• MoVI Magic Review: Our Thoughts

The MoVI is here!

Before jumping into a weekend of non-stop editing and stress eating in the final stretch of our Sundance submission process, team Stillmotion took a little break from all the #standwithme madness to play with our new toy: Freefly Systems MoVI (woo-hoo!)

It came into the studio last Thursday… and with all the excitement in the air it felt appropriate to make a demo video. Being that we were particularly lacking in spare time, we put this whole thing together on the fly… but that speed and ease of use is part of what makes this new tool so revolutionary.

Everyone and their barista has some input on the MoVI… and usually that opinion is something to the effect of “holy crap, this is going to change everything!”

We’re excited too, and our MoVI is already changing the way we look at the world — but we’re not holding a viking burial for our Steadicam any time soon.

The MoVI, to us, is a new storytelling tool with its own set of advantages and disadvantages, depending on the shoot. That being said, it’s going to be crazy to watch it evolve and see how it changes things for our community… right now it’s all so new!

We’ve been excited for this to arrive ever since NAB when we met the folks over at Freefly. We told them about what we’re doing and the traveling we have planned for #standwithme (next stop Namibia!) and they totally got on board with our project.

MAJOR kudos to Freefly for making sure we could get trained and ready with the MoVI before we fly out! We can’t wait to take this thing across the world…

Today we’ll share some insight from the team to answer some of the more common questions about the MoVI — things like the learning curve, how it compares to Steadicam, how to operate it and what you’ll need… etc.


But first… what is the MoVI, exactly?

The MoVI is a “digital 3-axis gyro-stabilized handheld camera gimbal” — which is a lot of words, but basically it means that this machine uses a series of sensors to detect any motion coming from the operator, and give that input to several tiny brushless motors that control the pan, tilt, and roll axis.

These motors make up for the movement of the camera operator to keep the camera perfectly stable while the operator is able to do things like run down a flight of stairs. THIS is a really big deal!

All the MoVI buzz kind of exploded when filmmaker Vincent Laforet released a gorgeous showcase demo and a killer BTS video to accompany it on his blog.

This baby allows you to rather easily shoot super long takes and tracking shots like the one in our demo, whereas before you had to know how to operate a Steadicam to get these kinds of shots (far from easy).

Now that we’ve established why the MoVI is so amazing, let’s hear from some of our shooters here at Stillmotion…

Learning curve and functionality, as explained by Ray…

Ray0022How long does it take to figure out how to use this thing?

Because the MoVI uses electronics and technology to simplify the process of getting a super smooth shot, the learning curve is significantly shortened….

As long as you can balance a camera on the MoVI, the MoVI does the rest. You don’t have to go through all the training and experience that a traditional Steadicam operator would have to go through.

With a Steadicam you’re looking at a few weeks of training and operation to understand it, and years to master it… with the MoVI you can get 80%-90% of the way there within the first couple of days.

Wow… sounds like I can just pick it up and start getting awesome shots!

Yes, but there are still a lot of limitations — if you want to get more complicated shots with this, you’re going to need a second or third operator to use a follow focus system to take advantage of all the 180-degree motion that this tool has.

You certainly can use the MoVI with a single operator (a.k.a “Majestic” mode), but to really take advantage of it you’ll definitely need that second operator controlling camera positioning and focus.

There’s also weight to think about. With a traditional Steadicam, the weight is spread all over your body, so it’s a lot less tiring to use for hours on end. If you’re using a MoVI handheld, your arms can get tired after about 10 minutes… and that’s when you’re going to introduce unbalanced motion into your shots if you’re not careful.

How’s it going to save time on a shoot?

My first run with the MoVI was in the streets of New York with Lawrence Taylor. We were shooting the documentary for CBS, and they wanted a scene where we would follow LT in Times Square at night. We only had 20 minutes with him, and no time to set up… so with the MoVI it was perfect. We were able to achieve much more complicated shots than we would have been able to with a Steadicam in such a short amount of time.

