History of the Steadicam
Garret Brown wanted to be able to make a camera fly smoothly over uneven ground.
It was the early 1970’s and his original idea was as simple as it was revolutionary, he wanted a device that could smooth out hand held action shots. Up until Garret invented the Steadicam moving shots outdoors had involved the use of tracks, or dollies, laid along a pre-determined path and Garrett didn't have the crew, budget or time for these on his productions. Garrett built a variety of contraptions before locking himself in a hotel room and emerging a week later with the earliest version of what we still use today.
The first time a Steadicam was used on a feature film was 1975 and its full potential was largely unrealized. The Steadicam made its feature film debut on the movie ‘Bound for Glory’. Garrett, also making his feature film debut, descended 30 feet on a Titan camera crane into a crowded camp site and stepped off the crane to track with David Carradine as he passed through the crowd. The result was a 4-minute long shot.
Stanley Kubrick grasped the possibilities of Garret’s invention as a dramatic device. He pushed the boundaries of the steadicam and revealed the enormous potential of Garrett Brown’s invention. “The Shining” marked the first use of the low mode and hard mounted configurations.
In 1977 Cinema Products introduced the Universal Model I Steadicam that was soon superseded by the Model II, which, with a rotatable monitor, allowed low mode configuration.
In 1977 Garrett and Cinema Products were awarded an Oscar® for technical achievement in the development of the steadicam.
The Model III was introduced in 1983, and this rig remained the “state of the art” for some years. Many operators began custom modifying their own rigs to improve performance and in 1992 George Paddock introduced the PRO sled (Paddock Radical Options).
In 1994 Cinema Products released the Master Series Steadicams, a range of four models to suit film or television use. Improvements included the iso-elastic arm, adjustable dynamic balance, an improved monitor and on the high end versions a motorised top stage which allowed balance adjustment mid shot. These were to be the last steadicams models to be sold by Cinema Products as the company went into receivership. The Steadicam Products division was taken over by Tiffen and the Ultra was soon on the market with a 6’ telescoping centre post, improved electronics and improved build quality.
Nearing the end of the 20th century many new manufacturers where introducing a variety of rigs to suit all levels of film-making and budgets. Tiffen introduced the Flyer and the Merlin to cater for the flood of small digital video cameras coming onto the market. Later an intermediate rig the Pilot was released along with a vest and arm upgrade option for the tiny Merlin. All these variations though are still based on the original design that Garrett used to execute the 4 minute crane step off shot on “Bound For Glory” back in 1975. New technology and materials such as carbon fibre and LCD monitor screens have improved performance but the principle design remains unchanged.