By Jacqueline Detwiler Oct 19, 2015 @ 5:29 PM
The directors of scary movies employ a number of techniques to manipulate the audience's emotions —the close-up, the wide-angle, the long take, the jump cut. Todd Strauss-Schulson, director of The Final Girls, a campy meta-style horror- comedy, out October 9, wanted to do something different. His idea was to mimic the characters' fear by producing a scene that tumbled and rolled like a visual panic attack. The problem: No human camera operator could perform the moves he needed, even on a crane. Instead, Strauss-Schulson, who had been experimenting with robotic cranes while making short films, rented a Genuflex MK III by General Lift, a programmable robot that can track 7 feet per second and swing, pan, tilt, and roll 360 degrees, all while automatically focusing a camera. It can also produce multiple takes with inhuman precision, repeating the exact same motions over and over within fractions of a millimeter, like a robot in a factory.
The Genuflex is primarily used to create visual effects—multiplying extras to create fake crowds, for example, and creating slow-motion shots of moving vehicles. Strauss-Schulson used it to follow six of The Final Girls' main characters while they attempt to use a booby trap to foil a maniac with a machete. Over three days in a humid cabin in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the technicians programmed the crane to move through a shot, then established speed and focus. Next they ran each take at half speed so the actors could practice hitting their marks before the camera hurtled to within—in some cases—inches of their faces. "That's the fun engineering stuff," says Strauss- Schulson. "You worry: Is the track long enough? Is it going to knock into the wall? Is it gonna hit that guy over there?" Finally, the staff got each of four shots necessary to complete the scene—full speed, with no actors knocked unconscious. The MK III's engineers, accustomed to planning dull technical shots, had a blast. The resulting paroxysm of an action sequence, one that would be easy to adapt to other movie genres, is novel and great. Also: pretty damn scary.