Matt Allard of News Shooter has the scoop on a new type of wireless follow focus called the Andra Motion Focus system from Cinema Control Laboratories. On the surface, you may think it’s just another competitor to a Preston, but the Andra does much more. Specifically, it can track subjects in a scene and focus to them in an instant. It can even follow the focus of these subjects on its own.
I had a chance to see video demos of the system last week and was suitably impressed knowing that the focus was being pulled by the Andra and not an AC – at least not in the traditional sense.
(Follow the headline link to see the same videos.)
Allard interviewed Sam Fisher, the CIO of Cinema Control Laboratories, about how it works:
The system is essentially a hybridization of a motion capture system and a remote focus pulling system. Using a portable and easy to set up magnetic mo-cap system we’re able to very accurately track subjects and cameras in real time and use that data to drive a lens control motor. The mo-cap side of the system uses very small sensors which can be mounted to the performer beneath clothing, just like a lavalier microphone. The user can then decide where they want the focal point, relative to that sensor, and the system does the rest. We are able to get very impressive accuracy which, most importantly allows you to get really crisp eye focus. We don’t just target the general area of a person, we get the focus right where you want it.
There are two ways to interface with the system. The basic approach to use an iPad, which opens up a whole new world of creative options. Another option is to use the hand unit (The Arc) which is similar to hand units currently on the market except that it has a touch screen interface and offers an incredible range of new features, like the ability to simply sequence between desired focal points by simply hitting a button or turning the dial back and forth.
The system can also be used to “save” positions of non moving objects in any given area, and, for dyed in the wool focus pullers who want to do it all manually, the hand unit streams live distance data of any chosen subject or object whether it’s moving or stationary. Basically it’s like having a Cinetape on several objects at once. You can choose to let the system pull focus for you, allowing you to simply decide when and how fast to move between subjects, or you can just use the data to pull manually.
That last feature – the ability to get live distance data via sensor – is the most amazing. There are going to be many focus pullers who don’t want to hand control of their craft over to a machine, but having the ability to track distances to multiple subjects in real time while still being able to focus to them at your own speed and at your own discretion is undeniably useful.
Color me skeptical, but I still have a few questions about how the system works:
- What if the mo-cap sensor is mounted on a lapel, but the talent leans forward?
- Does the mo-cap sensor have any issues with interference?
- What is the latency like when using the iPad? Does it require wifi or is it ad-hoc?
- Can you adjust the timing of rack focuses?
- For one-man-band scenarios, how much interaction is required for focusing?
The one thing that worries me the most, however, is this exchange between Allard and Fisher:
Q: What lenses will it work on? Can it work on stills and cinema lenses?
A: The system will work with any cine lens: that is to say, any lens that has focus gears. Each lens needs to be calibrated once and then it can be stored in the app. There is no limit to how many lenses you can store. So far we’ve tested the system on Cooke Zeiss, Canon and Rockinon lenses, but we see no reason why it won’t work on any cine type lens. We’re also hoping to begin working with lens manufacturers to start building a database of lenses and make sure we can find ways to continue to optimize system performance.
Fisher doesn’t say it will work with any lens – only any cine lens. So does that mean it won’t work with still lenses? Is it confirmation by omission? It’d be unsurprising considering that many still lenses have short throws and focus barrels that freespin beyond infinity or minimum focus distance, but it does sever much of the market I could see utilizing this and many useful applications for camera assistants.
Still, this could represent a shift in wireless follow focus systems and be incredibly useful for pulling focus on handheld or Steadicam – whether you let the system take over or use the real-time data. Either way, I believe this is just another tool and not a replacement for camera assistants who do much more than pull focus and use creative discretion when doing so.
Cinema Control Laboratories is going to be at NAB this year (booth C9548) and I plan to get my hands on the Andra and ask all these questions.
Pricing, photos, demo videos, and more details about the concept available over at News Shooter.
What do you think about the Andra system? How do you think it will affect the job of the focus puller? Please leave your thoughts in the comments!