Ultimate Arm: Capturing action from every angle
The technology behind movie magic.
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While Peters rustled up investors in the US, Yevstratov corralled a team of designers in Russia.
As Yevstratov puts it, the project took 18 months of “working on the computer at home, calling and e-mailing to Russia, going there, buying and shipping parts, getting equipment to the US, opening shop, assembling, fixing, adjusting, and remaking some parts.”
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By 2005, the Russian team finished the prototype. Since then, all seven of the cranes have been built in Russia.
“I think they have about six to eight people working over there,” says Peters. “I feel very blessed that we had so much help from Russia. I do not think it could have been done as fast here.”
The arm in action
The UA is used mainly for filming high-speed chases, by cars, helicopters, or boats. For car chases, they often attach it to a Mercedes SUV because they “needed a vehicle that could handle the weight and still go really fast and not feel like it was going to tip over,” says Peters from his office in Oxnard, Calif.
Yevstratov’s team transformed their Mercedes by adding a new suspension, tires, brakes, a supercharger that ramps up the horsepower from 342 to 550, and a built-in roll cage to support the crane and protect the passengers in case of a rollover.
The cramped interior is jampacked with all the equipment needed to operate the crane, camera, and the special “Levhead” cradle, which can turn on three axes. They tucked joysticks, film equipment, hard drives, a radio system to the stunt car, and four TV screens into the car – and the SUV still seats five people.
“It is just plain insanity inside the UA,” says Peters. “Things happen in one second. Sometimes there is a lot of yelling and commotion going on and you have to take it all in.”
When traveling to locations or not in use, the UA has its own custom-built truck, designed by Bailey, complete with its own generator and complete repair facility. This way, when it comes time to start shooting, “we’re set up to be very ready to go. You unload the car, put the camera on, and you’re ready to shoot. The setup time is virtually nil,” says Bailey.
Production crews can rent the UA, with prices based on the intensity of the product and how many features the film needs. Either way, the price isn’t cheap. The “Levhead” alone costs $1,300 a day to rent.
Since that first prototype, the seven UAs have shot countless automobile commercials, as well as scenes from “Batman Begins,” “Miami Vice,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” “The Mummy,” and a boat scene in “Quantum of Solace.”
In 2006, the team won an Academy Award for Technical Achievement. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which holds the Oscars each year, called the Ultimate Arm “a significant improvement in camera car technology that solved many problems inherent in chase vehicle filming.”
Peters’s translation: The UA is going to make traditional camera cars obsolete.
“I am not an engineer or scientist like Lev,” says Peters. “I completely took on this business on faith; I knew it would help me pull through any kind of difficulty. It’s working.”