To keep viewers engaged, filmmakers need to construct their films with a variety of shots to keep visual interest. The crane shot gives the crew a lot of flexibility when carrying shots that aren’t standard-level shots. To achieve a crane shot, you need to first have a jib.
Many high-end productions use jibs, also called cranes, on their productions. However, you don’t need the most expensive jib to achieve crane shots. Here’s what you need to know about jibs and what you need to do to achieve crane shots on your own productions.
Jibs are special support equipment that allows camera operators to achieve a few specialized camera shots that would be very difficult, or even impossible, to do without. A jib, also referred to as a crane, mounts a camera onto one of its ends and has a counterweight on the other side. Imagine a jib like a see-saw. Camera operators can smoothly lift and lower cameras using the jib, while the counterbalance keeps the shot smooth. Jibs are used to capture what is referred to as a crane shot. You see these kinds of shots a lot in cinema. We’ll discuss the crane shot, as well as show a few examples, later in the article.
Jibs vs. cranes: Is there a difference?
People usually use the terms jib and cranes as the same term. While both terms work, the term ‘jib’ is more specific to video production, while cranes can be used to describe a variety of devices (not necessarily specific to video productions) that help lift things. Though, both terms are acceptable in the industry.
How do cinematographers control jibs?
You can control jibs can either mechanically or manually. Some jibs use electric motors and are controllable at a distance. Most of the time, jibs come with a remote control system, since camera operators are unable to look through the camera’s viewfinder. So, they need a video monitor mounted next to the jib operator. They can also use a remote to adjust the camera’s focus, zoom and other functions while in the air. This makes it much easier for the camera operator to make adjustments when it’s in the air.
Remote heads are used on larger, higher-budget jibs. Essentially, a remote head supports the camera and can adjust pan, tilt, focus and zoom settings.
Different types of jibs
Typically, when we think of a jib, we think of the massive ones Hollywood productions use, but there are actually a wide variety of jibs all coming in various sizes. There are a few small jibs you can use for handheld cameras. These are more common in smaller productions. However, productions still use smaller jibs for the same purpose as bigger jibs.
Depending on the setup, a jib could require either one to two people to operate it. In those situations, one person needs to operate the arm/boom of the jib and the other person operates the remote head’s pan/tilt/zoom.
Types of jib shots
Establishing shots inform the audience when and where a scene is taking place. Typically, a shot sequence begins with an establishing shot, showing off the environment the film’s characters are interacting in. Sometimes, establishing shots are static, recording with a tripod and a wide-angle lens. Other times, filmmakers use jibs to create establishing shots with movement, either moving away or towards the scene’s center of focus.
For example, the sci-fi film “Blade Runner 2049” uses a crane shot to establish the haunting decimation of the Las Vegas ruins. As the film’s protagonist, K, walks through the ruins, Roger Deakins, the film’s cinematographer, pans the camera around various crumbling statues, establishing the lifelessness of the location K is in. This is important because later in the scene, K finds live bees, despite the harsh conditions of the desert. After finding the bees, he knows life can exist, despite the location’s conditions, which leads to him finding Deckard.
Just like how jibs help create dynamic establishing shots, they can also create memorable ending shots. Jibs can create build-up as it pans away from the subjects, leading up to the climatic end of the scene. We typically see this done in musicals. The camera pans away from the subjects as they sing their hearts out. TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1997 – 2003) mocks this cliche in its musical episode, “Once More With Feeling.”
“Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” (2005) also uses a crane shot to visually communicate Darth Vader’s anguish after learning his love, Padmé, died in childbirth. The jib raises the camera away from Vader as he howls in distress after hearing the news right as the scene ends. The scene packs a much more impactful punch thanks to the crane shot. It visually makes Vader’s voice louder and fills the entire frame,
Jibs are particularly useful for capturing subjects’ actions. Crane shots create a dynamic way to capture what every character is doing in a scene in just one take. For example, in “The Avengers” (2012), the film circles around all of the film’s heroes as they ensemble together for the films’ final fight.
Cinematographers often use these types of shots in product commercials, showing off the product as it’s in use. Car commercials are a classic example of this. Typically, you will see someone driving the car down a road as the camera pans up or around, showing off the car’s sleek design and speed.
Show a crowd
If filmmakers want to show a large crowd, typically they need to use a jib to show it. Since jibs can lift a camera high above the set, it allows cinematographers to capture as many people in the frame as possible. “Silence of the Lambs” (1981) uses a crane shot to show Hannibal Lecter disappearing into a crowded street.
Establish dynamic cinematography
When people go to see movies, they want to experience things that they don’t typically see in their daily lives. Jibs are one of the many tools in a cinematographer’s tool kit that allows them to deliver, larger than life shots. Jibs can create epic establishing shots, showing the wide vast, magical of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts or dry, devastated Ruins of Las Vegas in “Blade Runner 2049.” They can also invoke emotions into audience members, just like in “Revenge of the Sith” when Vader loses the last thing he had keeping him from turning to the dark side.
There are many jibs out there, varying in shape and size. While not every production can afford the most expensive jib, there are many affordable options out there. If you want to try a jib for your next production, you can always check out our advanced camera support buyer’s guide for some guidance. If you have the means to purchase or rent a jib, give it a try. With a little practice and some creativity, they can pull off some of the most dynamic, intriguing in cinema.
Featured image courtesy: Tom Antos