of technology of the motion control system. So you can imagine the really ordinary version of the Star Wars with the usual special effects as in any TV serials. Because of the strong advantages of the motion control system nowadays it has started to make its own place now in the production pipeline of the VFX film industry very rapidly. And this is the need for the today’s style of filmmaking as it is the different and very strong medium to convey the story in more beautiful way.

“The difference between a failed shot and a spectacular shot can often boil down to the camera movement” (A. Hargreaves, personal communication, March 31, 2010).

Research Questions and hypothesis

1. Reason for Using Motion Control

Motion control is a system technology that enables the programming and repetition of the motion of the cameras very accurately .The advantage of this technology is we can shoot various special effects shots in very less time instantly, which are highly impossible to create without Motion Control or can only be possible to do using a non-moving camera. With the help of Motion control we can get really natural and stunning looking shots like we want to move the camera in a scene to follow a pattern of subject or an action, so it plays a very vital role while shooting. I will give one example of the special effect which is pretty simple as a scene including a guy is just walking on a road and gradually starts disappeared into air while walking. This is can be done by shooting 2 takes. In the first take the guy will walk on the road and in the second take will be the road. In the process of editing the editor will take the two takes and will merge with each other slowly so that it appears like a guy is disappeared in the air. This kind of shot is quite simple to achieve only if the camera is steady, but when there is the movement of camera this shot is not possible without the Motion Control because the 2 takes shot will not match in perspective and speed so we cannot merge it. Like this with the motion control we can shoot innumerable scenes of the special effects.

2. Use of motion Control in live action films

In live action films we have to concentrate on too many things at a time. Motion control system can repeat the camera movement properly and accurately which includes change of focus, zooming and sometimes to control the lights so all important work is done by the motion control rig so the director can focus on the actors mainly and their acting without any worry about camera movements and continuity. This is a very beneficial reason for using motion control rig as it saves money and also the time.

This is more useful when you have hired very talented actors you can set up all the settings and camera movements so when the actors come on the sets you can start the shoot right away for saving the time.

3. Setting up a movement on a Motion Control System

Since many years people and technicians have developed various methods for setting up the movements on the Motion control rig. Which I understood I have divided them in parts for better understanding.

1) Direct enter movement-Traditionally the person has a remote control to control the rig and he sets it up at the position from which he wants to start and fix the position by the remote control. After fixing the start position he will move the rig to next position where he intends it to be at and again with remote control he saves that place. This king of camera movement setup gives movement along 3 points. Usually to shoot any shot 2 to 5 points is necessary. Those points on the motion path are joined by the computer using software. While setting up this move the person decides for that scene the number of frames to be taken and with which speed the camera should move. Then you can be ready for the shooting.

2)The Mimic movement-For this movement a hardware is available which allows the person to set up the movement by pushing the rig like crane or dolly and with the help of wheels to record the movement been done. As soon as the movement has been set you can repeat it at your desirable speed like other movements. Whenever a director wants the hand held feel for the movement or for the unpredictable behaviors for animals make use of this hardware to set up a movement.

3) The movement imported from CGI packages- If you are friendly with CG software as Softimage/Xsi and Maya you can decide and create the own movement and import those in the motion control system. With the help of this you can do very unique and complicated movements also.

4. Advantages of the Motion Control in Post production

Post production part of the film depends on the very well shot scenes. Motion Control is behind the scenes master for the special effects which enables the scenes from the physical world to be merged and layered with the software help and effects. Motion control is a production device because of this all the people give more importance and credit for the special effects to the computer graphics software but can’t understand that without the important role of the motion control footage these special effects wouldn’t have been so special.

The additional advantage of using the motion control is that it gives the accurate movements and perspective so it becomes easy to export that to software directly so that the scenes can be composed and merged together very easily.

5. Accuracy count of the Motion Control

The movement of the each axis which is controlled motion is measured to an extent of micron level which is done with the help of optical encoders the electronic machines attached to the motors which is too fine extent that is visible to eyes. Due to the heat generated by the heavy and bright lights the metals with which the rigs are made up of tend to expand. As the measurement is too small it affects the calculation. But this doesn’t happen so often.

