Picture of 3D Printed Time Lapse Dolly
If you like this instructable PLEASE consider voting for it in the Make It Real contest, Thank You.

A time lapse dolly adds a very dynamic touch to a normally static form of photography. I have built several dollies over the last few years, my first used a BBQ rotisserie motor and what ever else I could find in my garage. The results were pretty good for being made out of garbage. I have built and learned and I think my latest system is the best yet. Using 123D and 3D printing I was able to create and print several custom parts to produce this dolly. I am trying to raise enough money HERE to sell these systems but I am more than happy to share my build plans and 3D files with everyone. I know not everyone has a 3D printer but there are many printing services online that you could use. I am planning on selling kits ranging from just the plastic parts printed or injection molded, if I can raise enough money, all the way to a complete system as well as combination in between including the electronics and motor.

This new dolly is lighter, stronger, cheaper, faster to set up, more compact, and better looking than my last one.

Here is a promo video I made.


Lets get on with the build!
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up
ilpug2 years ago
Nice build! I must ask though, how did you do your profile picture?
DerekMellott (author)  ilpug2 years ago
I have been using this pic for a few years. Just yesterday posted a how to.
DanKoz3 years ago
Is my understanding correct that you are selling a complete kit for $300 US? If so, does that include everything, including the motors? If not, what else would I need?

I am not mechanically inclined so building a unit from scratch is probably not feasible.

DerekMellott (author)  DanKoz3 years ago
The $300 kit does not include the rail, this option is aimed at people outside of North America in order to avoid huge shipping costs. This kit has everything else. None of the kits include the ball head, tripods, or intervalometer.

The $400 kit includes the rail.

If you are overseas I can give you the info you need to find a rail locally. A template will be sent to assist in drilling the holes in the rail.

Check out for more info.
motleypixel3 years ago
Houston, we may have a problem :( Just received my AL channel...Derek, is this going to work?

I didn't realize it tapered so thick towards the cross-member. the only dimension I left off is the width which is close to 3 inches. Man, this is a final sell cut too :(
DerekMellott (author)  motleypixel3 years ago
You should be ok. there is a chance that top hook of the piece may rub, if is too tight you can use a hack saw to trim it. What is the width of the rail 1/2" down the taper? the gap is 7mm that is just over 1/4 inch.
Derek, you think I'm okay with my chl stock?
Oh, also, what about my legs, they are 1 3/8th" long, not 1.5", is this okay? Esp. when the rail is at angle?
1/2" down from the top of the taper is .292" thick. Is this okay? When you say hack saw and trim, you mean the printed foot, not the rail right?
motleypixel3 years ago
It would be super cool if you could make a printable template or just sketch out the 9X9.5" plate and then measure out from 2 edges each hole on center :) Would make the process some much faster for those building per your design :)
DerekMellott (author)  motleypixel3 years ago
I should have the time to do that before the parts ship.
sweet...I've got time...that motor will take at least 3 weeks to get here...need to take my time anyway...don't want to rush this build. thanks for considering.
motleypixel3 years ago
...darnit, forgot one more thing. Curious about the PWD and behavior of the 2rpm motor with a 12VDC source. With 12VDC and 100% modulation (pot cranked all the way up the motor should maintain a stead/smooth 2rpm right? Then with the pot at 50% it's 1rpm right? Just out of curiosity will it smoothly rung at .5 rpm at 25% modulation?
DerekMellott (author)  motleypixel3 years ago
The PWM runs smooth at all speeds, I am working on adding, shoot, move, shoot functionality.

I will add additional files for that profile when I can get my hands on a chunk of it, hopefully this week.

