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Monitoring your incoming

audio/video datastream during shoots can be accomplished in the

usual ways; the old viewfinder will certainly do in a pinch, though

its small, inaccurate picture and tiring head/eye position will

eventually cramp your shooting style and have you searching for

alternatives. Most pros will just lug a separate monitor to the

shoots and use the viewfinder for positioning, while the stand-alone

monitor performs more esoteric picture and color corrections.

Neither of these options accounts for movement of the camera,

and, as many of you know, a moving camera is among the biggest production

hassles even without monitoring. A truckload of gear is necessary

just to achieve smooth movement: trams and tracks, dolleys, retrofitted

wheelchairs or what have you. But to actually monitor a moving camera,

you’ve just involved yourself in a whole new can of worms. You could

buy a SteadiCam, a contraption that outfits you with a gyroscopically

steady camera mount attached to your person in the form of a massively

uncomfortable heavy armature suit – and this is without the

camera attached. A gorilla is not included. And this option can

be had only if you’ve got the kind of deep pockets that don’t flinch

at house-sized payments. For most independent moviemakers, rental

of SteadiCam and operator is prohibitively expensive even if you

can find one. Prosumer video auteurs will buy the SteadiCam Jr.,

the "baby" Steadicam that has a small b/w monitor attached

and will allow a fairly decent smooth movement with the camera,

providing the complicated balance adjustments are made for your

particular camera, and that you aren’t outside where wind can destroy

any semblance of balance. But don’t try getting the same shot twice

with this device – there is no way to dial in an accurate movement.

Searching the back of video magazines will turn up homebrewed devices

many video artists came up with in frustration and then tried to


But there is another solution for monitoring a moving camera,

and it looks to be a potentially liberating option: The Virtual

Vision "heads-up" video monitor, ingenious device, (produced

by the Paul Allen-backed Redmond, Washingtoncompany Virtual Vision,

Inc.), is basically a television receiver on a beltpack with RCA

inputs for your camera (or cable TV). This leads to a pair of Gargoyle-like

glasses in which a small color monitor displays the video in an

adjustable mirror which positions the picture in front of your dominant

eye. The picture appears to be an amazing 60-inches across (relative

to a picture tube that size) – certainly bigger than any shoot monitor

you’ve ever seen, and the dark lenses on the glasses act like a

dark hood to view the picture against a consistent background even

while moving. You have to look slightly downward to get the desired

effect; looking up allows you to move around with the goggles on

without banging into anything. The picture is remarkably good –

the TV receiver and picture is better than my own home system with

an antenna attached. The glasses also have in-ear Walkman-like speakers

that hang off the arms for unparalleled audio monitoring. These

little speakers have a design flaw, however: they hang off delicate

wires, and just don’t fit into most ears very well. Some folks didn’t

want to use them, fearing any cooties from previous users’ ears.

(Perhaps a swing-down "earflaps" set of speakers may be

more in line for the Virtual Vision system).

Walter Hill assumes the classic director’s pose: behind the

camera, point.

If you can get those little speakers into your own ears, the

Virtual Vision system excels as a live monitoring source for a moving

camera. Much of the camera jitter that happens is the result of

eyepiece awkwardness; running around with a video camera, you need

to remove your eyes from the eyepice to find your. moving subject.

You lose many levels of motion perspective by squinting into

a little cup. The Virtual Vision system allows excellent continuity;

the system even includes different lenses for day or evening shooting

to block out glare or let in more light at night. Many kinds of

movement are made possible using the Virtual Vision system; overheads

to ankle-level shots can be performed and monitored comfortably

even when moving around.

Jeff Bridges, left, discussed the idea of "hero"

at length with Hill.

Though no direct camera retrofits for steadiness are made,

the system more than makes up for it by liberating the shooter from

the crippling viewfinder; if a shot is unsteady, it can be easily

monitored and reshot. Many cameras are beginning to feature "jitter

free" abilities in-camera anyway, so the awkward SteadiCam

Jrs. may soon be totally replaced by systems like the Virtual Vision


There are a few downsides to the system; a kind of motion

nausea can happen if you move around quickly while monitoring another

source. And it is not inexpensive – just over a thousand dollars

for the complete system. Rumors of the company seeking Chapter 11

protection won’t sell many of the systems, either.

Regardless, the attention you receive while using the system

behooves you to carry a stack of your business cards, and be prepared

for many techno-curious folks to practically grab it off your head

to try it out. As neat toys go, this is one of the best. More importantly,

it will come in very handy during your shoots. MM

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