6. Tracking verses Motion Control

The calculation which the tracking gives for the position of camera in space is derivable only forms 2d footage. The condition on which the foreground and background elements can be merged with the live action footage is position and path of the camera. In motion control system first we shoot with the rig and then calculate the camera path movement and export it to the software. As the motion control camera system is aware of the position of the camera in space very accurately it’s very simple, convenient and faster to export the data to the softwares. The need for the motion control cannot be deleted by the tracking concept because of its accuracy and complicated camera movements. Motion control is the one and only one solution for the desired result of multiple pass scenes. The concept of tracking is heavily dependent on the fixed markers in the background to calculate the movement of the camera path. Sometimes these markers are difficult to see because the markers won’t be in focus or they will be out of the frame so it won’t work out according to wish. Actually we can use the previous tracking data calculation to export it to the motion control path of the camera which can be available as element for the foreground in live action shoot. This can be useful in the film industry especially for new comers to experiment the old moves with new technology again.

7. Benefit of Motion Control in pre visualization

The significance of the pre visualization of the shot while designing and planning the film is increasing day by day. Pre visualization gives the perspective of the producer, director and cinematographer of the look of the final scene. The pre visualization stage eliminates the chances of the heavy and costly mis understandings, helps to prepare the shot, enables the set designers to calculate the space for the sets, positioning of the sets, enables the cameraman for the better understanding of the lights to be used in a scene, so ultimately it saves the time and lots of money.

So the camera movement which can be fixed like this can be directly given to the motion control camera system rig as it has been visualized previously in the pre visualization stage.

8. List of cameras can be used on Motion control rig

The motion control rig can handle most number of the film cameras with different sizes and weights. The cameras best suitable for the motion control are as follows-

1. Fries Mitchell

2. Mitchell

3. Arri 435s

4. Arri IIIs

5. Movie cam

6. Compacts

7. Panavision

8. Broadcast video cameras and camcorders

9. HD video cameras.

9. Different motion control systems

The 1st is named as Cyclops which is studio based motion control system. This is considered as the best suitable system for motion control. It has unique qualities as it is extremely rigid, it can attain the high speed motion around 4 m/s and also can attain the high heights as more than 7m lens.

The 2nd one is named as Milo which is a large system with portability. The main advantage of its design that it can be easily moved from one location to other comfortably because you can build it very quickly compared to other rigs and also dismantles it easily. It can give speed very closer to the speeds of the Cyclops, but it can’t attain that much height as it is very small. The Milo has another option for the longer reach is that it has a longer arm. But the point of concern is it is not as rigid as the Cyclops.

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The 3rd one is named as Juno. It is the smallest rig, which is portable as well. It has a fixed arm. It contains a head with parallelogram to keep it to the level. The advantage of its design that can be easily accommodate in a very less space which can fit thorough the standard doorways. So because of this advantage you can shoot comfortably I the commercial complexes and buildings. As compared to Milo it has less height and reach than Milo.

10. Reliability of the Motion Control System

While designing the motion control rigs the main concern is always the reliability. If you go and check out the pages from history you will get to know that people had misbelieve in the motion control systems because of the failure of the equipment to work at the proper time when needed. That got the motion controls very bad names in few countries because of many “home made” motion control systems assembled to give quick and cheap deals to satisfy the persons needs at that time. When we are shooting the quality product we can’t deal with such thing to compromise with reliability of the parts. So regularly it should maintain and if any issues they can be solved quickly and completely. Cyclops and Milo rigs have got the very good name and reliability in the film industry.


History Overview of Motion Control

Motion Control and the computer used to control require different calculations or work processes. Even though these processes come from different areas of research they quickly became linked for purposes such as VFX.

“The US defense department first developed the concept of motion control for use in missile guidance systems. The earliest VFX use of motion control is perhaps in 1985 at the famous NYIT graphics lab Tom Brigham and J.P. Lewis implemented a rig” (Seymour, M. 2004)

The advancements in technology as well as developments in CPU and graphics speed started to make video editing and VFX production possible to the film industry.

