A Bolt from the blue

The Bolt High Speed Cinebot is a camera rig that helps makes most of your favourite movie sequences come alive

June 21, 2016 05:48 pm | Updated October 18, 2016 12:42 pm IST - Bangalore

The Bolt Cinebot

The Bolt Cinebot

You have probably watched a gun being fired and the bullet hurtling towards the target, at an impatiently slow speed, till it hits the bull’s eye and disintegrates. Then, there is the cork ejecting out of a Champagne bottle, again at slow speed, while the frothy wine cascades out of the neck, in slow sparkling bubbles. You have seen a bottle being smashed to smithereens on the head of the villain, as the fragments fly in different directions agonisingly slowly, even as blood splatters all over.

All these and more high-speed action sequences are filmed at super-high speeds using new technology robots and 4K HD digital movie cameras, and played back at very slow speeds for a dramatic effect and impact on the viewer.

Hollywood has made extensive use of the unique Bolt High-Speed Cinebot in many of their top blockbuster movies, including Avengers: Age of Ultron , Jupiter Ascending , Skyfall and Maleficent to name just a few; the world’s fastest camera robot was also involved in the Marvel production, Ant-Man.

“High-speed motion control photography was needed to shoot some exciting explosions and fires at high speed, but down at the scale of an ant! Using small lenses to get the camera close to the model sets, the Bolt High-Speed CineBot was the ideal tool for these shots – combining its high speed with accuracy, precision and synchronised triggers for firing miniature explosions and fires,” says Peter Rush, Senior Quality Manager, Mark Roberts Motion Control, UK.

The Bolt is a multi-axis precision motor-controlled robotic arm fixed to a stationary base, which in turn, can be moved on hi-tech rails at super-high speeds. The robot can move on these rails at the speed of 4 metres per second, while the arm can swivel in a 180-degree arc, in any direction.

“Logically, what we are making is art. I am an engineer who makes these highly complex machines. The people who use them create works of art. The camera at the end of the Bolt arm is first positioned at the beginning of the sequence of movement that has to be filmed. This is programmed into the software.

“Then the end of the movement is determined for the camera position and that is also programmed. If there are intermediate positions or angles, these are also programmed. We always remember that the visual is the product and at no point of time should the machine seem overwhelming to detract the viewer from the product. The machine facilitates the movements and aspects of the camera, so that it can be repeated precisely and accurately as many times as required to get the perfect take. It also facilitates doing multiple shots of the same sequence to enable special effects at post-production stage,” explains Peter.

He adds, “Mark Roberts Motion Control makes Bolt and we also write the Flair software that operates the Cinebot. We are the only company that does both, and it is a great advantage for us. All the actions are tied together through Flair, which can be used to control entire moves and programmed to fire the triggers at precise points, ensuring reliable, accurate and repeatable movement. Flair facilitates 128 axes of motion for the robotic arm,” states Peter.

Mark Roberts Motion Control’s (MRMC) Bolt High-Speed Cinebot, reportedly the world’s fastest camera robot, is now in India, courtesy Stereovision, who have been pioneering quite a few new technology introductions in the country for the benefit of movie and advertisement commercial makers. Case in point is the GoPro and the Phantom cameras for advanced filming needs (including underwater) of both the industries.

Gopal Shah (Veer), Director of Photography, who is currently working on a film produced and directed by Anil Sharma (featuring his son Utkarsh Sharma as hero) says that the script of the film has a lot of scope to use the Bolt in several sequences. “I have previously used Milo, an earlier version with a longer arm, in some of my films, but the new Bolt with its technologically advanced mechanism and software is ideal for conveying interesting aspects of the screenplay. I would like to use it for conveying emotions, for instance,” says Gopal.

Cinematographer Binod Pradhan ( Rang De Basanti , Munna Bhai MBBS ), who is in the final stages of making the English film Heidi , plans to use the Bolt for scenes that require high-speed sequences.

“Playing back at super-slow motion speeds is one thing. But, imagine if action scenes are speeded up; the visual effect will be really heightened,” feels Binod.

Mahesh Mathai, who has done pioneering work in music videos and advertisement commercials, says that he would like to see how the Bolt can be used for a feature film that he is directing based on the life and accomplishments of Indian astronaut Rakesh Sharma. “While the Bolt is ideally suited for ad films, in its stationary or table top format, once the high-tech rails are incorporated, moving action sequences can be shot and played back at super-slow speeds for heightened impact,” says Mahesh.

The combination of Bolt High-Speed Cinebot, Flair software and Phantom 4K cameras are a highly costly proposition for any studio or production unit to invest in.

Hence, companies like Stereovision in India are the ones who have invested in this for renting them out to studios and agencies. “We have built a complete infrastructure to move the unit and crew to anywhere in the country for the benefit of film, television and advertisement producers,” says Harish Samtani of Stereovision.

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