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REVIEW: Techno Dolly Workshop from 'Share the Knowledge'

02 Jul 2020 3:05 PM | Amber Wakefield (Administrator)

A Technodolly workshop hosted at GripHQ has seen the "Share the Knowledge" programme successfully branch into the practical side of production. Held over five days spread across June, ten successful applicants learned the inner workings of the Technodolly from world-renowned expert Lee Buckley and New Zealand's own veteran grip Tony 'Spotty' Keddy.

In New Zealand for an upcoming Amazon project, Buckley has been involved with the Technodolly for roughly the past ten years and has seen many iterations over his career, watching the technology advance from a ceiling-mounted newsroom crane to what it is now. His work on films such as War for the Planet of the Apes and Altered Carbon push the boundaries of the rapidly advancing technology. "Camera control, repeatability, the Technodolly can take prebuilt moves and recreate them practically on set or a practical live performance-led camera move that is then ingested into Maya. Now there's greater integration with things like Unreal and real-time CG environments that actors can exist in."

There are currently about 30 Technodolly around the world, with three in New Zealand and developments to acquire a fourth. Keddy believes this to be a huge drawcard for productions looking at New Zealand as a filming destination. Drawing on his extensive experience with motion capture, Keddy suggests the modern audience has grown a lot smarter so it takes a lot more to sell the illusion of film making, the Technodolly being an ideal piece in the modern film making puzzle. "It's a more flexible and reliable tool than it's ever been, and for a digital world, it's the right time for it." 

With each Technodolly needing a crew to operate, the number of knowledgeable operators is thin. While there's been a demand for quality training for a long time, given COVID 19 and many productions looking to relocate to New Zealand, that need has escalated dramatically. "The machine's just a machine, and it will attract productions, but we need to have skilled people running it." says Keddy. He believes there needs to be a culture change in the film industry. "The only way we can go forward is if we share the knowledge and get the whole level of filming up. There's a huge gap between the A crews and the D Crews, if you're not shown what to do, it's a long journey to work your way up. Whereas we can elevate people quicker and better with education."

"When starting in the industry, to get that job you need the experience, and then to get that experience you need that job." Says Buckley. "Whilst the training doesn't give you the experience of set and what you would do on set it does give you that experience and ability to see how it works in the real world." 

Local cinematographer Christo Montes attended the course and gained an appreciation beyond the hands on experience. "[Seeing] Lee's insight of what an actual set with the Technodolly means. Especially the set dynamics and how those can be challenging in a lot of situations, for me it was definitely a benefit to know." The training featured elements of real-world situations requiring critical thinking and a steady composure. Buckley says "By applying pressure to give a sense of 'Yes you have the knowledge, but how do you now make that knowledge fit within a set environment.' And that's the key to training is to get people so they've got the base awareness and base knowledge, and then that gives them the tools to be able to implement them on set."

When comparing New Zealand to a heavily unionized North America, Buckley says the multi-discipline nature of motion control crosses so many departments, and it's an attitude of collaboration that allows Kiwis to excel. "New Zealand has that willingness to jump into different worlds and just muck in and help out. It's both challenging and rewarding." With the government earmarking significant funds for international productions, there's never been a more pertinent time to foster the development of skills within the New Zealand film industry.

~ John Ross, Cinematographer

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