On the evening of Saturday November 2nd, the lights went out in the University of Dayton Arena. For a moment, thousands of basketball fans were plunged into darkness. Then the monitors above them blazed to life with a pre-game hype video like none other.
To create this unique footage, Real Art designed a mammoth, 16-foot-long steel camera arm spinning a full 360° rotation. And we bolted it directly to the structure of our development lab. Only a team made of ambitious cinematographers and ingenious industrial designers could engineer a set-up this insane.
When the University of Dayton approached us to make this season’s hype materials, they suggested a simple refresh of the video we made for them in 2012. But re-treading old ground is not Real Art’s style. Inspired by a DIY ceiling fan mount and affectionately nicknamed after the Dayton Flyers, the ‘FlyRig’ was born.
We cut and welded the steel for the structure, making everything from the ceiling brace to the custom control box that ensures a consistent rotation speed across multiple shots. The rig’s motor was taken from an electric wheelchair. The camera itself needed to hang down to about 5′ off the ground and we counter-balanced it with heavy weights on the opposite end of the rotating arm. The rig’s design was powerfully simple.
Until our camera guys brought up one major problem: the lighting.
If the light source was mounted inside the circle of the rotating arm, its cables would get tangled in the orbit of the camera. But if the light source was outside of the arm’s circumnavigation, the camera would block out the light for a chunk of every rotation. It would mean that 30° of every 360° turn of the camera would be marred by shadow and probably get left on the cutting room floor.
In a feat of imaginative engineering, we devised a way of powering both the lights and rotating arm using brush contacts—i.e. consistent electrical current with no cables required. This enabled us to add a stationary lighting mount fully attached to the rig and hanging below the moving arm.
We secured the whole setup to our development lab’s structural truss and gave it a spin. The arm with the camera flew around startlingly fast. For the first time, the FlyRig was really flying. Beneath it, we installed a 40′-square chunk of basketball court borrowed from UD. A ring of blackout curtains enclosed the rig and provided a dark backdrop for the camera.
Then it was time to bring in the talent: 26 of the University of Dayton’s finest basketball players, 4 talented cheerleaders, and 1 roguish mascot.
Shooting was a blast. Organized into groups by height, we filmed each player dribbling and stepping at their best. Then we got group shots with team members posing and passing. Over five days, the rig worked seamlessly and the footage looked stunning. It was everything we needed to make an unforgettable series of player cards and hype videos.
In the realm of film, solutions for a client tend to be immaterial: the addition of post-production effects or artful editing. But this project was utterly unique. Sure, UD came to us for video and we gave it to them. But we did it by crossing design disciplines and combining creative perspectives. We built something elaborate and extraordinary that didn’t exist in the world until we made it. That’s the kind of magic we like to celebrate.
And we’re looking forward to using it again. When a cool contraption like this one is just hanging out on your ceiling, it’s begging to get used. We fired it up for our last company retreat and we can hardly wait for the next opportunity to get the FlyRig flying.