Perfectly smooth moving footage is something we all strive for in video. It gives you the ability to move creatively through spaces, create interest, and helps differentiate your skill level from other shooters. In the end, buttery smooth footage just looks better, even to the untrained eye. Did you think that your new Ronin or Crane would instantly give you that perfect look only to find it wasn’t as easy as you thought? Let’s talk through some gimbal basics and how to get the smoothest of movements.
Smooth Footage: Your Gimbal
We are going to focus on electronic gimbals. You could use a Steadicam style stabilizer, and we have some experience with those in the past, but it has been much easier and more consistent to get the type of footage we need from electronic gimbals. While both have a learning curve, the electronic gimbals have had less.
First is preparing your gimbal. You must properly balance your rig. Your best friend here is YouTube. Search your model of gimbal and find a detailed video. We use both a Ronin M and a couple Zhiyun Crane 2s. While our first balances took 15-20 minutes to get right, we now can switch cameras and lenses, rebalance, and be ready to shoot in about 5 minutes. If the gimbal starts unbalanced, you will get more vibrations and jerkier footage.
Balance the Ronin M: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bm3Z8VBiXaY
Balance the Crane 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGaq72Z8jeY
Set Up Your Camera for Smoother Footage
Next up is actually how you will set up your camera and its frame rate. For more latitude in post, run 1080p60 for your frame rate (or 4k60 if you can and want the ability to crop), set your shutter to 1/120 or 1/125. That will give you will have the ability to slow all your footage to 50% and increase your smoothness even more. Many times, dropping your playback to 50% speed (in a 30p timeline) will take out little movements and give you really a really smooth result.
Become a Gimbal Ninja!
It’s true, Ninjas get the best footage. Outside of a couple 4th axis gimbal options, almost everly gimbal you will run will stabilize 3 axes, but it is up to you to make sure the 4th axis (up and down movement) is as smooth as it can be. This starts with your stance and how you walk.
In training other videographers, we start with describing a locked core position. This does require varying levels of strength depending on your rig. Our Ronin M rig with an A7Sii, lens, and a monitor is pretty stout. Bracing your core, almost hunching down, and really making sure your shoulders and upper back can handle the weight is crucial. Your back and arms will work together to keep the rig stable in the 4th axis while you move through a space.
As you move to walk in that supported and braced/crouched position, think NINJA! We teach rolling heal to toe as you walk. When agents see us shoot for the first time they will comment on how we walk. It really does look odd! Fully braced walking with your feet close to the ground, rolling heal to toe with each step isn’t how we normally walk but it is the best for smooth footage. Practice long push shots and see if at regular playback you can see footsteps. No footsteps in your raw footage means you are on your way to being a gimbal ninja. Check out an over the top look at the Ninja Walk 🙂
Finally, I find it helpful to think of my camera flying through space. I know the gimbal will gently settle and rest as I walk and pan/tilt, but I think as if I am the front of my lens. Am I smoothly floating that through the home and settling on my final composition? If so, then I know I will have great footage.
Smoothing It Out in Post
Finally, you can do a lot in post, but nothing replaces good footage. We already discussed slowing your 60 frame footage to 50% in a 30p timeline. You can really smooth out a lot with that a simple change in speed.
Next up is in program stabilization, for those using Adobe, you will use Warp Stabilizer. This effect will attempt to smooth out unwanted motion. Be careful, the effect starts at 50% stabilization. If the footage looks like Jell-O, back that percentage down. We’ve smoothed out clips with as little as 2% stabilization. A good initial check is when the stabilizer is done analyzing and it goes to stabilize, see if the frame punches in a lot. If so, you will want to back off the stabilization percentage.
** If you time remap, or clip speed, you will need to NEST the clip before using warp stabilizer. Just a quirk of Premiere. **
Nothing Beats Practice
In closing, let me say it again, NOTHING BEATS PRACTICE! You have to know your rig, get it balanced, and practice moving through various spaces. While typing this, I am rendering out a video for a home I shot today. I had one clip I ran wrap stabilizer on. Out of 30 clips, just one – and it was me being picky. So don’t rely on saving it in post, put in the work and get your ninja walk down. Here’s to many new (and SMOOTH) listing videos in 2019!