How will it change the way we tell stories? Patrick tells all…

First impressions?Patrick0006

When we first got our hands on it we did a test shoot with Vivienne and her family for #standwithme, just a couple of little shots of them going for a walk and stuff like that… it was fun.

But using this tool actually made a real difference in the film last week when we shot at TEDx Orange Coast. We shot the scene in a different way because of this, and it dramatically improved things.

How’d it make a difference for the film?

It was a dark environment, and a live event with a lot of real people so we had to be careful what we were doing. We wouldn’t have been able to maneuver as well through the crowd with a Steadicam. We had to be nimble — definitely wasn’t a good environment for running around with a second operator and dealing with tech stuff, so Ray shot in Majestic. There were a ton of steps winding down to the stage!

Because of this tool, we have an amazing shot of Lisa Kristine — one of or our main characters in #standwithme — giving her talk the camera moves smoothly over the crowd. It makes it feel so much bigger and dramatic, like an event camera on a dolly. It adds so much!

The challenge is that it’s going to cause the way we as a community make films to change. Right now what you see with the MoVI is like really long, interesting shots where people are trying things they’ve never done before. And that feels really big, interesting, and different. But you’ve gotta be careful that it doesn’t overpower everything.

There are scenes we shot with Vivienne and the MoVI where it’s obviously just too ‘big’ feeling. So one worry is that it can be so exciting people will use it for everything, and then it’s too big and you’re losing intimacy and heart. However… some of the ‘bigness’ feeling is just that it’s so unique and new. What happens when these big sweeping shots are commonplace? It will be so interesting to see how this evolves to fit story, because our impression of these shots is going to change.

There are a million ways to do a long shot… but what this allows you to do is get a new level of movement and smoothness without having to cut, and it can be so much more captivating.

Exhibit A: This 2-minute tracking shot in Kill Bill. How would this scene be different if there were cuts in between action? Would it even be a scene?….

The storytelling value of a really long shot is that you’re not inserting a moment for the viewer to breathe or feel like you’ve faked anything. When you cut in an interview, what are you hiding? Subconsciously, your audience wonders that. When you’ve got a long take, it’s much more raw and real. You’re not cutting around the stuff you don’t want them to hear. So now with the MoVI we can film things in a completely new way, where we can immerse the audience in the environment.

Like how?

Well, where you might have a three-minute segment of a static shot interview, now you can do so much more. You could do an interview with someone in one long shot as they’re walking, say giving a tour of a location and get shots as they’re continuously speaking. It’s like… you wouldn’t even need b-roll… that’s crazy.

We love the C100 on this because of the built-in ND filters and it’s really light, as well as the 24mm cinema prime because you can attach the follow focus.

How do you think it compares with Steadicam?

The MoVI definitely feels more delicate than a Steadicam. You’re careful with it. So if we’re running out on a field with a Steadicam, you definitely feel sturdy with something that just relies on physics and balance. You’ve got a big vest and weight on you, so if a football player runs into you’re not particularly worried about it.

I don’t know what happens if someone runs into me with a MoVI. Part of that is because it’s so new, and we just haven’t had that experience yet. If someone smashes into me… does it break? Do I have to recalibrate? We just don’t know yet — but it does feel much more delicate. And then anything where we need to get that smooth movement for six hours of coverage, Steadicam is definitely going to be needed.

What kind of shoots will we use the MoVI for?

We’ll probably be using it a lot for higher production commercial shoots, and event coverage when it fits. For a commercial shoot we’ll use the remote with a second operator on follow focus to produce that really high quality look. But what’s so great about the MoVI is that it can be used for much smaller things too, we just want to see that being done in a way that still puts story first.

When are we not going to be using it?

I think event-style shoots with just one person shooting are actually going to be more difficult with the MoVI, because if you’ve got any switching around to do — say switching to a monopod, then you’ve got to put it down or take it apart and suddenly things are more complicated. Not that it’s not possible, it’s just going to be an added obstacle.

