3D Printed, Ultralight, 3-axis Modular Time-Lapse Motion Control System

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This is the story of my first 3D printing project and how it helped to drastically reduce the overall weight of my 3-axis motion control time-lapse dolly system for easier transport on multi-day backcountry, backpacking trips. Not only did my first 3D printing project shave serious weight (in comparison to aluminum) for hiking, it also fueled additional creativity that drastically increased overall system efficiency and incorporated new features for a better user experience. A majority of everything I designed and modified was originally inspired by the creative products from Dynamic Perception (the Stage One Dolly) and eMotimo (the TB3). Below, you'll find a quick outline of the design modifications and enhancement hacks along with a detailed story of the entire process.

If you're not familiar with time-lapse and motion control camera movements, you might want to check out some of my existing, free to view, online short films such as EYE OF THE BEHOLDER and MOUNTAINS IN MOTION to see what it's all about.

Overview (the moco system features):

72" Carbon Fiber and 3D printed Nylon modular 3-axis motion control system with dolly / pan / tilt capabilities. Ultra lightweight and rigid thanks to the 3D printed design made from Polyamide-12 (nylon). About 50% lighter than it's aluminum big brother, the Dynamic Perception Stage One. My custom "hacked" Stage One design eliminated the frustrating threaded rail inserts with a simple clamp design. I also always struggled to accurately level the Dynamic Perception Stage One dolly on both ends (which results in wonky dolly movement) due to it's lack of built-in levels, so I designed torpedo levels to the end caps and cart-- visible from both sides for easier set-ups in unique angled and vertical positions. I'm getting much better results thanks to the levels.

20:1 worm drive (NEMA 17 stepper motor) for the dolly movement offers constant holding power, removing the need to keep the power-hungry stepper motor on to hold position in angled and vertical moves. This feature reduces power consumption and enhances battery run-time by over 10x!

Modular pan / tilt system with snap-in front panel and 50:1 worm drive. Uses a compact NEMA 17 stepper motor. TINY footprint, ultra-light, almost no backlash. Industry standard, Arca-swiss quick release clamp. Can be paired with the eMotimo tilt bracket. I added a knobbed bolt to the tilt bracket for easy on/off mounting during set-up and breakdown.

Custom designed, laser cut acrylic snap-fit eMotimo TB3 "stand-alone" controller hack offers unique configuration options and helps reduce the high center of gravity that is inherent in the standard eMotimo TB3 (causing potential issues in windy shooting conditions). Custom LiFEPO4 battery system offers superior results in cold weather and high power draw (i.e. real-time video moves) situations over the more commonly used Li-Ion chemistry.

Custom 1" Carbon Fiber tubular sections create the dolly track for easy transport and superior strength / weight reduction in the overall system. Features custom designed 3D printed "connection" inserts with brass thermoplastic insert threads and glass-filled nylon bolts to securely join the segments without any rotational play between sections. Shock-coord design makes initial set-up a breeze and functions the same way a tent pole works.

Lightweight hardware: Some small, supporting hardware was custom designed and 3D printed to cut weight (i.e. bearing rollers). A few metal components are used where necessary (drive shafts, pulley, ball-bearings), but all other bolts are made from glass-filled, high-strength nylon for major weight reduction. 6 nylon 1/4-20 1" bolts weight the same as 1 aluminum equivalent. I also cut weight with a slightly shorter (5mm vs. 9mm) drive belt than what is standard from Dynamic Perception.

Test Footage from this rig can be viewed 3D printed Moco Test Shots on Nimia (UpThink Lab).

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ThomasW820 days ago

I am very impressed by your work. I was wandering what part of the documentation and the schematics you are willing to share.

knkii4 months ago

Amazing work not only the setup also the video thanks for sharing...

Doug Urquhart (author) 6 months ago

I have released a new moco system design with source files. It was designed and printed utilizing the Ultimaker 2 that I received from the Gadget Hacking contest. Now you can build your own ultra-light system with high-strength PET.

View photos and source files / bill of materials here:

PET_Moco_StudioShots-0018.jpg2014-09-08 16.32.48.jpg


Where can i get those worm drives? I can't find these with a 5mm bore.

Ralphferro6 months ago


Light_Lab11 months ago

This is a brilliant design generated by your vast experience both with previous designs and actual hands on experience generating beautiful time lapse vids. Congratulations!!
Despite lacking your extensive experience I have been designing a camera slider myself for time lapse work. I am happy I had got as far as the carbon fiber tube rails on my own, I was planning to use linear ball bearing sliders but I am worried they might abrade the tubing in the long term; they do simplify the platform design though.
With respect to sealing the SLS Nylon against moisture: I have worked with nearly all sintered polymers as a polymer research chemist. Painting polymers never lasted in any of my work.
Eventually I came up with a trick to help with the durability of polymer coated molds (sintered powder coating). I impregnated the fresh porous coating with silicon grease (simply rub in and rub off all the excess with a paper towel). This one time treatment imperceptibly renders the sinter highly hydrophobic and much more durable. None of my molds lost any of their coatings in extremely heavy use over 20 years.

Doug Urquhart (author)  Light_Lab11 months ago

Thanks for the suggestion, Light_Lab. I'm really interested with this approach. I'll have to order a small test part and try my luck with the silicon grease. My biggest concern is how well it can be wiped down after impregnating the porous nylon print. I wouldn't want to have any type of silicon grease lingering around. Seems messy to potentially get remaining silicone grease on my hands and gear during use. What's your take on that potential issue?

Sorry to take so long to get back to you. Yes silicon grease can get everywhere if it is not used carefully and incredibly sparingly. The amount of grease required to condition sintered polymers is very small and totally absorbed. All the excess is rubbed off with paper towel to the point that it does not transfer to your hands etc. It is only a problem if you leave too much on the surface. Done right you will not even know it is there except when you see water beading on the surface.

I have for many years used tiny amounts of silicon grease on graunchy zoom, filter and lens threads without it getting out of control. The first part of the trick is to apply a single tiny dab with a match sharpened to a needle point and spread it out by screwing it in and out repeatedly. The second part of the trick is to resist the temptation to add more grease.

The type of grease I use is sold by laboratory supply outlets for lubricating ground glass joints. In thin layers it stays where it is put.

supah4x0r9 months ago

You definitely deserved to win the competition.

Alnoa10 months ago

NIce but no designs to share ?

kisa7210 months ago


Thank you very much for sharing your design and build with us. Awesome and professional job. Would you be happy to share your 3D printing designs?


alcurb11 months ago

Brilliant. Great application for 3D printing. Speaking of 3D printing, with the carbon tubes it would be possible to make a light-weight 3D printer (reprap). Now if the steppers could be made super-light...

nstowe11 months ago

Your videos are awesome and thanks for sharing you build knowledge as well. I think I will have to book a good hiking trip again this year.

Light_Lab11 months ago

Did you ever consider solar power or does that involve more weight?

makendo11 months ago

Amazingly gorgeous video, Doug, great stuff (and you can embed Vimeo, btw). great looking rig, too.