Placing the external recorder and battery
It doesn’t take genius to know that the bulk of the counter weight will be provided by the battery system and external recorder. Here is where the Pix scores over a Hyperdeck Shuttle or another recorder. Its weight isn’t negligible.
The orientation of the recorder is important. I can rig it standing up, like an external monitor, or lying down. The former will give it a slightly more advantage for counter-balance, but not by much. I have this option whenever I don’t want to use the external monitor. I decide the simplest way is to have the Genlock and SDI ports facing the rear of the brain. Easier cable management, this way.
The beauty of a tilt-able battery/recorder bracket is that it can be twisted for that extra fine tuning (remember forces acting in an angle?) – just like a follow focus system!
The same 240mm rods on the front won’t be enough to counter-balance the rig, so I opt for 15mm rods instead. Not only will it provide a longer distance, but also additional weight. Furthermore, I can replace the 15mm front rods with carbon fiber rods, for that slight reduction in weight.
Calculate the Center of Gravity
Please don’t take these calculations at face value. It might be wrong, or inapplicable in your case. Make your own calculations – it’s easy and fun!
Ideally, I’d want my center of gravity in the middle of the shoulder pad. I find that my rig barely makes it – it’s off by about a centimeter from the datum and 8mm (in orange) from the optical center (due to the EVF).
The latter problem is negligible. It is preferable to have the rig leaning in slightly than twisting out.
To make this balance happen, I had to factor in a 1.5 kg counter-weight. I’ve also added the external monitor at the end.
But what if the external monitor needs to move to the front? It can. Its impact on the rig is minimal. The Redmote can be taken off the front to the back to counteract or add weight to the end, but even this is negligible.
Is there any way I can avoid the use of counter-weights? Yes, if I can manage to push the shoulder pad even further forward. Maybe I can. All I need to do is adjust the EVF accordingly – that’s why it has an arm and an attachment to the matte box.
Important: You are not looking for perfection here. There’s always fine tuning that happens on a rig.
What we’ve accomplished is confidence in the general layout of the rig. We know we’re close! We followed a straightforward method, and didn’t waste our time on any wild goose chases.
Disadvantages and What-ifs?
How do you get the rig on a tripod?
Luckily, the shoulder pad adapter plate (which can also be used by itself to mount a recorder) can be removed in less than five seconds without disturbing anything else on the rig. This gives me direct access to the tripod base plate or head.
How is the lens and matte box supported?
We aren’t using any heavy zooms so we don’t need 19″ rods or lens support systems. The matte box will be supported by the rods, with bellows for the zooms if required.
What about height of the lenses in relation to the rig? The Epic base plate by Arri is designed to have front rod connectors higher than the rear connectors. This gives the front rods a height of 85mm from the optical center. The maximum radius of the biggest lens (the 300mm) is well below this mark.
What about Handle bars? Don’t they add front weight?
I don’t like handle bars too much. Most rig systems have two of them because the systems tend to get front-heavy (really heavy) – usually due to poor planning. I don’t envy anybody who has to hold such a system for days on end.
Ideally, you’d want your elbows against your torso, exactly how DSLR still photographers are advised to hold their cameras. Your forearms are best used parallel to your body (perpendicular to the rig). Large handles force the forearms to be at an angle or perpendicular to the body. Not good.
Either way, the custom handle can be tilted for the perfect position, or the shorter handles can be used instead – whatever the needs of the operator.
If and when my DP hands over the rig to his assistant, the entire ergonomic factor of the handles changes. For this reason I’ve added counter-weights at the end. It gives that extra freedom to balance the system if it gets a little front-heavy.
The top handle can be screwed on to the brain and we’re ready to roll!
What is the Full weight of this rig?
From the chart you can see the rig of the ‘core’ system is about 12 kg (26 lbs). I estimate with all the cabling, handles and other things one might add in the future, the rig shouldn’t breach the 15 kg mark (about 33 lbs).
What does 15 kg feel like? The easiest way to find out is head to the gym. Imagine lifting a 3-year old or a Beagle; or even $1.5 million in hundred dollar bills – that’s what it feels like. But we ain’t getting paid that much.
Here’s an excellent video that explains rigging the Epic in detail:
If all this talk of rods, plates, and rigs seem like too much information too fast, don’t worry. I introduced some concepts in this chapter only because it was key to understanding how to lay your gear together.
Next, we’ll look at all the support systems one by one.