How DIY Gear Is Helping Camera Crews Get the Job Done and Changing the Industry

Valentina I. Valentini

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Cinematographers and their camera crews often tweak equipment to fit their needs. Sometimes it results in Garrett Brown inventing, designing and building the Oscar-winning Steadicam, or Nic Sadler developing the Artemis Director’s Viewfinder, which earned him an Engineering Emmy. But DPs and camera assistants regularly create tools and accessories to help them and their colleagues become more efficient — and occasionally gain a secondary revenue stream.

Second assistant cameraperson Sandra Pennington devised the Pennybox LTC (lens temperature control), a programmable, heated lens that prevents condensation — particularly useful on cold-weather shoots, underwater and in tropical climates. “The idea had been around for decades,” she says of the concept, based on the practice of wrapping lenses in heated dog blankets. “I took the idea further.” 

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Pennington read a 1,000-page electronics book and began by building smaller circuits. A friend at Google helped with programming, and another friend loaned out a motion control workshop for her to work in. Over three years, when she wasn’t on a gig, she worked up a prototype — one that was used last year on the upcoming Bond film, “No Time to Die,” for a few weeks as a test run and is a staple on Netflix series “Zero Chill.”

“I would often struggle with condensed lenses and lost time on sets, not to mention the safety risk in leaving lenses lying around in the open to acclimatize on a busy set,” says Pennington. “I wasn’t aware of how big the market was, but I’m proud of what I built, and now I’m expanding slowly.”

When DP Edd Lukas invented CAP IT!, a biodegradable cover for cameras and equipment, his goal was to make a protective product that could be deployed quickly and be more environmentally friendly than the conventional shower curtain or rain bags that were being used. “I made CAP IT! to be applied in seconds and adapt to any camera build,” Lukas says. “I found a plastic that is not only biodegradable but also touch-screen friendly and tougher than conventional [covers].” Lukas launched in just a few stores, but his sales have grown internationally, mostly via word of mouth — “proof they really work,” he says. The covers have been used on “Lion King,” “Game of Thrones” and “1917.”

DP Vanessa “Ness” Whyte was going to be working on a gig in Thailand and Mali where she needed to carry the camera kit and all the lights with her in a rucksack — and use it in villages with no access to electricity. In conjunction with engineer Steve Howard, she designed the NessLED for Panalux, a set of small battery-operated bicolor LED panels that can be dimmed, remotely operated or powered by a car’s cigarette lighter.

After the first prototype kit, Whyte gave Howard feedback, and went out and tested the rejigged version. Panalux also lent the NessLED to other DPs so they could provide feedback. 

“It kind of started organically out of necessity rather than a real plan to invent a new kit for hire, but it ended up taking on a life of its own,” Whyte says. “It was really exciting to see that it was an in-demand product.” 

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