‘It was a special moment for us’

Debarati Palit Singh
Saturday, 17 February 2018

Pune-born Vikas Sathaye, who recently received the Oscars 2018 Scientific and Technical Awards, for being one of the developers of Shotover K1 Camera Systems, calls it the future and a great tool to shoot animation and action films

Bhanu Athaiya, Satyajit Ray, A R Rahman, Resul Pookutty and Gulzar are now not the only Indians who have received The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences or the Oscar awards. Another name has been added to the list.

Pune-born Vikas Sathaye was honoured with the Scientific and Engineering Academy Award at the Oscars 2018 Scientific and Technical Awards on February 10 at Beverly Hills, Los Angeles.

Not many know that the video of the technical award ceremony will be screened at the main award event, on March 4. Sathaye, along with John Coyle, Brad Hurndell and Shane Buckham received the award for their contribution towards conceptualisation, designing, engineering, and implementation of the gyro-stabilised gimbal platform called Shotover K1 Camera Systems. 

Soon after receiving the award, Sathaye visited his parents and elder brother in Pune and was also felicitated by National Film Archive of India (NFAI) in association with Arbhaat Film Club.

When we caught up with Sathaye before the felicitation ceremony, he described the entire experience of receiving the award as magical. “The award became even more special for me because I am no more working for Shotover Camera Systems. I was part of the company from 2009 to 2012. By then, the camera was ready and we got orders,” he says, adding, “When I got a call, I was surprised. My entire family came with me for the ceremony. It was a special moment for us because we had never been through anything like this before. We got a red carpet welcome and also met up with old friends after years.”

The Shotover K1 Camera Systems has been used in some of the biggest Hollywood and Bollywood films including Dunkirk, Spiderman, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Rampage, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Alien, Guardian of the Galaxy Vol 2, The Fate of the Furious and several others. 
Sathaye, who has now shifted to Australia, says that if he gets another chance to work on a similar project, he will definitely take it up.

Simplifying the Shotover K1 Camera Systems and how it works, he says, “It’s basically a stabilisation system. We don’t make cameras but make a platform which use our stability. If you are sitting in a still chair and require a camera, there is no need of stabilisation. But if it’s a moving target like a helicopter or a motor, you need stabilsation. We try and read various motions with the help of sensors and find microns. The moment we read that, we generate a counter force. If the motion is coming in a particular angle, we generate a force which will oppose that motion, which means it could have moved in a particular angle but because of our correcting action, it just stays there.” 

Adding further, he says, “That’s why you will find the camera looking stable and not giving any vibrations. So, if you are in a chopper or a boat, the shaking will not reach the camera. It can be controlled through a laptop which has specific functions,” says Sathaye, who is an embedded systems engineer. 

He says that Shotover K1 Camera Systems isn’t the only camera available. There are several other stabilisation platforms. “But there are a few distinct advantages that the Shotover K1 Camera Systems offers and therefore stands out. The first being look down mode. Besides its 6-axis gyro ensures that it ships as excess baggage on commercial flights worldwide with no export restrictions. Also, it’s all modular so you can break the whole system in small pieces and don’t need a big crew to carry it.”  

However, creating the camera system wasn’t an easy task. It took them two years to work on the 2D gimbal and another year to work on the 3D. “We wanted to come out of the traditional way of designing. Most of the designs are analog and we wanted to make something which is completely digital. While doing so it was a bit difficult because we had to keep the noise level low, as digital induces a lot of electrical noise and that can interfere with your communication system. Also, keeping the horizon level was a challenge and we had to work on it. The initial 75 per cent went smoothly but the last part took some time,” he says.

He calls Shotover K1 Camera Systems as the future and a great tool to shoot animation and action films. “Bollywood can also hire this system but its cost can work against it. If we can get an alternative, then Indian film industry can also use it regularly,” he says before heading for the felicitation programme.

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