DIY: 20' Rolling Camera Jib

I have been reading a lot of DIY (do-it-yourself) websites lately, and it inspired me to post about a fairly large project some friends and I undertook earlier this year. I will apologize now that I don't have any close-up shots of the bits & pieces because I didn't intend to blog it at the time.

After storyboarding a short film, we decided on some camera angles that were going to require some kind of jib--a crane or boom with a long reach. So, on a tight budget (which is what DIY is all about, right?), and after a few trips to Home Depot and Radio Shack, the 20' Rolling Jib was born.




This project required a bit of planning as far as weight distribution/limit was concerned. With one 2'x4' beam supporting the entire length of the boom, having too much weight would cause it to bend and flex excessively due to the flat orientation of the 2'x4'. Having it sitting vertically would have provided a solid foundation, but we were also worried that the boom would flex left to right. We decided to lay it flat. However, we wanted a 20' reach with this thing, so large counterweights were required. The boom was reinforced with a guywire (running over the post at the fulcrum) to keep it straight.


Here are the kinds of reinforcements needed for the jib. The base post is a 4'x4', supported by four metal struts bolted to each corner of the stand. We used fixed lawnmower wheels to allow single-axial movement.


We later drilled several holes into the boom at the head, as you can see, in hopes of weight reduction, but this only caused the boom to droop under tension and led to bouncing movements and ultimately the limited use of the jib.



This is the "console." A cheap DVD player was zip-tied to the boom and connected to the camera for real-time video feed while moving the crane. This was an all-in-one setup--that is, the crane operator and camera operator could be one person. We found this wasn't really a good idea, though, because there are several controls (even for this simple rig) and conditions that needed two people to control. Moving the jib itself took quite a bit of concentration to ensure fluid movements, and rotating the camera took just as much. The left/right control wasn't really exacting; it was more for broad adjustments.



Here is the jib head. We found a stepped-down servo motor at an RC hobby shop for $50 that had a gear ratio of something like 240:1--enough for fine movement and solid holding torque. The camera is mounted on a standard 1/4" bolt through a riser plate on the arm. We stuck a piece of rubber in between the arm and the camera for protection.


In order to keep the head from swinging freely in the breeze, and to allow panning control, we installed a stabilizer arm that would keep it in the same angle when the boom was raised or lowered.


The jib's overall cost ran us about $400, not including the DVD player or camera. I think there were some things we could have been more meticulous with, but like I said, we were working on limited time constraints. (We're submariners who spent most of 2007 underwater.) I'd say total working time was around 50 man-hours.

Have you done something like this? Do you have any DIY suggestions? Let the ideas fly!