But then again, now that it’s here we’re likely going to be finding a way to use it even when we think it would be more of an obstacle or challenge — where’s the fun otherwise?

Joyce: Never did I Steadicam, but finally I will MoVI.

Joyce0004Why didn’t you ever train to use the Steadicam?

For me, it’s more of a physical reason — I’m much smaller than the average Steadicam shooter, and the vest is just too big for me and I swim in it. They did come out with a smaller version, but I wasn’t trying to have the studio purchase a special vest just for me.

Even if we did have a vest that fit me, for a really small person to do a shoot all day with 30 or 40 pounds is a problem — long story short, the Steadicam just didn’t work for me.

Now with the MoVI, I’m diving right in because it’s so easy to learn and it fits all shapes and sizes…

How are you looking at the world differently now?

Before when I wanted movement I was limited to using a monopod, slider, shoulder rig… all great tools but with the MoVI I’ll have a lot more options. The difference is that now I get to do things that someone else had to do with the Steadicam before.

With this there are just so many new shots that are available, and new ways to pull viewers in without having to cut. There’s an added pressure with trying to get something perfectly in one take, but when it’s story appropriate that one take might make huge impact.

Basically… I’m really excited to play with it.

Joe “Stunna” Stunzi talks details, pricing, and the future…

Joe0009What would I need to operate the MoVI in remote mode on a budget?

First of all, let’s talk about how much the MoVI itself costs…

For the M10 – about $15,000
For the M5 – about $5,000

The difference here is that the M5 only holds 5lbs. or less — so nothing bigger than a DSLR, and it doesn’t come with the remote transmitter for dual operator use.

Honestly, a smaller studio could easily use the MoVI out of the box with a wide lens without the need to monitor, pull focus, or any advanced rigging.

If budget permits, a wireless follow focus and wireless HD video transmission system will be needed for monitoring. This can become infinitely complicated if you want it to be, with up to three motors controlling focus, iris, zoom, and multiple individuals operating/piloting the system.

We’re using the Paralinx Arrow system to monitor as it’s lightweight… works with HDMI… and has a small form factor that can easily mount in a variety of places on a camera. For focus, we’re using the Redrock Micro microRemote wireless follow focus. This is an entry level wireless follow focus and costs around $2500. Most will range $5k and up.

What about battery life?

The included batteries for the MoVI can last up to about three or four hours. Once they hit 20% the MoVI will automatically tell you to stop draining the battery.

One thing that the Stillmotion team will have to deal with bringing the MoVI to Namibia in October is keeping those batteries charged! We’ll be using a solar panel to charge them… keeping our batteries charged is going to be one of our top priorities while we’re there. Should make for an interesting future blog post! It’s going to sweaty, and it’s going to be challenging.

What are the major limitations you’ll face if you’re a solo shooter operating in majestic?

Time management! You have to manage focus, composition, choreography as you move through the space, not to mention performance from talent. I think MoVi’s novel idea to split operating and piloting into two roles (potentially three with a separate focus puller) is great!

At the end of the day Majestic mode is a set of firmware/software parameters that allow the MoVI to differentiate between unintentional operator movement/adjustments and intentional composition decisions. All these parameters can be adjusted to allow slow pans or fast whip pans… but it’s still more electronic and less organic.

MoVI gets compared to Steadicam a lot… how does it compare to the other movement tools we know and love?

Compared to other tools MoVi is a more versatile, portable solution where the operator’s creativity is the limiting factor rather than the mechanical limits of the camera support system. Like Steadi, it will encourage operators to connect ideas throughout their shot and to focus on the art of the continuous take…

The shots most people see from MoVi are long continuous takes, but it is equally as useful for a simple flythrough or dolly move. You can scrape the ground or boom super high! It will shine in small spaces where intricate and complicated rigging is practically impossible without building a specialized set. Back in the day… VFX guys really had a lot of work to do.