Here is a link that shows me the profile, I dont know what it will show you because it won't let me search outside of Canada.
Well I have the channel, all AL stock, that ebay 2rpm motor on the way from China, t-belt, so all that’s left is to assemble my PWM board (yes it came, ready to assemble) and start the construction process once I receive the plastic parts. I’m still wondering about the speed of the dolly/truck? I will be using the system to capture milky way time lapse sequences which often have settings of f/2.8, ISO 2000, and 30 second shutter with 3-4 second delay between shots. I can’t have the dolly moving too fast or it will blur foreground subjects. If the motor is a 2rpm motor at 12vdc, then I wonder how slow I can make it with an 11.1vdc lipo battery and my pwm cranked back say at 25% modulation (would this be roughly .5 rpm)? Larger t-belt pulley will make it go faster and smaller will make it go slower right? I know you are providing 1 or 2 printed pulleys, are they the same sizes? Just trying to get a pulse on projecting speed and if it’s going to be in my target range, of which I have no idea of the actual speed of the truck, it just has to work with the footage.
DerekMellott (author)  motleypixel3 years ago
I was going to put two of the same sized pulleys in the kit, a bigger one would add speed there isn't much space down there so it wouldn't be much. I've only had a chance to test it at night twice. The pwm I use allows 10-100% of motor speed however the dolly doesn't start to move until about 15% this moves the dolly about 9/16" a minute. From my testing this feels to slow, the pictures were crisp, I need to test faster speeds perhaps 25% is good. You will need to experiment to find what works for you. I am working on a module that you can add in line to the motor that will stop the motor for your pictures, but that is still in development.
Okay so if the rail is 6’ (probably a little less because of the t-belt clamps etc.) so let’s say 5.5’ which is 66” and at the “too slow” speed of 9/16th” per minute we are looking at roughly 117 minutes to travel the length of the rail…that’s under 2 hours which is around my minimum time for night time-lapse. See if I’m taking one shot every 34 seconds (30 second exposure and 4 second delay), that’s only 207 frames which at 30fps is only 6.9 seconds of footage. My pwm modulates from 0% to 100% so I’m hoping at less than 12vdc (11vdc, lipo battery pack) and 25% modulation I can get a little slower travel.
DerekMellott (author)  motleypixel3 years ago
That all sounds about right. If you watch some of the professional timelapses their clips are not very long, a six second clip is about right. The shoot-move-shoot would extend the movement to many hours.
I found it, thanks:

(3" x 1.5" x 0.188" ALUMINUM 6061 T6 CHANNEL)
Sku: AC6061/3112316

Too bad they don't show a price...I have to call them to get a quote. I called our local supplier, what do you think of these dimensions, will this one work?

3" X 1.41" X 0..170" ? < This is $41 plus tax locally.

I talked to them about the .125" stuff and I know why it's cheaper, it's not structural and from what I told him he said that the .170" + sizes will be better and more sturdy, so maybe you shouldn't get that .125" channel to test? It sure seemed sturdy enough to me.

I'm waiting for a quote on the .188" from metalsupermarket, may I'll just use that since it's what you designed this system around.
DerekMellott (author)  motleypixel3 years ago
The 3" x 1.41 x .170 should work just fine, smaller will work, bigger would be an issue.
rocco3 years ago
Great project! Finally a motorized slider that I might be able to afford!!!
I do have a couple of questions:

I'd love links to more of the store bought parts, like the pulley, timing belt, and UHMW that you used? I suspect that sells them all, but was wondering if you found a better/cheaper source?

Could you show how the pully contacts the timing belt? Other designs seem to have the pulley wind around some spinning guides (idler roller bushings) to ensure that the pulley keeps good contact with the belt - did you do this? I'd love to see a picture of that part of your design!

Thanks for sharing!
DerekMellott (author)  rocco3 years ago
I printed the pulley and would include one, or two with the plastic kit.

If you wanted an aluminum pulley get this one.

This is the right belt at a good price.

I'm in Canada and I bought the UHMW at . There must be a better option in the US.

I think the final plastic pieces I will be selling will be made from Nylatron and the UHMW will not be needed.

I am using a 3500mah 12v battery, I have never drained it but I charge it after every time I use it, I usually have a few with me plus other back up battery sources.

Yes, the belts runs around two idlers, I will add a pic to the dolly step.
"I think the final plastic pieces I will be selling will be made from Nylatron and the UHMW will not be needed."

Do you have any time-line for these newer plastic pieces and will they be the same cost?

I've ordered the 3" x 1.41 x .170 (6') channel...looks like I started the ball rolling :)

