Introduction: 3d Printed Merlin Style Steadicam: MO-FLO 1.0

Picture of 3d Printed Merlin Style Steadicam: MO-FLO 1.0
Let me introduce the MO-FLO 1.0, another one of my entries into the world of DIY camera stabilization equipment. The MO-FLO, short for MOVIE and FLOW, is a 3d printed Merlin style steadicam.

In case you're new to the subject, Steadicam is a trademarked name for a company that produces camera stabilization equipment. When you search for DIY steadicam stuff on the internet, you'll find tons of resources. You can also search "steadycam" with a "y" and find more of the same stuff. Some people will cause a fuss about using the word steadicam, but when it really comes down to it, it's like asking for a kleenex when all you really need is a tissue.

Anyway....

Many DIY designs on the internet are based on the simple elements of the Merlin Steadicam. What tends to shock people about the Merlin, is its outrageous price tag. At first glance, you might guess that the unit would retail for a couple hundred bucks at the most. You're actually looking at shelling out close to $800!

Don't get me wrong..... it is a nice piece of equipment, but it's a huge investment. Let's look at the bright side though. With such a high retail price, this fancy gadget has merely inspired a nation of makers to fashion their own rigs out of simple and some not so simple materials. I'll show you some great examples shortly.

The interesting thing that I've learned from reviewing countless testimonials, and youtube vids, is that the steadicam is not a simple, easy to operate, magic, movie making machine. It demands time and patience, not only to balance it correctly, but to use it effectively for your film shots. Right now as I write this, there are many sad and lonely Merlins sitting in their fancy cases, while their frustrated owners try to sell them on ebay for fifty dollars less than retail.

My adventure begins.......



Don't forget to check out example footage captured using the MO-FLO 1.0.

Step 1: Merlin Style Steadicam: What You Might Want to Know

Picture of Merlin Style Steadicam: What You Might Want to Know
The Merlin steadicam is kind of mysterious, and its name is quite suitable, as many have stated that "you have to be a magician to operate it". When it comes to this style of stabilizer the most important factors are definitely balance and adjustability.

Many examples of DIY steadicams seem to have achieved balance without a great deal of adjustability. This is why I first thought it would be quite easy to build one. Boy, was I wrong. Without some sort of built in adjustability, your chances of effectively fine tuning different cameras on your rig, is greatly diminished. Don't forget....the guy in the video on youtube might have spent weeksfiguring out his balancing act. If you build the same thing, but use a different camera, you may be months behind in the quest to shoot steady shots. It's really that frustrating.

I found the following example of the Silver Flyer on youtube and started building.....



I didn't get very far because I found it difficult to find the right place to mount the handle. I was not having any luck with the small canon camcorder that I intended to use with it. I abandoned the build and soon thereafter I started designing my own parts that would be 3d printed on the UP 3D printer given to our school as part of the instructables sponsorship program.

Here are some other great links for DIY steadicams, some of which I found after my first model was completed. I still have have room for innovation based on some of the great information I have discovered on the subject.

Step 2: Design

Picture of Design

 After my failed attempt to successfully reproduce the 'Silver Flyer' DIY steadicam for use with my canon vixia camcorders, I watched every instructional video I could find that had to do with making steadicams. I even read through the Merlin Steadicam operation manual.

I really wanted to find out how the Merlin worked, without having to spend the money to examine one up close. Reading the manual was useful, but I found that watching youtube instructional videos about the Merlin were more helpful.

I started with a few rough sketches, and then proceeded to do the bulk of my design work in the 3d modeling format. I've mentioned this before in some of my other projects..... Design and planning is VERY important. There's nothing worse than printing a part for five hours only to find out you made a simple mistake with it. I went through a few different variations of my design, and a spool of plastic, but I learned a lot about 3d printed along the way. I'll give you a little more information about this a little later in this instructable.

Step 3: 3d Printing - Experience and Suggestions

Picture of 3d Printing - Experience and Suggestions
When I really started getting into this project, I began to learn a lot more about 3d printing. I had to really start to push the limits of our UP 3d printer, and my design was slightly limited by the size of parts I could print on the machine.

When I started printing the main body or stage of the stabilizer, I ran into a few problems. I'm going to provide you with information and links that will describe all of the possible solutions to the issues I encountered.

The most common issue with 3d printing on UP 3d printers, Repraps, and Maker-bots is what most will refer to as "LIFTAGE".

Having the corners of larger prints lift from the printing bed can happen for a number of reasons.
  • if the bed is not heated to the right temperature, parts can begin to cool non-uniformly and slight shrinkage causes the part to lift.
  • oil from your hands can interfere with the bond between your plastic and printing surface.
  • if you're using a perforated board to print on, it can warp and twist if it is not clamped securely
  • the amount of contact your part has with the print bed or raft of print can also impact warping. Try to plan the best orientation for your printed part
There are several methods that people are using to prevent warping of their printed parts. The success of these methods will vary based on your printer, the size and shape of the part you are printing, and the material you are using for your print.

