When you see a motion picture or commercial, often there are sequences that beg you to ask the question, "How did they do that?" Unfortunately, today's audiences tend to dismiss anything that appears as though it may have taken some daring to achieve as coming from a computer. And although it's true that action sequences that could be dangerous to cast and crew (not to mention expensive equipment) rely on CGI, many still use the proven method of live-action capture—and the results are well worth the extra time and care.
Typically, car sequences are captured via a chase truck or "camera truck" following the picture car, or the "star car." The biggest problem with this method is the camera truck itself; it's a behemoth. Essentially, a large truck is rebuilt from the ground up, with air-ride suspension to handle the extra weight of camera, crew and sometimes even lights. Platforms and bars are added, completely encompassing the vehicle. The camera truck then is crowned with a huge, static crane. To operate it, the grips have to physically swing it around to position the camera. The entire team is on the outside of this huge lumbering truck, making car chase sequences grandiose and spectacular, but also hazardous. If there's dialogue in the sequence, a process trailer is used to tow the picture car with the actors inside, who only have to pretend they're driving. That's the old way.
In the early '90s, a group of camera operators and engineers (led by Academy Award® winner Anatoliy Kokush) traveled to the U.S. with the device that changed camera car capture forever: the auto-robotic, gyrostabilized arm. Initially, it was used to turn the camera back on the picture car where it was attached to film the actors inside. Unbeknownst to the audience (hopefully), a crane operator would be in the car, as well. Eventually, someone panned the arm off of the picture car and shot another car riding alongside it. Kokush's invention gave birth to Filmotechnic (www.filmo-usa.com), still based in Kiev, Ukraine, with a base on the West Coast called Camera Car Systems.
Brian Mussetter, president of the West Coast Division of Filmotechnic, has been in production since 1990, working his way up from PA to second assistant camera operator. Despite a firm background in cameras, Mussetter also maintains a lifelong passion for racing because equally as important as the Russian Arm is the vehicle to which it's attached.
Filmotechnic recently chose the Ford F-150 Raptor to meet the demands of an off-road vehicle as a camera car. Some off-road vehicles out there feel more like being outside than inside, and according to Mussetter, "They're loud, dusty and dirty." With the Raptor, Filmotechnic wanted to offer something more conducive to the intense, hectic environment of chase car capture. To accommodate the crew comfortably, they needed a four-door version that wasn't available at the time—that is, until Henry Ford III himself delivered one simply to see what Filmotechnic could do with it.
The Filmotechnic team went to work, adding a steel-reinforced roof, as well as a full exterior roll cage. Improvements were also made to boost the engine's horsepower from 300 to 411. Finally, they added new suspension to help the vehicle carry the extra weight of the crane and painted the vehicle with their "trade-secret" nonreflective black paint to avoid causing reflections on the picture car.
Marshall Chabot and his brother Jon, co-owners of Chase Car Inc. (www.chasecarinc.com), have been in the business of driving and fabricating camera cars since the days of the big trucks. Until recently, the Chabots would take a new truck and strip it down to the chassis and rebuild it from the ground up to handle the intense weight of the camera and crew. Like their colleagues at Filmotechnic, they drive the trucks, as well. That was until the release of the Porsche Cayenne. Due to its stock suspension, brakes and overall strength, the Cayenne didn't require much alteration.