About this project
Most time lapse dolly systems are based on the "slider" concept which is a rail with a moving platform attached that slides the camera back and forth on the rail. The main limitations of sliders are having a finite length (usually 3-4 feet) and only making linear camera movements.
The Lil-Mule addresses both of these challenges by giving you a self contained motorized cart that makes straight or curved moves and can motor as far as the surface you set the shot up on will allow. Take a walk through a city center or park and you can rattle off many different shots in a small amount of time by rolling on sidewalks, tables, ledges, benches, anything that is relatively flat.
As an amateur time lapse enthusiast myself I find that it's challenging enough to set up your camera, compose the shot, set the intervalometer, etc. when doing time lapse. I wanted the motion control piece to be as simple as possible. The controller for the Lil-Mule is a single knob which allows you to variably control the speed you are moving in the forward and backward direction. No math equations, no menu settings, just set up your shot and twist a knob to start moving... Even the professional time lapse guys that I put Lil-Mule in the hands of for testing said the first thing they did on a shoot was drop the dolly and set it in motion and then went about setting up their other rigs...
Motion control systems are expensive! You'll be hard pressed to find one that is under $1000 and they can range to up near $20K. If you decide to make a pledge and help the little Lil-Mule project reach it's funding goal, you'll be able to add a quality american made motion control system to your creative arsenal for just over $500!
What are the rewards for Lil-Mule?
Will Lil-Mule work with my camera gear?
Very Special thanks to Thom and Vin from The Seventh Movement for all of their help in bringing Lil-Mule into being! I couldn't have done it without your help!
Thanks for taking the time to check out my Kickstarter project! If you have any questions after watching the video and reading the information above, please feel free to send me a message or post a question.
Thank you for your support!
Risks and challenges
The design of the Lil-Mule camera dolly is based on CNC manufactured parts for almost all of its components. What you see in the above video is pretty much what will ship to backers should we meet our funding goal. Aside from having my own CNC capable of doing light production work, I have been working in the San Francisco Bay area as a designer since 2001 and have several outlets that can help with production should the demand far exceed my expectations.
The money I hope to raise will be used to meet the manufacturing minimum requirements on the computer controller board and motors for Lil-Mule. By buying in bulk, economies of scale allow for the overall price to be as affordable as possible. Raw materials have already been sourced locally. The other hardware and even the elastomer wheels have also been sourced here in California.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Input: 6-16 Volts
Output: 10Amp Continuous Max.
Peak Output: 30amps
There are two ways to supply power Lil-Mule's Speed Controller:
Power Input Option 1: 2.5mm x 5.5mm DC power jack (not included)
Power Input Option 2: Tamiya connector to 12v battery is included (12v Battery not included)
The controller has an AC plug in it for people who want to power it that way. I wasted several hundred bucks evaluating different batteries. The winner by far is the standard 12v for a lot of reasons. It is ubiquitous and can be easily found all over the world. It can easily run for a day of shooting on a single charge. The weight of the battery is actually a benefit as added weight on the dolly helps keep things stable. There are many size and shape variations one can consider as well. Depending on the type of head being used, and wheel configuration (3 wheel for arcs, 4 wheel for straight) choice of where to have the battery ride on Lil-Mule's platform can change.
There are a couple things to consider here. First, the quality of the wheels is important. The elastomer wheels for Lil-Mule are made in the USA by the only manufacturer that I could find here. Wheels are only part of the equation though. Smoother the surface the better the performance in general. I have done extensive testing on uneven surfaces like pavement. You can see a shot in the main video (the only one I shot) at :25 where the dolly is rolling on pavement from the 1960's - very bumpy. The actual time lapse that resulted and follows right after it was stabilized in Adobe After Effects. Most video editing software has stabilization features for cleaning up shaky video footage. Turns out that these types of features are perfect for time lapse applications because the image is so big leaving plenty of room for the software to crop / adjust. I've used FCP / Motion stabilization, but now mainly use Adobe AE / Premiere (Time Warp Stabilizer)...
I tried many different motors before settling on the ones offered with Lil-Mule. The 6 RPM motor which is the one included in all of the different motorized rewards, is by far the most useful and flexible. The .5 RPM motor is good for people who might want to shoot at night and the 20 rpm motor is at the other end of the spectrum moving quite rapidly for time lapse.
I did measured time tests for each motor in inches over a one minute interval (ipm = inches per minute). The distances are based on having the controller at full speed / maximum torque. Slower speeds can be achieved with each motor by turning the speed knob down with each respective motor speed. You can use the following to calculate the type of distance you will roughly travel for a specific shot:
.5 rpm motor moves 1 ipm
6 rpm motor moves 11 ipm
20 rpm motor moves 36 ipm
By the way, almost all of the time lapse footage was shot with the 6rpm motor. It is actually moving quite fast for time lapse. Even the really long shot of the airplanes at the end of the main kickstarter video was shot using the 6rpm motor...
Yes, once the backers of the project are taken care of, you will be able purchase other motors after the fact when the website for lil-mule goes live. I created the rewards with multiple motors for people who want that... FWIW, almost every sample shot that you see in the videos on the KickStarter page were shot with the 6rpm motor.
I designed Lil-Mule to be as simple and affordable as possible. The included motor controller is simply on or off in either direction and you can variably control the speed with the knob... All the footage in the video was shot that way. But, I can tell you that I bench tested the dynamic perception MX2 controller to the DC geared motor that drives Lil-Mule and all of the shoot move shoot / other more complex functions worked fine...
Yes, all versions of the dolly will ship with 4 wheels. There are no tools necessary to remove or install the wheels. The body of the dolly is machined such that the axels are press fit into a groove on the underside of the body. I know it happens fast, but you can see me installing the wheels on the motorized version in the time lapse clip near the bottom of the KickStarter Page.
Yes, I have also developed the rail system. I'm happy with how it has progressed so far... It is extremely Heavy Duty and easy to assemble / disassemble. The main challenge currently is that it takes me 2days of machining and assembly to make one 9 foot rail system which would actually make it more expensive than the dolly. Still struggling with what to do on this one.
Lil-Mule comes with a 3/8-16 bolt in the center of the dolly. 3/8-16 is the industry standard thread type that most "camera mount types" use for mounting to tripods, monopods, etc. The Photo above in the KickStarter page is basically of the Manfrotto Grip that I own for illustrative purposes. The Center of the Lil-Mule will come with a 3/8-16 bolt allows you to attach any of them. The idea here is that most photographers will already own a means of attaching their camera to Lil-Mule. Here are the specifics of the different grip in the photo (from left to right):
1) Manfrotto 056 3-D Junior Head
2) Manfrotto 501HDV Pro Video Head
3) Manfrotto 143 Magic Arm
4) Manfrotto 498 Ball Head
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