Tracking Dolly Test

The camera tracking dolly arrived today three weeks early. I assembled it and took it for a short run.

I took a video rather than a stop-action animation just to get a handle on how it works.


  • Easy to assemble and nice and heavy for stability
  • The tracks are fairly smooth but I need to push the camera along carefully to avoid vibration due to friction. A little lubricant might help.
  • I bought a short track to see how it would work. I can see now that a 30 cm effective track distance (taking the centre of the camera lens and starting and endpoint) is fine for small things but is not enough for more extensive tracks. However, tracking for say 1 metre would probably need a smooth ride such as on a wheel and track dolly where friction is not an issue. I shall look into making such a contraption before considering buying a longer track.
  • The camera mount is a bit of a problem because the camera base stops along the mounting screw off centre. I managed to get around this problem by using a screw adapter and mounting on this the quick-release monopod mount.
  • Tracking the camera while videoing makes it impossible to focus at the same time: hence focus pullers in film studios. This is one of the reasons why I am going to film using stop motion animation. At each frame, I can adjust the focus. I can also control the lens focal length on the zoom and the lighting.


Technical Planning for Video Work


Camera movements are key to this part of the project. However, camera movements with a DSLR are never satisfactory. Smoothness and accuracy are almost impossible to achieve unless the camera is mounted on some pretty expensive gear. I have tried handheld and tripod supported videos before. Handheld is a disaster without a powerful gyroscope and tripods are fine until you try some movement, that is when jerkiness begins.

How can I circumvent these problems without spending hundreds of pounds on a stabiliser, fluid pan tripod head and tracking dolly? The answer is simple, stop motion photography. By capturing movements frame by frame, the loss of control that comes with moving a camera at speed is eliminated. Innovative ways of using the camera are possible and dynamic lighting effects can be introduced single-handedly. By considering a sequence in terms of frames, the whole can be visualised and planned for more effectively.

Camera movements

I have all I need to accomplish all camera movements except tracking. The tripods I have are stable and smooth enough for frame by frame panning, tilting and even vertical tracking. However, I have had to order a set of tracking dolly rails from the internet. The spend is only £24 and having carried out some research: this piece of equipment appears quite adequate for the simple tasks I shall ask of it. I really could not justify larger spends, in some cases hundreds of pounds.

Camera and Subject Movements

  • Pan
  • Tilt
  • track
  • zoom
  • rotate


This is one technique that I believe will prove very useful to move into areas of the pieces to give the semblance of moving towards it. It is flexible enough to move around corners and zoon into details.


Lighting does not have to be static. I use painting with light over long exposures to create even lighting rather than using a booth or a whole battery of lights. I first came across this technique years ago through Ansel Adams, who used it in large interiors to light dark areas without the use of many lights which would have been in the way. I have used it for lighting small works with great effect. However, this is better suited for static photographs rather than moving images.

There is, though, an adaptation of this technique in that as the camera is moved in space during stop motion, the light source can also be moved to create dynamic light effects which would, I imagine, give the film the sense of being in a living environment.


Adapting and Videoing


It does not look as though I shall have the kiln connected in time for the ‘final show’. No matter, the change in circumstances due to coronavirus offers tactical opportunities to develop strategies post MA. In any case, displaying fired and finished works in the studio is not really satisfactory as the images or videos would fall short of what I would consider a fair representation of the works. However, taking each component of the exhibition as a model for digital works is catalysing a wealth of ideas, time being the only constraint.

Visual artworks today are most commonly revealed in the first instance as images or films. This kind of imagery often misrepresents the reality of the works in some way and serves more as an illustration of some alluded to idea. They are entry points into the work itself which may surprise or disappoint but almost invariably present very differently. I wrote about this some time ago in another post. Therefore, to create works for online or print presentation using the physical works as far as possible is the obvious way to go. Not in an attempt to replace their physical presence but as a way of exploring the world they inhabit and discovering new processes and meanings along the way.

The beauty of creating works that stand alone in print or online is that I am embarking on a dual approach over the next three months. One, I continue to make and finish (as fas as possible) the physical works which in turn become enriched by their online reflections. This is both an artistic and professional enrichment, extending the meaning and context of the works as well as building a platform for wider distribution and promotion.1 This ties in with the idea of creating different open levels of interpretation whilst offering the viewer a way in for their own narrative building. The temporary, possibly permanent, loss of the physical show may, in the long run, bring with it positive outcomes.

By not having to install a physical show, the time spent testing, packing, travelling and transporting, installing and curating the work, can now be spent representing the work variously. I will miss the excitement of the ‘real’ exhibition, of meeting people and showing the work and ideas, but there is no use in lamenting the fact. Fortune has dealt a different hand which may end up being a winning one. I will of course still document the detailed planning for a hypothetical show and its curation but parallel to this, I can create a whole new experience within the limits of the time available.

The obvious way to go is to create videos. I have decided against scanning, photogrammetry, 3D rendering. Why would I want to create a facsimile of the works when I have them in the flesh? I do not have the time to make such works, let alone develop the skills, to create something worth looking at. But why not try to create a virtual world that is powerfully engaging, perhaps more so?, I might hear someone say. This question, I imagine would be asked by someone who has a higher level of skills in the relevant software than I. I am an expert in what I do, it is a time to work to one’s strengths.

So videos and photographs, drawings (digital), words and sound it is. But what sort of videos? To produce something worthwhile as a straight video I believe would require equipment and facilities I do not have. I have come to the conclusion that animating films using stop action capture provides the control I need for smooth movements, camera angles, pacing, dynamic lighting, green screening and so on.

In the next post, I shall go into more technical details as to how I can approach this and what equipment and facilities I have and might need.


  1. At this stage I am not so concerned with promotion but it is good to keep it in mind[]

Mythopoeia V – Hope



Video for Entanglement show next week, Wednesday, 11 December.

The video is both part of the project proposal, orbiting the work Enshrinement and the latest in the series that has emerged since the first term. Each video is a stand alone exploration of an idea, using the contingency of what is available, made within a very restricted time frame. Each one is an extemporaneous projection of thought emerging from notions that have subliminally evolved in my mind. They have been catalysed in the moment by the materials and circumstances at hand using the video medium as an available tool to expose these thoughts to the light of day. 

Each video suggest a notion or instance congruent with my overall vision, penetrating into a part of my mental metabolism that can remain blind to itself until it is unearthed in the process of reflection, after having used a means other than that with which I work normally such as digital video.