What kind of improvements do you see being made to this in the near future?…

From the MoVI team, I think the software and firmware will only improve as more people join the community of operators and get out there and shoot. This is an innovative electronic device that has to behave organically and naturally. The MoVi project has so rapidly accelerated and made waves in the industry, I have no doubt they have even more ideas up their sleeves.

From the community, I definitely think MoVI operators will refine the methods for rigging cameras and other tricks to make it a more versatile tool. Specifically, I think you’ll see more people using the MoVi with the EasyRig or Steadicam vest/arm systems to allow longer operation. The last thing you want to think about it how tired your arms are after 10 minutes of continuous. The philosophy which parallels Steadicam is to let your tools do the work for you so you can focus on the shot.

I could even see this being used as a remote pan/tilt head on a crane. The sky is literally the limit!

So what can we gather from all of this?

The MoVI is such an exciting new tool — and while it achieves much of what the Steadicam does, we’d like to stress that they are different tools that aren’t interchangeable.

Steadicam is all about precision… having a tactile relationship with the hardware moving your camera and being able to feel every minute change instantly at your fingertips. The technique has evolved sine 1972 and in its simplest and truest form is really a dance between operator and camera. It’s beautiful.

MoVi is the new kid on the block. We’re still figuring out how to use it, how to rig it, and when to use it…

What we don’t want is to see a community of filmmakers using the MoVI because it’s so exciting and new, and forgetting about story. The MoVI is going to do so much for bringing people into a shot or scene, and making those big sweeping shots that are just plain gorgeous.

If you’re ready to try it out, word on the street is that Lens Pro To Go will be renting it out as soon as next week! Mike Duval is our main man and tech guru over at LPTG… he’s super helpful if you have any questions.

But not every story requires that — and we need to be conscious of this, especially as documentary filmmakers, if we want to integrate the MoVI into our community.

We’re about to take off to Namibia for one of our final shoots for #standwithme, and the MoVI is already changing the way we’re looking at telling the rest of this story. We’ve already seen the difference it has made in a few shots in the film, and it’s really going to be amazing to see how it takes some of the most intense scenes in the film to the next level.

TLDR: This thing is awesome. But with great awesome comes great responsibility.


What’s your take on the MoVI?

How do you think it will change the way you tell stories?

Feel free to ask any questions if we missed anything you’re dying to know!

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11 Thoughts on “MoVI Magic Review: Our Thoughts

  1. After testing Alexmos based stabilizers and the Movi, it’s absolutely no contest. Movi is so far superior. And steadicam is gonna be essential for some time to come. The Movi, like all other gimbals, doesn’t eliminate the vertical movement from walking.

    For anything that pushes a heavier camera system to the limits in terms of stabilization, I can’t see anything competing with the Movi for price and performance. Other gimbals can stabilize some basic motion with medium predictability. I feel the Movi is much more accurate for framing etc. than anything else, and can handle much more force before doing the funky chicken than other systems. I was hoping there was a cheaper solution, but there isn’t right now. Maybe when the next Alexmos 5.0 boards get dialed, but not yet.

  2. Thanks so much! I love how you guys always keep it real in your blog posts and break down all the practical concerns of small production and solo filmmakers. This tool looks super exciting and I’m so happy to hear about your experiences with it. Thanks too for making me laugh with all the “In a World…” drama. You guys rock!

  3. I am really excited about the MOVI, I am starting to be more excited about Kenyon labs 4×4 for 4,000 for the budgets we are at. You can handhold really amazing stuff with it. Yes it is heavy though and audio is an issue.

    Good Luck to you guys finishing up #standwithme

  4. Movi Shmoovie – I saw a really cool video today showing how a chicken can 3 axis stabilize it’s head today while it’s body is in motion so I think I’ve found to low tech and “cheep” version of the movi once I figure out how to strap a go-pro on the little fella….it’s going to be cinematic magic!

