DIY Dolly / Slider Motor / by ASK Design

Introduction

I’m going to show you how to make a variable speed linear dolly / slider motor for shooting timelapse videos that can be used on any slider rig for about $55 AUD.  For about $85 AUD you can have a deluxe version with two motors, one for timelapse and another for regular speed shots, USB power and a dedicated 12v battery and charger.  You can skip to the bottom for a complete parts list and video tutorial.

For those that fall in love with timelapse videography lets not pretend that it is anything other than a slippery slope.  When you begin to lose traction on that edge it is very difficult to find your footing; the bottom is yet to be found.  For me my latest slip ended in a desire to bring foreground movement into my shots, something which I feel makes them infinitely more engaging.  I had already had a go at 360° panning when I purchased myself an ikea egg timer that I paired with my GoPro 3 on a recent trip to the wheat belt of Western Australia, I wasn't amazingly impressed with the results.

Note: Want to do timelapse (or normal speed) panning shots with the same unit? Too easy! Flip the unit on its side and there should be a thread at the end of the drill chuck. Find a bolt that will go from the thread diameter of the outlet from the drill chuck to the 3/4" (or whatever it is) on your tripod head, screw your tripod head on, put on your camera and.... voila! Panning at timelpase speeds, and it'll spin indefinitely.

Top view of a finished unit with 12v 1.3Ah battery.

I knocked up a neat little padded carry bag for it.  With battery, charger, bag and motor it weighed in at c. 1.5kg.

Your Options

A cursory glance over the internet and a watchful eye over friends recent endeavours led me to the realisation that there were two paths out.

Buy Something

Purchase some of the now relatively affordable units out there, these are effecient, small, portable and flexible units and are well worth the investment if you have the money to spare.  Check out Syrp for an ingenious, user friendly and outright brilliant implementation of both panning and linear motion (US$890), the Cinetics Axis360 for a soon-to-be-launched cheap (circa $350) and excellent implementation and Radian (circa $150 but currently sold out) for a neat and cheap panning solution.  Incidentally, I believe that all of these products got going on Kickstarter, which is nice to see, so you should definitely give them your support.

Be Cheap

Then there’s the DIY path.  While the other options were tempting, I simply couldn’t justify the money right now, so I decided to build one myself.  I found a number of tutorials, although I couldn’t find detail on the kind of travel friendly implementation I was after.  Thus I found myself on a journey to construct my own.  I made many a mistake (of which I detail in the video tutorial below) and also some improvements on the implementations I drew inspiration from.

This unit builds upon the ideas of Style43 and Joakim Fjeldli - I am simply taking their ideas (and those of numerous others on the interweb) and giving you some extra detail on how to build a complete, portable unit including a different elegant speed control solution.  Thanks for the inspiration to both of them!

Parts List

These are the parts I suggest you get.  If you want to do it on the cheap scrap the USB port, battery and 60rpm motor and you'll land around the $55 mark.  There's no need to purchase the particular units mentioned - I didn't have time to get parts from China as I was leaving to travel, so I purchased different parts locally.  It just cost a lot more.

Tools

  • Dremel to grind down spacers (optional - a file will work);
  • Drill;
  • Spade bits (only if you're putting in USB power)
  • Pliers; and
  • Soldering iron (optional - some well placed electrical tape can work!).

Miscellaneous Parts

  • Assorted screws;
  • Misc. bolt;
  • Any old electrical cable (you can cut up an old extension cord); and
  • Fishing line.

Video Tutorial

Shooting Advice

For starters, check out the short video I made one afternoon to test out the motor.  While it has both timelapse and normal speed shots using the motor, it doesn't have night time shots, i'll update this post once i've tested it at night.  Unfortunately it rained the entire day so conditions weren't ideal, but you get the idea.  

I used a Konova 80cm slider.  Its at the higher end of the cheap units at c. $250.  It has bearing tension capability which is essential; you need a bit of tension on the bearings to get smooth motion, just a tad.

You'll also need an intervalometer to do the actual timelapse, you can get them off eBay for c. $30 but be sure to get one that can trigger indefinitely as many timeout at 99 shots  which is about 4 seconds of footage.  I used Magic Lantern on my 6D, which is an incredible hack that allows you to do it in-camera, among 1,000,000 other useful things.  Get it here, I highly recommend it.