In response to a tough challenge, Quattro pedestals from Vinten®, a Vitec Group brand and global leader in camera supports, have been modified for track use by The Camera Store. The new skated pedestal hybrid – now given the nickname Skquat – was developed to get cameras into the audience for the National Theatre's NT Live project, which sends live coverage of plays from London to cinemas around the world.
Director Robin Lough and senior cameraman Paul Freeman recognised that the cameras needed to be in the audience to get the right coverage. The alternative, using cameras at the back of the auditorium with long lenses, leads to uninvolving images because of the foreshortening effect of the zoom. Getting closer to the action gave more intimacy.
The Vinten Quattro is a four stage pedestal, giving a height range of more than a metre. Tracking it across the carpet of the Olivier auditorium was not practical, though, and so for the first production the Quattros were mounted on movie-style tracking skids. Because of the rake of the auditorium, that put them too high to get the right eyeline.
"After discussions with The Camera Store we came up with the idea," Freeman explained. "What we needed to do was put the bottom of the column between the tracks, so we could get the same height range as a regular Quattro but on skates."
The Camera Store took the idea away and worked with Vinten, as well as a local engineering firm, to build the trucks, making a collar to rigidly support the Quattro column. The result performed precisely the way that Paul Freeman wanted.
"Using a film dolly was not possible for this: it would not have the height range we wanted, and we need it to work silently throughout each act of a Shakespeare play," he said. "The Vinten Quattro is a great pedestal, and now we have the quality of a studio pedestal on tracks – an approach first adopted for use in Hawk and Osprey."
Current plans use two Skquat skate pedestals for NT Live productions, although Paul Freeman considers there may be times when they could use four.
NT Live is a new initiative driven by the National Theatre's director Nicholas Hytner, to show high definition coverage of NT productions in cinemas across the UK and around the world. The season continues with Nation on 30 January 2010. As well as showing the plays, the live transmissions include interviews with cast and directors, and are designed to create a strong sensation of being in the theatre.