Jeff Linnell had wondered for years why no one had repurposed industrial robots—the sort of giant, powerful arms that assemble cars on factory floors—as programmable tripods for movie cameras, reports Ciara Byrne. So in 2008 the owner of a small advertising firm bought three used industrial robots, and within a week one was used to shoot a TV commercial for Louis Vuitton.
Recently, a much-evolved version of that system, one that can be controlled by anyone with a background in 3D and animation, was used to make possible the otherwise-impossible shots in the hit movie Gravity.
Byrne’s original piece on how Linnell’s robotic camera arms work is fascinating—it turns out the robots are so powerful they present a danger to the actors who work with them—but when she published it late last year, she wasn’t allowed to reveal which film had made pioneering use of the system. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, we can expect that many more cinematographers wishing to reproduce the unique shots in Gravity will be turning to robots to shoot their films.