Executing a camera move during an animation seems easy on the face of it, but making really good cinematic camera moves means having to simulate the camera rigs used in real life movie-making.
In this article we teach you how to put together virtual camera rigs for interesting camera work in your virtual 3D world.
Quite exotic camera moves can be achieved in Blender 3D with what are termed null objects (or so-called “empty objects” in Blender). If you bolt these together into a rig, you can create a virtual cameraman who can frame your shot perfectly and do complicated camera moves in your virtual world.
In real world filmmaking cameras are mounted on cranes and dollies and arms that allow them to move while keeping track of the subject of the shot. We need to make articulated, controllable versions of these things in our 3D world if we want to make great shots.
The simplest rig you can make is to parent a camera to a null/empty object so you can move the camera but also pan, tilt and bank it independent of the motion path of the camera. “Parent” objects are linked to “child” objects which inherit their position and orientation from the parents. Child objects can move and be keyframed independently from parents, but when the parents move, the child moves regardless of any keyframes the child has.
Simple Tripod Camera
To start, make sure the 3D cursor (the little life saver with a cross in it) is exactly aligned to the camera. You can do this easily by selecting the camera with the right mouse button and pressing “Shift + S” and then selecting “Cursor to Selected.”
Now add an empty object. Press “Shift + A” and choose “Empty -> Plain Axes.” This drops the new object right on the 3D cursor.
Before you go any further, make sure that you rename the object. In the outline view at the top right of the screen, locate the empty object and double-click on its name, renaming it Tripod.
Parenting in Blender works in selection order, so the last selected object becomes the parent. In the outline view, click the camera and then hold “Shift” and press “Tripod.” Press “Control + P” and set to object.
You will notice in the outline view that the camera is now parented to the Tripod object.
Note: if you can’t see the Camera, click the plus symbol by the Tripod object, and the outline entry will unfold. You will see the camera is indeed parented to the Tripod.
Moving the camera around and framing the shots becomes a much better and easier task. You can move the Tripod around, and the camera will move with it.
Pointing the Camera
This is all very well, but framing shots can be a bit troublesome, especially if you are tracking moving objects while also moving the camera. In order to frame your shots on the move, you need to add a Track To constraint.
First face the camera down the Y axis. Make sure the rotation settings in the Tooldrawer are X=90º, Y=0º and Z=0º.
Now you can add a Track To constraint. Select the Tripod. Click on the Constraints tab on the Properties menu. Then Add “Object Constraint,” and select the Track To item.
The box will nr red to indicate you must choose an object to track to.
Click and choose the Cube.
Now wherever you move the Tripod object, the camera will track to the Cube.
A boom arm is another type of rig that you would use in filmmaking. The head with the camera is on an arm which is connected to an elbow socket, enabling the camera to swing in wide arcs while still tracking the subject.
It’s easy to make a boom arm: simply do the steps above, but make another empty object a little way away from the camera and tripod objects and rename that the Boom object.
Now when you rotate the boom object, the camera and the tripod object move as if connected to an arm. If there is a Track To constraint on the tripod as above, then when the boom moves, the tripod swings, but the camera changes its orientation to track to the cube.
You can extend the arm by moving the tripod away from the boom object. To rotate the camera, just rotate the tripod which gets its basic orientation from the Boom object. The automatic cameraman on the end of the boom frames the cube no matter what weird swoops the boom object does, just like a real boom.
Making camera rigs is easy once you know how. There is a way to make a more complex crane object which keeps the camera level when the crane rises and falls, but that’s outside the scope of this article. We’ll come back to it in in a future article.
If you have enjoyed this article or have any questions about making camera rigs in Blender, please join us in the comments below.
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