    Ok seriously – I’m super excited to see how you guys integrate that rig into your work flow and good luck with your Sundance submission!

  5. Nice article.

    I had the chance to play with the MoVI during Alex Buono’s “The Art of Visual Storytelling” tour. I was impressed with how easy it was for people to operate it very effectively without any training – the same cannot be said for a Steadicam. However, I didn’t get to see how difficult it was to balance (they said it was hard). Can you guys comment more on the balancing compared to a Steadicam? Thanks!

  6. Look, IMHO the MOVI styleGimbals are great and everything but here are my concerns:

    1. You hold the movi about chest high – meaning unless your subject is sitting or is a certain distance away – how are you going to get an eye level shot?

    2. It may indeed be less strain on your wrist than say a Glidecam but where’s the belt or vest type option to take the weight?

    3. All those loose wires and fragile electronics hanging off the side of the rig are not going to last long in the field – wires just waiting to get snagged, electric motors with unknown reliability and what happens to this thing if it starts to rain?

    4. What about batteries? Something else to charge, something else needing a battery solution.

    Let’s see what a year of extra innovation brings to the market – this stuff is brand new and yeah, I get the coolness factor, but I would feel more comfortable waiting for things to shake out and for more actual field reports on realiability and so on.

    • Hey Steve – Thanks for sharing your thoughts. We definitely agree that time will yield more innovation and improvements in the MoVI and many of the filmmaking tools we use daily. The guys at Freefly have been around for a bit building and operating remote helicopter rigs so they bring to the table years of experience and support for their gear. Once you actually get the MoVI in your hands, it’s very apparent that they’ve put a lot of thought in its construction, usability and design.

      Regarding some of you concerns, changing the height of the unit is as simple as raising or lowering your arms. I believe that this versatility is one of the biggest features that filmmakers will take advantage of.

      There is already talk of mounting the rig onto a Steadicam-type vest/post but then you’ll be limiting yourself to a specific height or dealing with the limitations of arms/springs. We’ve found that with proper planning, the weight of the MoVI is very manageable; especially if you go with a light DSLR setup. I’m not saying that we’d replace the Steadicam altogether though as there are times when that tool is the better fit for the story or scene we’re shooting.

      We’ve tested the beta version and indeed there were foreseeable issues with exposed wiring and motors. But the version shipping now is fully enclosed minus a point of contact with the electronics. This can be protected if you’re shooting in a rough environment. Whether it can hold up to drops and tumbles has yet to be seen.

      Battery life hasn’t been an issue for us so far. We’ve run the MoVI on a single battery for 2 hours without any problems and we’re told that complete run-time is rated for 3 hours on a single charge.

      You’re right that there are a lot of unknowns right now and only time will tell how these units hold up. But considering the company behind the MoVI and their extensive background and experience in working with such finely tuned electronics, we feel highly confident in taking this unit into the unknown and pushing its limits. While there is the cool factor, we feel that this is just another tool that will open up new ways to help us tell our stories; and that’s what excites us the most.

  7. I tested MoVI couple of weeks after it was announced.
    I will stick to Steadicam most of the time unless:
    1. I need a low moving assisted tilt up shot.
    2. Special cases. I need to follow a talent and then let’s say to hand over the steadicam solution to another operator through an open window. I can’t see how you can do it with a steadicam solution. MoVI does it all right.

    One more note: MoVI is based on the 3 axis brushless gimbal solution. It’s seems to be a very hot market now. There is a bunch of much cheaper alternatives.

    • Glib, you’re right that the market is hot and multiple solutions are starting to appear. I think it’s equally as important to evaluate community, network and support when choosing the solution. I always want to be able to get someone on the phone when I have a question!

      There are definitely certain MoVi-only shots like you mentioned… especially operator handoffs. This wouldn’t be possible with Steadicam. At the end of the day tools enable us to tell stories, great shooters will rely on creativity and composition to do this effectively.

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