Please keep in mind that I have not tested all of these methods. I am merely providing a summary of some of the information I have researched on the internet.

Printing on Glass and Kapton Tape

The advantage of printing on Glass sheets, is that the glass will not warp and twist like perforated sheets do. You do however, need something on top of the glass for the plastic to adhere to. The most common solution seems to be Kapton tape, which is a  polyimide film developed by DuPont which can remain stable in a wide range of temperatures. Kapton tap is a little pricey though, and you'll likely have to order it online.


Printing on Heated Sandblasted Glass with no Raft

I just found this video, and I think I might try it next. If you can successfully print without a raft, you'll be saving time and plastic. Not quite sure how well this works for larger parts, which tend to be the prints that lift.



Printing on Gecko Sheets

I found this video on you tube, and it sold me. I ordered some of the sheets and tried them with my 3d printed money belt. Unfortunately my print bed only has 2 mounting holes, and the gecko sheets have 8 holes in them. I think I will make some clamps to help secure the sheets and keep them from warping. I'm not happy with the part of the video that shows the guy removing parts from the printer while the sheets are still attached to the bed. NOT GOOD!

Gecko Sheets


Using a Gluestick with  Kapton Tape

I have read several forum posts that talk about the success of using a glue stick to help plastic adhere to your print bed. The video I'm using as an example demonstrates the use of glue with Kapton tape. I have heard of people using a thin layer of PLA glue or even hairspray.



Manipulating the Design of Your Part

Okay..... I'm not a huge fan of this next video or the solution, but if you can watch the whole thing, this guy has some useful information and helps explain why warping and lifting is happening in your prints. I firmly believed there are ways to achieve good prints, without having to modify the design of your parts. Ultimately you don't want to change your designs.


Here are some other articles that are worth reading.
I think this should give you a start. I'm sure there are many more methods that may or may not work efficiently. The only way to know for sure, is to try. I should also note, that I have only printed using ABS, and I'm not sure how each of these methods apply to different types of plastic.

The STL files to print this project are available below.

 


 


Step 4: Parts and Assembly

Picture of Parts and Assembly
The assembly of the MO-FLO is quite simple once you have all of the parts printed. The following is a list of the materials needed to complete the build.
  • 1/2" aluminam rod
  • 1/2" x 1-1/2" bolt
  • 7/16" flat washers (for weights)
  • 1/4"-20 coupling nuts (for trim rollers) x 2
  • 1/4"-20 threaded rod ( 2 lengths of 3")
  • 1/4"-20 x 5" machine bolt x 2
  • 1/4"-20 x 3/4" machine bolt x 2
  • 1/4"-20 x 1-1/2" machine bolt
  • standard skateboard bearing
  • #6852X traxxas universal joint
  • 1/4"-20 nuts x 4
  • 1/4" x 1-1/4" rubber washer x 2
  • 1/2" nut
  • 1/4" camera mounting machine screw
  • pl premium (for gluing rods to connectors)
*NOTE - when designing and printing holes in plastic parts that are meant to accept standard hardware, it is suggested that you print exact size and drill out afterward using standard drill sizes. Shrinkage and support material can often cause slight variation in printed diameters.

  1. The first step is to glue the rods into the main body, the middle pivots, and the end weight cap.
  2. On the top aluminum rod, make sure that the pivot is glued perpendicular to the surface of the main body.
  3. Once the ends have completely glued you can proceed to the handle assembly.
  4. The skateboard bearing is attached to the traxxas joint using the printed spacer and washer.
  5. The long end of the traxxas joint is inserted into the printed handle.
  6. The undercarriage of the main body is assembled using 1/4" threaded rod and two coupling nuts. The rods without coupling nuts do not have to be threaded but do require smooth travel. Please follow the pictures for accurate assembly.
  7. The camera plate should slide with a snug fit inside the main body. Some wax on the edges and gear track will allow it to slide more smoothly.
  8. The gear is installed with a 3/4 long hex screw and nut as shown in the picture.
  9. The weighted end cap requires one 1/2" bolt of desired length along with some 7/16" flat washers. The washers are held in place with a 1/2" nut.
  10. The handle assembly can now be installed in the undercarriage with a simple friction fit.
  11. The pivot ends are attached to the middle pivot connector using the 3/4" bolts along with the 1/4" rubber washers.
  12. Press fit the two plastic printed tightening knobs with 1/4" nuts and use them to tighten the pivot points.
  13. A 1/4" bolt can be added to the middle pivot connector in order to add weight for balancing.
  14. Mount your camera to the mounting plate with a mounting screw and then the fun begins.


Step 5: MoFlo 1.0 in Action

Picture of MoFlo 1.0 in Action
When I completed the MO-FLO 1.0, I started to do a lot of testing around the school just to see what my design was capable of. My first attempts were a bit rough to say the least. As I mentioned before in my intro video, it takes time and patience to balance a steadicam properly and it takes practice to develop your shooting technique. I found that I could get pretty good results relatively quickly. I soon realized that my shots improved dramatically if I really took the time to balance the steadicam perfectly.



