The last of the lifts in Canada shut down this week. Now comes the long wait for the snow to start falling again while we live vicariously through the videos from C.O.C and the Mt. Hood snowboard camps. It's also the perfect time to start prepping for that video you want to shoot next winter. Whether you're planning your first sponsor-me tape or want to up the production value on your crew movie a tracking dolly will help add a professional touch.
Here are the few simple steps to building one from Alterna Films editor Bryant Bell as seen in Snowboard Canada issue 18.4. Once you've put a dolly together head down to your local skatepark, BMX, track or nude beach and practice to make sure you've got your tracking shots dialed.
One piece of ½ inch plywood
1-2 pieces of 2x4 depending on platform size
2 pieces of 2-inch PVC or metal pipe, minimum 5 feet long
8 #12 or #14 2-inch wood screws
8 1.25x60mm bolts with nuts
8 skateboard wheels with bearings (minimum)
Approximate cost: $160-$180
*The wheels and bearings are the most expensive part. Save money by using the wheels from your skate and a buddy’s. That should bring your cost down to $50-$60.
1] Plywood deck: This can be any size you want. The only rule is that it’s big enough to hold your tripod. You can make a large one for you to stand on so that someone can push you while you pan or zoom the camera or a small one so that holds a baby tripod known as a hi-hat. With the small one you should be able to fit everything in a backpack and take it up the hill. Screw 2X4’s along the sides to strengthen the platform and provide a space to attach the L-brackets.
2] Track: You can use PVC pipe or metal pipe from the hardware store. PVC is light and easy to move around, but metal will give a very level track even on bumpy ground. You can also use the metal pipe to span a gap between two points then run the dolly along it, giving you more options.
3] Wheels: Skateboard wheels work best. They have great bearings that give a smooth roll. The more wheels you put at each corner, the smoother it will ride, especially over seams or joints between two lengths of pipe.
4] Attach L-bracket to platform: Place the L-brackets and toenail screw them into place.
5] Attach the wheels to the L-bracket: The key is to align the wheels 90 degrees to each other so that they are both angled at 45 degrees onto the round track. Use two washers on the inside of each wheel so it doesn’t rub against the L-bracket and one on the outside. Most L-brackets come with pre-drilled holes but you may need to drill out the right sized holes for the skateboard wheel bolts.
6] Paint: You can paint it black so it's less likely to reflect in your shots, or if you're shooting all the time in the snow, paint it white so that it reflects similarly. Stencil your production company logo on it and you're set.
An example of what your shots can look like. Caveat: some shots in this video use a jib arm.