In a storytelling process person needs to show too many imaginary illusions to convey the story more beautifully. To show and express these illusions we have been gifted with one technology that is term called as special effects, which are usually used in film, television, theater, or entertainment industries. The concept of Special effects is categorized divided into the parts named as of optical effects and mechanical effects. As the years passed the film industry has grown with too many technologies mainly the digital techniques because of which we are now enable to realize the difference between the special effects and visual effects. The visual effects mean the one which are created during the process of the post production digitally. The special effect means those are created with the help of the cameras mechanically on the sets while shooting.

The computer graphics has been playing important role with special effects from the period of 1990s.The main advantage of the computer graphics is that it allows the filmmakers to get rid of the traditional limitations to create the effects and gives more control over it which is more convenient and fine to achieve with the help of this technique. This technology saves money and time both at the greater extent’s many of the special effects which we used to create mechanically are went to lower hand by the computer graphics.

The first motion picture special effect to be considered as was the time in 1857 when Oscar Gustave Fletcher Rejlander combined the different parts of the 32 photographs in one image. The first commonly granted special effect in the industry was in 1895 by Alfred Clark .At the time of shooting for a reenactment of the beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots an instruction of to step up to the block in Mary’s costume was given to the actor. In that scene when the executioner came with the axe above his head, the camera was stopped, he told all the actors to freeze, and instructed the person playing Mary to go off the set. Then the trick was replacement of the dummy in Mary’s place instead of the actor. Then the next shot was the axe coming down to cut the head of the dummy by the executioner. “Such… techniques would remain at the heart of special effects production for the next century” (Rickitt).

Special effects technology was grown and reconstructed by the motion pictures company in the period of the 1920s and 1930s. Most of the effects techniques were created and improvised the methods of illusions from the background of the theaters like ghosts made up of papers and still photography like as double exposure and matte compositing. The idea was to use the painted backgrounds as the projections and to replace them with the moving pictures. In those times they used to create faces with life casting with the help of the usual mask making. They used to create awesome masks which would fit the actor perfectly. After the science of materialization improved and that gave more depth for horror film mask making.

The greatest evolution for the special effects was the amazing success of the science fiction and fantasy films in 1977.The film Star Wars created by George Lucas’s unlashed an era of fantasy films with expensive and awesome special effects. That times special effects supervisor was John Dykstra, A.S.C.He and his crew did many improvements in technology. For the movie’s needs they created a motion controlled camera rig named as “Dykstraflex.” It created the wonders at that time as repetition of the motion which drastically enhanced the compositing the matte. The film images went through the process of the degradation by the use of other innovative techniques: For the widescreen images photography that to horizontal with the stock they used the cameras named Vista vision on that rig .They used the more length of the film per frame rate and for the compositing part they used thin films with emulsions.

In the same year, the movie named Close Encounters of the Third Kind creation of Steven Spielberg burst out with amazing special effects. Those were the creation of veteran Douglas Trumbull. They developed their own motion control rig system. They also introduced the term lens flare which is intentional and created by the reflection of light in the camera lenses. That was intentionally done to create the shapes of the flying saucers.

The main reason for the investment in the special effects was the grand success of these films. That created so much buzz turned into opportunities for the special effects studios and the birth of the computer graphics. As the years passed the film industry has grown with too many technologies mainly the digital techniques because of which we are now enable to realize the difference between the special effects and visual effects. The visual effects mean the one which are created during the process of the post production digitally. The special effect means those are created with the help of the cameras mechanically on the sets while shooting.


This dissertation researches the “integration of motion control techniques in the film industry”. As for the artefact itself, conclusions drawn from the research will provide guidance as well as technical knowledge.

The information acquired from the interviews of industry active personnel in areas of motion control will create the basis of the shots. Each shot will have an in depth description of its particular approach and reasoning, as well as problems and techniques used to achieve a solid track. These approaches evaluate and support the information that has been derived from both primary and secondary research.

Primary Research

In order to receive relevant, accurate and up to date information, the primary research for the evaluation and interpretation of the research questions was based on contacts and interviews with industry professionals. These interviews were conducted in different manners according to the flexibility and time of these sources. These included email questionings, telephone conversations. Although the question order and wording may vary, all interviews contain similar areas of focus and question principles.

