A very simple camera pan slide dolly setup for puppet stage

When you need to do a pan move across your set, here is an easy and cheap way to do it using very few parts. You will need some scrap wood, a threaded rod (I used a one foot section of 8-32 threaded rod), a wingnut and washer to fit the rod and a locknut or regular nut to fit the threaded rod.

First thing you do is build a simple sled that your camera can sit on, and will slide across your set or desk or table. Place a lip on the front edge so it rides against the front edge of your set. You can also just lay another piece of scrap wood down, secure it in place any angle you wish and make the sled ride on the scrap wood. Either way you need a piece of wood that your camera can rest on and a lip to follow some edge. At this point you could easily just take a picture and slide the sled a little bit and take another photo and you will get a pan shot, but it is very difficult to get a really smooth movement without the threaded rod part.

Above you can see the whole setup. The camera and tripod rest on the sled. Now for the threaded rod. Drill a hole in your sled large enough for the threaded rod to slide through. Insert one end and put a washer and a nut on it. This is free to turn in the hole you drilled in the sled.

The other end of the threaded rod does all of the work. Take another scrap of wood and build something you can clamp or screw to the set. Drill another hole in this end for the threaded rod. Insert the rod and put a washer and a wingnut on it. Now when you turn the wingnut it pulls the rod and the sled towards this end.

This gives an incredible amount of control to your pan shots. You turn the wingnut a few turns, take a photo, then turn the wingnut again. With every turn of the wingnut the sled moves a tiny bit. If you also use the ease in/ease out principles you get a great pan shot. For instance on my shot I started with one turn of the wingnut for the first 4 shots, then two turns for 4 shots, then three turns, then four, then five. For the rest of the pan I stayed with five turns until the end and then I did the whole sequence in reverse.

My sled has a few extras on it that you can also add if you wish but are not necessary. The first thing is it is a box to give me enough room to slide my hand into. My tripod has a wire on it attached to a screw. I slid this screw down through the top of the sled box and put a wingnut on it. When I tighten the wingnut it pulls the wire tight and holds the tripod in place. If you don’t use a tripod on your sled you can just sit the camera on a flat board and glue some scraps around it so the camera doesn’t move around.

The other thing I did is screw a scrap on both sides of the sled with a hole in both so I can reverse my sled so it also pulls the other direction. See the small blocks of wood in the above photo, one on the left and one on the right? They both have a hole in them that the threaded rod will fit in.

Looking at the photo above I see that I also put a nut on this side and the other side of the threaded rod when it went through the support just to keep it in place. Remember the threaded rod can be locked in place on the sled so it doesn’t turn when you turn the wingnut on the clamped piece.

You can use this principle in many different ways. Below is another setup I did basically the same to pull a water snake across the mud in “third necessity”. Same idea though, threaded rod, and a wingnut that you turn to pull the rod towards you which pulls the puppet, prop, or camera sled in a slow controlled measured amount. You could even hook it up so it pulls your soda and your chocolate to you while you animate but you will end up pretty thirsty and hungry before it ever arrives.

So there you go, cheap (I think the threaded rod is a couple dollars, a dollar or two for nuts, and some scrap wood) easy, and gives great results. All of my pan shots have been done with some form of this setup.

Go ahead, make a mess, have some fun.


4 responses to “A very simple camera pan slide dolly setup for puppet stage

  1. Sweet! great set up, rock it!


  2. I’ve seen several designs for devices that move a camera… This one’s the simplest yet — which in many ways makes it the most elegant. Why use aluminum tubes and skateboard wheels and the like when your camera only weighs a pound? Overkill.

    Thanks for the tutorial — I see myself going out to get some threaded rod in the near future!


  3. Pingback: Camera Dolly and Turntable

  4. Pingback: Kamera Arabası ve Döner Set Tablası

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