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History of Camera Movement

written by: •edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 1/13/2010

From the invention of film to present, learn a brief overview of the history of camera movement and some interesting facts.

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    History of Camera Movement

    Ever since the invention of film and film cameras, early filmmakers have always experimented with camera movement and innovative ways to mobilize a camera through a set. A moving camera engages the viewer(s) and enables the audience to better experience the action of what’s taking place in the film; camera movement also has its aesthetic nature. Throughout time, since the invention of film cameras, it would take innovative filmmakers, such as Max Ophüls, Orson Welles, and Garret Brown (inventor of Steadicam), to take film to the next level.

    Early films most notably captured stationary shots because the film cameras of the time were bulky and too heavy to move and tripods were mostly constructed with a fixed head mount. In addition, early filmmakers were more interested in capturing the movement of the subject itself, whether the human body, animals, transportation vehicles, etc. Because camera movement requires more planning, it becomes more expensive and time consuming, and this was especially the case considering how heavy cameras were during the early film period. However, some early filmmakers wouldn’t let this stop them from experimenting and pushed the envelope to create innovative camera movements in order to capture the audiences viewpoint.

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    Basic Camera Movement Types & History

    In the late 1800s and early 1900s tripods were eventually made with rotating head mounts, enabling such camera movements as pansand tilts. Later, in 1903 tracking shots (aka dolly or trucking shots) would be used in narrative films. These shots require the camera to sit on a dolly or moving platform, secured on wheels and/or tracks, that when rolled, could move in/out, beside, diagonally, or around the subject(s). In the 1920s, filmmakers would experiment other ways to mobilize a camera, such as strapping the camera either on themselves or on other moving objects on the set. However, because of the heavy weight of the 35 mm cameras during the first half of the 20th century, handheld dolly shots were rare. As cameras became lighter, thus more mobile, the camera eventually could go virtually anywhere --handheld (or Steadicam shot), crane shots (although first known to have been used in 1915), and evenaerial shots (aka bird’s eye). The handheld dolly shot became something of an advantage and staple for some young filmmakers in the late 1950’s/ early 1960s, sparking the French New Wave of cinema; and during the 1970s, a camera operator by the name of Garret Brown, along with Cinema Products Inc., would invent the Steadicam® which not only provided smooth shots, but enabled the camera operator to be anywhere on set without the inconvenience of tracks and/or dollies.

    With the passing of each decade, the camera would evolve to become more mobile. Today, camera movement isn’t only limited by what the camera captures on set, it is also used in conjunction with CGI effects in post production, such as 3-D modeling which may create illusions of endless camera movement virtually anywhere, even through a keyhole.

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    Interesting Facts

    -Zooms are not to be confused with camera movement since zooms take place inside the camera lens and not the camera body itself.

    -Some early filmmakers believed that a moving camera would confuse the audience.

    -Pan is from the word panorama.

    -Tilt is also known as a vertical pan.

    -Although tracking shots are known to have been first used in the early 1900s, it was in the late 1890s when filmmakers experimented by placing a camera on a train or trolley.

    -In the 1910s, filmmakers experimented with the first known aerial shots from a plane.

    -“Cabirira"(1914) is an Italian film known to be the first feature film with the use of dolly shots.

    -In 1915, Allan Dwan is known to have created the first crane shot.

    -It wouldn’t be until the 1950s when aerial shots were shot from helicopters.