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The Tale of the Steampunk Steadycam
Created by Pecktec on 7/3/2012 8:03:06 PM

Videographer Sean Peck tells the chronicle about his Steampunk Steadycam.


For me, like many other cosplay enthusiasts, the week before a convention is hectically spent putting final touches on costumes or accessories to make sure it’s up to snuff. Atlanta’s many festivals and conventions are costume rich, and it pushes you to make that extra effort to show your skills. The steampunk aesthetic is no exception with many layers of complexity. Often I find an outfit or device to use for inspiration and go from there. By way of example, I love the League of S.T.E.A.M. and spend a lot of time dreaming up new backpacks. I have been working on a YouTube project and wanted a way to make the video camera less conspicuous. I feel a little bit like a tourist with my smallish camcorder and wanted it to blend in a little better, or become part of my costume. I was asked to film some of the goings on at S.T.E.A.M.Fest, so I made two items to take along and in the process learned an important lesson about what takes a steampunk accessory over the top as far as cosplay recognition goes.

 

I bought a brass chandelier some time ago at a garage sale and immediately disassembled most of it. I found that you can reassemble the parts many different ways and then disassemble and change them later. In short, it's like a “build your own lightsaber kit” for steampunk gadgets. I discovered I could bend two of the “arms” from the chandelier lights together and make a stable grip. I didn’t know what I would use it for but I left the half assembled “maybe something” sitting on my work bench for latter contemplation. Some time later, I ran across an old abandoned project I had finished, but wasn’t happy with. It was my PVC pipe steady cam. The idea is to add a counterweight to offset the camera and give what your filming less of hand held look. They work well to take out some of the shaky camera issues you see, especially with today’s new super lightweight cameras.  Really expensive ones can remove it altogether, but few people can justify purchasing one, and there are many plans for homemade versions on the Internet. This PCV steady came worked OK, but the system of weights was convoluted and had to be constantly adjusted. In a flash of inspiration, I took the “maybe something” device and another half creation, and put them together. I added a small ring to use as a handle and tested the weight distribution. I was shocked at how well balanced it was. I then took a cheap mini tripod apart and easily attached it to make a mount for the camera. After several trial runs around the island in my Kitchen I realized I had made something cool. Whenever you can pull off something that is esthetically pleasing and that serves as practical tool, it’s a win. The whole construction took around 30 minutes.

The reason I was messing around with the steady came in the first place was because my other project was moving slowly and I had to put it aside to let some glue harden up. My mother was attending this year and I wanted her to have some top notch gear. So I acquired several beaten up brass instruments and decided to make it into a jetpack. I spent the entire week building it after work. Many times till 3AM. I was reasonably happy with the outcome but exhausted. I would say I put around 30 hours into it and could have put several more in to wire the lighting smartly, and make other neat features work better if I only had the time.

At the festival we took in the sights while shooting as much footage as we could of all the events. Although both of my creations received many complements, it quickly became apparent that the steadycam was a hit. It was actually hard to do interviews at times because as I approached people to speak with them, the camera mount became the topic of conversation. That’s when it’s relevance really sunk in. Yes, it was simple. It doesn’t light up or puff smoke, but what it does do is serve a very practical purpose. Fantasy isn’t enough sometimes. People want to see your creation really DO something besides blink and look pretty. And that’s when your costume item moves from simply cool to smart.  My steadycam cost less than $10 and took about 30 minutes to construct. It can be fully disassembled and reconfigured, and I’m now working on a way to add a light for evening shots. While it not perfect or work as well as the expensive ones, its pretty, shows some ingenuity, and works well enough to justify the extra weight I'm carrying around. It’s odd that I was more proud of it on the way home than the way there, but isn’t that just another neat thing about these gatherings? The exchange of information and ideas is the best way to blast though the barriers we construct around our minds and see whats been there all along, for better or worse.

Sean Peck (AKA Pecktec Gentleman Journalist) has lived most of his life in East Tennessee. He has worked as a photographer and private investigator, and he now keeps computers in line for the second largest movie theatre company in the world. Recently, YouTube became the latest outlet for his creative endeavors where he reports on roller derby, aquariums, music, and steampunk culture. You can find his videos here.

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