MO-FLO 1.0 vs. Stairs

In my first example I tackle the stairs outside our comtech lab. I actually used the over-the-shoulder camera mount built by one of my students to help capture the footage for this shot. My intent was to show how well the MO-FLO 1.0 helps to smooth out my shots while walking up and down stairs and turning corners.




MO-FLO 1.0: Shooting Video while Running

Since I had success with walking and climbing stairs, I decided to try a shot while running with the MO-FLO. I think you can see from the video that this sort of shot will take some practice to get it right, but I think this offers some great possibilities for film making.




MO-FLO 1.0: Ravello to Amalfi

Fortunately I had the MO-FLO 1.0 designed, printed and completed in time to take on a school trip to Italy. The MO-FLO folded conveniently to fit in my small backpack. I was able to set it up quickly by mantaining the side to side roller position. All I needed to do after pulling it out of the backpack, was turn on the camera and quickly balance it front to back. I never ended up tightening the position of the arms really tight because I found it useful to change the tilt of the camera depending on whether I wanted to shoot at an upwards or downwards angle. Again, I find that the MO-FLO really gets put to the test when tackling stairs. Below you'll see a recap of my walk from Ravello to Amalfi, where the MO-FLO and I encountered hundreds if not thousands of steps. This is a longer video and you may not watch it all, but please check out my personal favourite shot at the 4:08 mark of the video. The MO-FLO allowed me to do a nice spinning 360 degree shot while walking past one of the properties I encountered on my descent.



MO-FLO 1.0: The Infinity Terrace - Ravello Italy

If you ever visit the Amalfi Coast, make sure to visit Ravello and make the walk through the majestic gardens to the Infinity Terrace. The view is simply amazing, and I willfully hung the MO-FLO over the edge of the cliff to try and catch the beauty of the scenery.


The Future of theMO-FLO

Designing and building the MO-FLO was a great experience for me. It forced me to learn much more about 3d printing than I already knew. It also gave me a great tool to use for myself and my students. I found it very useful for travel footage, and my students have started to use it strategically for their film shoots. Now that I've had the chance to use this thing, I have some new ideas for improvements to the design. And......now that I know this thing works, I want to go back and trim the design down to size so that it uses less plastic and takes less time to print. I will also be providing more examples when I get a chance to edit more video. I also want to provide examples of the Moflo being used with other cameras.

Stay tuned for the MO-FLO 2.0..............

 

Comments

mathias.vansele (author)2015-06-06

Hey great project

I would love to make it but how do i print the STL files.
I print in cm so the files are very small.
Thanks

indygo123 (author)2014-06-03

Great project ! congratulations. Now, make one for iPhone and Samsung, so everybody can make movies with great quality and youtube will be lot better place.:)

JoeStrummer33 (author)2013-12-18

$50 less than retail, LOL! Yeah, eBay sellers kill me! It didn't used to be like that, you could find items for half off retail, but no more! Most of the time you can buy new cheaper than a used one on eBay!

Mr. Noack (author)2013-07-06

Great question! This is an important piece of information that I neglected to include. Good thing someone is paying attention. I don't have access to the original file at the moment because it is at work, but I can tell you the the top spar is approx 6" and the lower spar is approx 10". Depending on the camera and the number of weights you use, any spar length close to this measurements should work. I have a couple different lower spar lengths that I have used successfully. When I get a chance I will send you the exact measurements from my original plans.

Mr. Noack (author)Mr. Noack2013-07-06

Stl files are in inches.

kaleden (author)2013-07-06

Just a few questions: are the stl files in inches? What are the lengths of the upper and lower spars (the 1/2" alluminum rods)?

Great tips regarding dealing with liftage!

kondzio29 (author)2013-07-03

Brilliant work mate!
Hope one day I'll have acces to 3d printer ;)

bfk (author)2013-06-17

I had a Stedicam J.R. and it wasn't as well designed as yours. Excellent Instructable. Hope you didn't spend your entire trip messing with the equipment:)

Mr. Noack (author)bfk2013-06-17

The trip was amazing, and I certainly took in the sights with my own eyes. Glad you like the design.

ssamc (author)2013-06-16

congratulations, very professional job

Mr. Noack (author)ssamc2013-06-16

Thanks! I spent a lot of time on this one, and had so much fun using it.

venedictus (author)2013-06-13

Hi great instructuble! I checked all the STL files but I didnt seem to find the stage. Thanks!

Mr. Noack (author)venedictus2013-06-14

Uploaded! Thanks!

Honus (author)2013-06-13

Excellent! Sending this to a film director friend right now... :)

Mr. Noack (author)Honus2013-06-14

I hope it comes in handy.

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Bio: I'm a High School Technology teacher with self-diagnosed Creativitis, a disease that doesn't let my brain sleep. I spend my days trying to ... More »
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