DerekMellott (author)  motleypixel3 years ago
The Nylatron parts will ship the same time as everything else, the price during the indiegogo campaign will not change.
Are parts shipped now or only after the indiegogo campaign on Apr. 30th? And will the Nylatron be used instead of plastic regardless if goal is met? They are still 3D printed right? Not injection molded, correct?
DerekMellott (author)  motleypixel3 years ago
Well that depends, if the Nylatron works and is economically feasible I would have to order many of them at a time and then yes, regardless of reaching the goal or not this method will be used. The money is held by indiegogo until the deadline. It may be possible to ship early, printed parts could ship tomorrow.
Ordered the plastics parts only kit...looking forward to the Nylatron version :)
I'll wait until you iron-out details on the Nylatron version before I do a purchase of the plastic kit as I would much prefer the Nylatron over the plastic. Also, just FYI, I called the metal supplier you referenced for a quote on the .188" and a chap from Canada called me back. He said he couldn't quote me a price since I was US, but he had suppliers in the Dallas, TX area (I'm about 3.5 hours from Dallas). Just wanted to mention it as it's seeming possible reciprocal issues for US people to your issues in Canada. Like I said, I ordered the 3" x 1.41" x .170" channel as that's very close to the dimensions you used. Might I suggest maybe a tolerance in dimensions to the channel that could be used with the feet you have engineered? This way future people engaging on this project can have a little leeway with channel sizes.
DerekMellott (author)  motleypixel3 years ago
The leeway already exsists, it will tolerate smaller dimensions but not bigger. I would have only sent you the plastic if you requested it. You can buy at anytime, I will ship when the parts are finalized and produced.
Awesome! Thanks for the speedy info and links! :)
I'll have to look in to Nylatron vs. UHMW - I don't know a darn thing about plastic! :)
rocco3 years ago
I forgot to ask about the battery you're using! What are the battery specs you use, and how long does it last before needing to be recharged?

Thanks again!
motleypixel3 years ago
Thanks for adding more detail. I know I can buy 1" X 3" X .125" AL channel locally, decent price at $20 for 6' but wanted to check out as you suggest and oddly enough I can't seem to find the channel you are using. I tried selecting all grades of their AL channel and I can't find the right dimensions. Also, it seems they are flipping the top width and edge height dimensions...closest I could find is 3" X 1" X .125" There were only a few .188" but not of 3 X 1 or 1 X 3. If I missed it, then can you provide the grade and dimensions (as they have it on their site)?

BTW, I checked out the .125" AL channel at our local shop...definitely rigid enough at 6'...just the extruding of the channel make is super rigid. I mention this because it's seeming that there's better stock around of the .125 or 1/8" channel vs. the .188 and it would be slick if you were able to chirp the dimensions of the 3D printed plastic feet and provide a .188 and .125" option?

motleypixel3 years ago
Thanks again Derek, more questions :)

What does this piece do? and this piece? and finally these pieces?

I have access to 1"X3"X.125" (1/8") AL channel, I can't find any .188" thick channel, will 1/8" channel work? I'm thinking the slide feet would need to be a little tighter by .063" to work right? Can you share which motor you are using? Another great build-help would be to provide a template of sorts for the holes to drill in the dolly truck (sorry if you have and I've missed it). Overall how do you think this version slides (smoothness etc.) compared to your previous bearing version? In fact, over-all could you provide a short list of the imporvements as you see them?
DerekMellott (author)  motleypixel3 years ago
Thank you for your question, you have pointed out a few things I have missed and I will update tonight to clarify what all the parts are for and what motor and PWM I used.

The first part you asked about is the mount for the micro switch. You can see it in the video where the dolly is turning off at the end of the run.

The second part is just a dust cap that goes on top of the motor to keep dirt or sand out of the openings on the top of the motor.

The last part is clips I used to hold the cables in place underneath the dolly that run from the micro switches to the PWM.

I've uploaded the original files to the 123d site but I can't find a public link to them. With these files you could adjust the parts to suit your needs quite easily in the free 123d software. The profile you have will work, you just need to adjust the build to suit your needs. Be aware that changing the depth of the rail will effect the the height of the timing belt, alterations will be needed.

This dolly is much easier to build as long as you have the parts. Is is much lighter, has a smaller foot print, takes about 10% of the time to set up, and the rail is much stronger, no need for the hard case to protect it.

This one slides as smooth as the rail is. If there are an nicks or bumps on the edge of the rail use a file to knock them down. I'm now trying to adapt this to used for video, the other one was too loud and had a lot of vibration at speed, we will see how this one performs.

motleypixel3 years ago
Derek, Looks like you've made a beautiful, functional, very clean rail/dolly time-lapse system here. The first question that pops into my head after reading through all the steps and seeing some of the prices of the plastic parts is what sort of budget are we looking at here?

If I had the money to spend, which I don't, to buy this system: then I would, so this is why I'm looking to machining/cutting/buying/spending time and building a full DIY version for a fraction of the cost.

Are the 3" Al channel plastic guide feet all your engineering or are they available on the open market?