Focus on flexibility

DN Staff

December 3, 2001

7 Min Read
Focus on flexibility

In the film Traffic, two Mexican detectives swelter in the scorching sun of a desert, waiting to arrest drug dealers. They catch them, confiscate the drugs, and are then thanked by members of the Mexican military who, in turn, take the drugs. What is visually notable about the scene is the graininess of the picture; viewers can almost feel the intense heat of the desert.

The scene was filmed with a camera that was, among other things, specifically designed for rugged environments. But this camera, the Millennium Panaflex XL from Panavision, wasn't just used for a few scenes. It was used to film the entire movie, which is unusual in that industry, where different cameras film different scenes.

Barry Idoine, first assistant cameraman, says the compact, 11.8-lb Millennium XL that he used to film Traffic gave him advantages that other cameras couldn't.

"Traffic is a real 'run and gun' film," Idoine says from Warner Brothers Studios in California, where he is filming Ocean's 11. It had a documentary feel to it, he says. "Without this new XL, I would've needed three or four cameras," he says. With it, he was able to do that filming with a crew of just a few people and that one small camera.

Like Idoine, the movie industry has taken a liking to the new camera. Film crews have used it in about 70 feature films in the 18 months it has been on the market, says Al Mayer, Jr., director of research and development at Panavision and project manager for the Millennium XL. Some of those films include The Perfect Storm, Saving Private Ryan, and Pearl Harbor.

Last year, Panavision received one of the industry's most prestigious technical awards for the Millennium XL-a Scientific and Engineering Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Says Idoine, "The camera's versatility is its key asset. It is very lightweight; very small. I can use it in a standard large studio configuration or as a stripped-down version."

Panavision knew that the industry needed a camera like the Millennium XL, so its engineers set out to design it using 3D CAD/CAM technology.

Versatile and rugged. Panavision, headquartered in Woodland Hills, CA, was founded in the 1950s. The company currently designs and manufactures six models of the Panaflex 35-mm film camera. Mayer's father, Al Mayer, Sr., designed the original Panaflex camera-which weighed 27 lbs-in the 1960s.

In the fall of 1997 the company set out to design the next generation Millennium camera after talking to some of its users (all Panavision equipment is leased). "The XL incorporates some of their suggestions and some of our own," Mayer says. "The size and weight were among their requests. And they wanted to have the camera studio-quiet."

Mayer, as project manager, oversaw a team of 14 mechanical engineers, one op-tical engineer, and six electrical engineers to design the Millennium XL. Using Pro/ENGINEER from PTC, they set out to design a camera that would be quiet, light, rugged, compact, and would allow an operator to have all three basic shooting formats in one camera-steadycam, handheld, and studio. Beyond that, the operator would be able to get through each format within seconds.

Maintaining the same basic look of the Millennium, the XL's predecessor, the engineering team began designing the XL. Using Pro/ENGINEER, engineers could define interference issues and look at options for packaging components early in the design process, without the need to wait for prototypes.

"We came up with the look we wanted as an engineering staff. Then, three to four months into the project, we designed the inside workings," Mayer recalls. "Five months into the project we did the entire process in stereolithography (SLA)."

The engineers assembled and painted a prototype model and showed it to management, which, essentially, said "wow," and gave them the green light to make the camera. Next step: They went directly to manufacturing without drawings on most of the parts.

The engineering team also used PTC's Pro/MECHANICA and Pro/MANUFACTURING. The optical engineers used ORA's Code V and the electrical engineers used Orcad software as well as PAD's Power PCB and Power Logic.

"The best part of designing this camera was that when it came out of the machine shop, it looked just like the 3D model," says Bill Eslick, design engineer. "There were very few mistakes on this project, which made it go faster."

Adds Mayer, "Because of the 3D solid modeling aspect of this project, we went straight from SLA to molding parts. Things like that really expedited the entire design time."

Because the engineers were in the same geographic location, it was easy for them to talk about the project whenever an issue came up. Even so, the en-tire design team would meet once every other week, Mayer says. "Because our engineers are so experienced, they pretty much get it right the first time."

The engineers are also technology savvy, and while this was their first camera to be completely designed in Pro/ENGINEER, Panavision has been using the software for about seven years.

Observes Adam Manfredonia, MCAD Solutions Specialist, PTC, "Panavision is the industry leader, and they realized that they needed to push the envelope on technology to keep their leadership. They took the process to heart."

Panavision had its first production prototype of the Millennium XL in a sound room in just nine months, Mayer says. The total design cycle from design to manufacturing was only 23 months.

Fitting it all together. But that's not to say that the engineers didn't en-counter any challenges along the way. After all, the camera contains more than 500 parts, including tiny motors and other mechanisms that have to fit perfectly together.

One of the challenges engineers faced was making sure the camera would be balanced in its different configurations. For example, they had to be sure that when they added the battery that the camera was still balanced. "Using Pro/ENGINEER, we were able to find the center of gravity," says Mayer.

Another challenge involved the two brushless motors inside the camera. "Our biggest challenge was to get the motors, which we create ourselves, into a small package."

The XL contains a sophisticated viewing system that is removable and is compatible with the company's older models. This was another challenge engineers faced during the design process, says Rick Gelbard, director of opto-mechanical engineering.

"The viewing system is more than 70 parts and the camera is more than 500," he explains. "In order to coordinate all that, we really needed to be able to see it all and that's what the solid modeling provided for us. When you have a 3D solid modeling environment, you are limited by 'what could I have made?' We can pretty much build whatever can be built. The technology allowed us to broaden our design features," Gelbard adds.

Gelbard says he started the design process with 2D conceptual sketches using CADKEY, which, he says, is "almost like using a pad and paper. I just use horizontal and vertical lines." From there, they use Pro/ENGINEER on NT workstations, which are linked to CNC ma-chining. He adds that using Pro/ENGINEER to design the viewing system reduced prototype iterations by about three.

Materials and mechanics. Among the materials in the XL are magnesium, aluminum and titanium. The camera's inside mechanisms contain special proprietary lu-brications. Its sophisticated electronics include a local-area network inside the camera. And, it is tested to work in temperatures from 0 to 140F.

Says Idoine, "Whether I'm working on water or on a beach with salt air and salt spray, or the hot temperatures of the high desert, the XL has proved reliable in all circumstances. It is virtually a little computer with a camera attached to it."

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