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What to do with a 3D Printer: Video Production Field Use

Posted by Alex R English on

Earlier this week Mechan Media was in Seattle on a production and had our Mosaic on loan to see what applications they had for it.  As it turns out, it saved the shoot!

A rented tripod was missing the custom bolt that connects the quick-release plate to the camera.  The custom bolt has the threads removed from the several millimeters nearest the head, which allows it to fit in the channel, which is narrower than the width of the bolt where there are threads.  Without the resources to fabricate a custom bolt the next option would have usually been to hunt around at rental houses for another tripod, or a replacement for the bolt or plate.  With the 3D Printer on hand, a solution was much cheaper and faster than it would have been otherwise.

Last April, Thingiverse user nrp released a Manfrotto quick release plate that is compatible with the tripod head at hand, a Manfrotto 503HDV.  It was designed to be a perfect match (and it was) so it would have had the same problem without a custom bolt.  Since nrp also released the OpenSCAD file for the part it was easily modifiable.  Increasing the width of the channel down the middle allowed a regular 1/4"-20 bolt to fit in the channel, rather than requiring the custom bolt. 5 minutes after the part was downloaded, the new plate was printing.  The unattended print allowed the full crew to return to the shoot in the mean time, rather than tying up a crew member with the search for a replacement.

The plate finished just in time and worked like a charm. Here is the camera mounted with the custom plate, and the plate itself.

Camera mounted on a tripod with a 3D Printed plate from Thingiverse.

3D Printed Tripod Plate ready to be mounted on the camera.

The underside of the 3D Printed Tripod Plate.

Our biggest takeaway from this experience is the usefulness of a 3D Printer in the field, in a real-world professional application.  Employing a printer here saved time, money, and headache.  The availability of an existing design made the process incredibly fast.

On a side-note, here is a draft of a DSLR table-top dolly built from printed parts, some nuts and bolts, and the trucks and wheels from a $20 skateboard.

A 3D Printed Tabletop Camera Dolly

While this wasn't designed in the field, the last, and largest parts were printed in the field.  The assemebly is made up of two halves of a sled that bolt together very firmly (the sled was split into halves for printing on a Mosaic).  The knobs on the bolts are these ¼"-20 enclosed hex bolt knobs, the gray piece is used to keep the bottom knob attached while it is stored, but is used to snug the camera down to the plate when in use; it is this knob for a cheap steadicam.  In addition to the main sled, some special purpose washers were printed, some of which just add spacing, others of which are there to captivate nuts so things can be tightened easily with no tools.  Even though the wheels are very poor quality, the ride is very smooth and the dolly produces great looking motion on flat surfaces.  Rough surfaces produce rough video, but there's not much to be done about that unless some form of shock absorption or a track is integrated.  Here is the Printed DSLR Tabletop Dolly on Thingiverse.

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