The following individuals where included in the questioning:

1. Mr. Ramdas A. Dale (General Manager Productions, Amtek Engineers PVT LTD.)

2. Mr. Rahul S. Sharma (

The questions asked were specifically designed to not only aid with specific techniques needed to produce an artifact, but also to highlight any problem areas that might be encountered during use of motion control rig in a professional environment. The main area of research discussed in the introduction of this paper still stands and the key investigation into “The integration of motion control system in the film industry” remains.

Evaluating Primary research

The primary research conducted by these questions was categorized into 6 subject areas. This approach was necessary in order to structure the information received for either secondary research approaches, or technique evaluation. The main headings of the primary research evolutions are:

1. The term Motion Control

2. Motion Control for VFX

3. The work of a motion control rig

4. Tricks and problems

5. The Importance of Motion Control to the Film Industry

6. The future of Motion Control

Secondary Research

The secondary research involves the assessment of motion control literature in order to support the primary research on a more technical level. The main methodology and reasoning for this research, is to show a good understanding of some subject areas discussed in the primary research, as well as how to use the motion control rig for low budget films. This will further aid in the understanding and problem solving.

The technique of motion control is there since countable years but now is the time when this technology can be available in a affordable cost with which at least we can I mean low budget film makers can think of using it as a great tool for the shoot and experiment thoroughly. Earlier days the cost of a completely-featured computerized animation camera was up to Rs.90000000.

Now a days the Motion control system is available for under Rs.540000.For shooting this type of work if you hire a camera it costs around Rs.3500 per hour and more and if you compare that with above price can consider as 270 hours of shoot with motion control. If you compare the shots per hour with motion control you can shoot 45 minutes of movie as the film camera will shoot 10-12 seconds of film in an hour. The motion control systems require the test shoots so if you count the final shooting output will be around 25 minutes. This is the reason you can think of getting your motion control rig which can pay for it in a comparatively less time. That has other side advantage of experimenting more on your own ideas for more time.

The main advantage of using this technology is you can own less priced system and can get direct and great entry into more comprehensive and awesome field of TV and media. That too is a best opportunity to low-budget filmmakers who can improvise new and unique techniques. Newcomers can make most use of the camera productively and they save money for the studio who wants get a break in this industry.

There are two options which are available for the shooting of the films. One is Cameraman and the other is motion control rig. Everyone one of them consists of the parts namely: the system, the added electronic devices to control the movement by the motors and computer softwares, the person controls the motors with the help of the systems to get the special effects. Each option uses the name of the brand and computer systems to get control over the movement of the axes, motion paths.

Usually a cameraman will use the number of action will be and he uses a computer. In The motion control rig it consists of 3 or 6 or more axes to create the motion and it uses the computer systems as IBM or Apple. The package of the motion control rig and computer with which it can control 6 axes and computer software costs almost Rs.540000. The package of the Cameraman and computer system and motion along the 6 axes and computer software at the most about Rs.440000.

The computer software package which the cameraman uses has more features like the streak mode along with fitting of curve. The other thing is the electronic devises he uses are made up of very simple design so the advantage is it has less maintenance. The studios with big budgets can be more comfortable and reliable with motion control rigs if they have a strong history of developing the large motion control systems and to work with them.

Future Work

My research will primarily concern itself with translating physical camera action with motion control rig in an extraordinary way. The functionality and usefulness of the motion control can be greatly expanded in the future. Opportunities for future work could include developing a real-time depth of field preview that would allow for realistic focal length changes to be made using the motion control system camera, adding an additional level of intuitive control to motion of camera. Reprogramming other controls of the motion control to make it more self-sufficient.

Scope and limitations


I got an approach to that how can I use the motion control system for the low budget movies. That is possible if I can get a good configured personal computer and make the motion control rig by myself. To build a motion control rig you have to have the sound knowledge of the different parts of engineering such as electrical, computers and mechanical engineering and the vast effects. If you can’t do it on your own you may get help from your engineer friends who might be interested in all this stuff.

Motion control creates too many visual illusions which are extraordinary and amazing which may be we can create by the duplication of the images formed in the computer systems. At the moment the motion control system is quite affordable but it will be vast in the future. In fact as soon as the less priced motion control systems will get evolved the main advantage will be for the new film makers to emerge as great as possible with the amazing special effects treatment which will let the audience and viewers to get entry into to the next world of magic created by you.


Over the course of this di


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