DIY Time-lapse Dolly




About: Principle of designed & MADE Custom Woodworking, an innovator and problem solver who works with you through the design phase to the post-completion party.

A little over a year ago, I was approached by my friend Josh Van Patter to build him a dolly for shooting time-lapse video.  This is now the second version of the original time-lapse dolly.  The overall concept is more or less the same.  The main difference is that the new design is propelled using a winch instead of a high-friction foam wheel.

The downside to the old design was that the pipe tracks had to be almost perfectly level or the foam wheel would tend to slip under its own weight.  The winch corrects this problem and, as an added bonus, gives the dolly the ability to climb.

I designed the winch to be removable so that it could be interchanged between multiple dollies, each designed for different applications.

I have four different gear motors that we use with this dolly for controlling the speed.  For time-lapse, we use both a 1rpm and 2rpm gear motor.  For long track shots and filming in real time, I also have a 4rpm, 6rpm and 10rpm.  All the motors are geared with a 24-tooth, 48-pitch brass pinion gear.  The larger aluminum gear that is mounted directly to the hub of the winch has 203 teeth.

In addition to the new and improved version of the original time-lapse dolly, I also created a compact travel-size dolly.  Both systems utilize the same electronic wench, which can be interchanged to reduce cost.

The compact dolly is really simple; it’s essentially just a drawer box.  The drawer slides I use are under mount, full extension ball bearing slides with soft close.   They are the same drawer slides I use in high-end kitchens.  When the slides are fully extended, the winch pulls the drawer closed giving you roughly 22 inches of movement.

The next phase of this project is making the dolly programmable.  This will allow us to shoot multi-day time-lapses and also give us the ability to throttle the speed.  Peter Kirwin is the brains behind this add-on.  We will be coming out with a post on this as soon as it’s ready.  If you want to stay in the loop, subscribe to my blog or hit me up on Twitter.




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    13 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Can you explain how you used this rig to do the vertical climbing timelapse?


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Very cool, i enjoyed that video quite a bit and cant get over those shots, there amazing! looking forward to more of these

    I have built one of these, using the KISS approach named below :) Mine is a simple sheet of plywood with aluminum rails, and a slider that rides on plastic (delrin) bearings. The motor is geared and simply winds up a string to the sled. I built an intervalometer using Arduino and a servo to trigger the shutter. It has variable speed and interval, as well as a constant pull mode for straight panning. Just learning how to use it, you can see the first test here. Thanks for the tips! Great work.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    What motor did you use, im making one myself and ive found a few but yours seems to be a good speed and torque

    1 reply

    7 years ago on Introduction

    Absolutely. One of the (many) acronyms that is used by my employer and therefore applied by me, is KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid! No offence intended. Make stuff as simple as you can get away with, and reliability is increases exponentially. Great project!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    We used a speed controller on the original time-lapse dolly I built a little over a year ago. It added a lot to the cost of the project and ended up failing during the first week of shooting with it in Moab, Utah.

    I've found that the simpler you can make these, the better off you'll be in the field. That's why the motor on the second version simply plugs directly into the power source. Motors are cheap, about $25, and you only need a couple different speeds.

    The programable add-on that I mention at the end is going to be used for extremely long time-lapses. Similar to some of the stuff they did in Planet Earth.

    Love the results and looking forward to seeing more info on how to make it.

    Instead of different motors, what about using one motor and just adjusting the speed?

    1 reply