Robot Arm Videography

Spring 2017
Collaboration:
Evi Bernitsas
Advisor:
Golan Levin
This project is the exploration of how robotic arms can be used to expand video production capabilities at a consumer level. It deals with the design and development of different tools and understanding what this technology has to offer that is new in the amateur video world.

Background—

I believe that we live in a culture that loves to create and consume video. With smartphone cameras rapidly improving and drone videography becoming more normalized, the future of consumer videography is at a fantastically nascent state.

In the realm of videography, gear seems to be of paramount importance. As stabilizers and dollies get more affordable, one tool remains untouchable by amateurs—the robot arm. With Robot Arms, we can produce motion control shots that don’t require CGI, layering or effects because everything is captured precisely in live action.

We operated the arm with a waypoint system. Evi developed a script through which I could set waypoints and a smooth path would be constructed.


With some convincing, my partner and I were able to access a consumer-level programmable robot arm. With it, we developed an archive of techniques and tools that allowed us to reach greater heights in consumer video production.


Short clip of the camera being operated by Arduino!


Evi and I additionally acquired a pair of Black Magic Micro Cinema Cameras. These video cameras were fascinating because they were completely controllable with a microprocessor like Arduino, with PWM Servo motors. The variables available to us included Shutter Angle, ISO, Aperture, Zoom and Focus. The full suite of manual controls, with the added variable of camera positioning. It became obvious to place the camera on the robot arm to see what we could create.

Stereoscopic rig setup with two Black Magic Micro Cinema Cameras.
During our tests, Evi and i were searching for filming characteristics that were only made possible with the robot arm. What we concluded was that the robot arm was unparalleled in precision and repeatability in takes. By eliminating all the error from the videographer’s side, it was only up to the subject to get the right clip.  

This is a reel of test footage we shot while getting the handles on filming with the robot.
Notice how the robot is able to achieve perfect stillness, smoothness and precision in the movements.
Using the Tool—

Knowing all of these qualities and attributes, we wanted to create several films that capitalized on these features—especially the repeatability. I was inspired by [face collage electricity video] and created a similar effect, except with dynamic camera movements. You will notice that in both of these videos, multiple takes are taken with the same camera path, allowing for interesting transitions/ overlay effects.

These are the final reels. Notice how there are perfect symmetries in the camera trajectory, allowing for interesting effects when comparing different subjects. It’s almost as if human imperfections are highlighted.
Human Robot Relationship—

Our project was selected to be displayed in a final showcase at the end of the year. Evi and I decided that a live demo would be effective in demonstrating the almost-social tension between man and robot. There was a natural discomfort that I had started to notice, and It caused me to wonder how humanity will ease into the eventual immersion in Human-Robot-interaction if we are so scared now.

People interacting with the robot.


Why is this project design?
What I learned—

This project was phenomenal in the sense that I found incredible value and satisfaction in building a tool for others to create in a new way. I think a big part of design has to do with giving people the agency to exist in more human ways, and I think the tool I helped create does just that.

People are meant to act upon their creativity—we seem to become more of ourselves the more we act on our notions and inspirations. Creating a tool such as this did not mean that I know the full breadth of possibility here. I was just glad to begin that conversation of what robotic cinematography might look like for the everyday person.

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