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Ultimate Arm: Capturing action from every angle

The technology behind movie magic.

By A.J. FrippContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / February 26, 2009

Eye in the sky: The Ultimate Arm attaches to a mobile studio crammed into an SUV.

Courtesy of Ultimate Arm

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Lincoln, Mass.

Cars hurtle down a narrow road, inches from the steep cliffs of Italy’s Amalfi coast. Shots are fired from the speeding vehicles. After dodging bullets, one of the cars slams James Bond’s vehicle into oncoming traffic, which the secret agent narrowly avoids. The action is frantic, but the scenes are smooth and seamless.

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To pull off these opening shots from the latest 007 flick, “Quantum of Solace,” director Marc Forster called in the Ultimate Arm. This remote-controlled camera crane swings through hectic action scenes with precision, capturing footage from right in the middle of the 60-m.p.h. car chase.

No camera car could do that, says Dean Bailey. As a professional stunt driver, Mr. Bailey navigated the Ultimate Arm (UA) through Bond’s high-speed pursuit. More recently, he used it to capture scenes for Mel Gibson’s upcoming film “Edge of Darkness.”

During a long night of filming last fall in residential Lincoln, Mass., Bailey showed why the UA has become one of the most sought after tools for Hollywood action movies.

The camera crane stretches out from a black Mercedes SUV like a scorpion tail. Instead of a stinger, the 22-foot arm can cradle a film, digital, or 3-D camera at its tip. Weighing up to 650 pounds, the UA can make a complete rotation around a vehicle in less than five seconds.

The camera can be lowered to mere inches above the pavement, and in the right circumstances, even five feet below ground level. Both the crane and camera cradle are gyrostablized to help achieve a stable image even at long focal lengths.

As Bailey puts it, “I don’t care how rough the road and how aggressive the driving, the image is super stable.”

Roots in Russia
UA is the brainchild of two film technicians who met in Hollywood. Lev Yevstratov spent 21 years teaching, designing, and tinkering at the Bauman Moscow State Technical School, arguably the best mechanical-engineering school in Russia. His work focused on military applications for gyroscopes, such as in navigation and guidance systems for missiles.

After receiving his PhD, Mr. Yevstratov left academia to pursue a career behind the scenes of TV shows and movies. One particular gig brought him to Los Angeles, where he met George Peters, the key grip who was also interested in camera motion.

They both knew that there must be a better way to rig camera cranes. And with Mr. Peters’s history in film and Yevstratov’s background in gyroscopes, they decided to work together to design a solution.

After a few years and some false starts, Peters helped Yevstratov move to the United States, and they went into business together.

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