Middle East gets a taste of the technocrane

On February 7, 2005, Horst Burbulla became a celebrity when he walked up the red carpet to receive the Oscar for inventing the Telescopic system for camera cranes. In an exclusive interview with Digital Studio, Burbulla shares how he came to create the technocrane and where he’s headed next.

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By  Vijaya Cherian Published  May 3, 2005

|~|horstbig.jpg|~|Horst Burbulla brings his Oscar to Dubai|~|How did you come to make the technocrane? I wanted to become a filmmaker and I wanted to have smooth camera movements in my film. Camera movements are very important. If you remember Gone with the Wind, it starts very close to a soldier and then it moves all around. Good camera movements make a very strong impact on people. I could not afford a camera crane for my film. So I made a camera crane of my own. It worked for my film. Unfortunately, my film did not get any attention. On the other hand, my camera crane got a lot of attention. So, I stopped making films and became a crane designer. And my beautiful crane won an Oscar last year. When did you make the crane? About 20 years ago, when I was 22 years old. What was your film called? I called it Laugh and Death; it’s an experimental film. How did you make this crane? I played around with the mechanical parts. As a filmmaker, I had a very clear idea of what a crane should look like to achieve the best picture and I think this was my main guideline. As a mere engineer, you sometimes can’t understand that but if you are a cameraman or a director and an engineer, you know exactly what you want. For any filmmaker, it’s important to achieve smooth movements without a lot of hassle and this is where our crane comes into play. The technocrane has been designed to provide complicated and beautiful movements in a very simple way. Who helped you make the crane and what were some of the challenges you faced while designing it? The machinists helped me the most. They would come to me all the time and say, ‘you have to change this and you have to change that’. They taught me what could be done and what could not. For instance, we wanted the beams to be as light as possible while also being strong enough to carry their load. So, we just kept making them lighter and lighter until they bent and then we went one step backward and made them a little harder. That way, we got the optimum level. This trial and error is what made this crane so successful. Has it always been called the technocrane? Yes. But now, we have different models. We designed a bigger model called the Supertechno and the even bigger Supertechno 50. We also have a smaller one — the techno 15. This one goes up to 4 1/2 ms and it’s very popular because you can carry it. You can go up to the roof or wherever you want because it can be carried. The heaviest part is 120 kgs so if you have four people you can carry it. Last NAB, we kept assembling and reassembling this crane just to show people that it could be done in five minutes. It is very good for the newsroom, game shows, talk shows, concerts — places, where you want atmosphere. If you just have a camera on a tripod, it is quite boring. With these cranes, you have an inexpensive way of getting beautiful shots. What is the price range for your cranes? It starts at about US $300,000 for the basic medium range and then to US $500,000 and more. But the main business we do is on rent. Panavision is our biggest customer. They make 50% of our turnover and take our cranes on loan. Which segment uses your cranes the most? The film industry is our biggest market. We have been in this market for the last 15 years. We have about 20 cranes just in Los Angeles and 10 cranes in London. Every big feature film uses our cranes. For Harry Potter, all the movements in the classroom have been made with this crane because you need the telescope to go up and then in between the children. You can realise these images very quickly without any problem. Could you name some of movies that have used the Supertechno? As we have over 25 of these cranes in Hollywood and more than 2000 shooting days a year with them, you can imagine the number of films that are being made with the Supertechno. Titanic, all of the Harry Potter films and the last 007 films, Mission Impossible 1 and 2, Spielberg’s ‘War of the Worlds’ and Terminal are a few examples of films shot with the Supertechno. What are some of the unique movements of the Supertechno? Again, a good example is the Harry Potter film, where the takes have been done in a big classroom. With our crane, they could travel above the big tables in the air and then move down to the teacher without having to lay down any tracks or removing any decoration. What camera crane was available before you made yours? Is it still available? Our crane was the first to be able to telescope. There are still cranes in our industry but they have a fixed length, which means only one movement is possible on the crane arc. So, more and more camera cranes are getting replaced with our telescopic cranes, which can do unlimited movements. What’s next? We have a product that we hope to present at Cinegear, which will be held later this year. It is called the techno dolly. With the technocrane, you still need a manual operator and a grip to swing the crane. But with this machine, you can say ‘there I want to start and there, I want to stop’ and regardless of how complicated the movements are, it will do them. It will be automated and you can design the movement without any limitations. Do you hope to replace the technocrane eventually? Not anytime now. The Supertechno is so popular that I can confidently say that it will be the standard at least for the next five to ten years but of course, there is always room for new development. As you know, cameras are becoming lighter and lighter. When we designed this crane, we had to design for cameras up to 35 kgs. But there are good video cameras today that weigh five kgs. So over a period of time, the design of these cranes could also be lighter than it was 10 years ago. This will give us more flexibility. For instance, the crane we have now has to be carried in a truck. But if a crane that weighs 300 kgs today can be made 100 kgs tomorrow, it will have more flexibility. But this will take several years. Where are you based? I live in Germany. But the company is based in the Czech Republic, which used to be famous for its machines before the Second World War. They had the big handicap of being on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. But now, everything is changed and everybody is happy again. It’s a good place to make your machines. Why are you in Dubai now? We are here to create awareness about our cranes in the Middle East through shows like Cabsat. We have had a couple of customers here. The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation has a Supertechno at their facility. We are also negotiating with a lot of customers here but we have to work longer in this area because we are new here. Also, a lot of studios have just come up here and with the Dubai Studio City initiative, the production sector is just waking up. So, I think all of this will come into place in the next couple of years. You made this crane 20 years ago and yet, you received the Oscar only last year? Yes, it is amazing, isn’t it? It is such an honour to walk up the red carpet with all those celebrities there. To win the Oscar, you have to meet three criteria. One, it has to be a real invention; two, it has to be adapted by the industry; and three, it has to impact the industry. After so many feature films, the Oscar research committee came to the conclusion that this crane fulfils all three requirements. It is a real invention; a lot of films use this crane and many directors say they can’t have done their movies or created the kind of impact they did without this. ||**||

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