About Bimps

I have been involved with two homemade blimp projects. The first was putting an Arri IIA in an aluminum box with a 200-foot magazine. First we made a 60-cycle sync motor with an 1800-RPM surplus sync motor geared down to 1440 (24 x 60) rpm on a homemade flat base. We lined the box with Barifoil (foam with a lead liner) and it was reasonably quiet. The viewfinder was extended out the back by changing optics in the viewfinder.

This was in the days before Mitchell BNCR reflexes. There were Blimps for the Arri and Éclair, but we couldn't afford to rent them for the job the above blimp was designed for. Fortunately we never had to use this dog but we learned about blimps in the process.

Carroll Ballard wanted a blimp for his CM3 Éclairs, which are not the quietest cameras. They sound (and work a lot) like a sewing machine. Éclair had a blimp in those days, but it was heavy and I think only took hard lenses. Carroll wanted 1000-foot mags. and to accommodate a zoom. Carroll designed and built a clamshell fiberglass blimp that was really quiet. The quietest model had honeycomb spacers filled with sand. All had layers of Barifoil and were airtight.

While Carroll worked with fiberglass and moulds, I designed a co-axial 1000 magazine out of an Éclair magazine, sprockets and a 1000-foot Mitchell magazine split in two and a lot of Epoxy. I had not seen the side-by-side design before. It appeared later in the Éclair 16 NPR.

Haskell Wexler, Francis Coppola and Barry Brown, all Éclair fans, bought blimps from Carroll. I shot a movie for Roger Corman with the one that Francis had. I struggled with zoom controls all through the movie.

So what is relevant about building blimps? First you have to layout the lens, magazine and viewfinder issues. Cardboard and hot glue can help make a mock-up. You need a way of easily attaching the camera to the bottom (base) of the blimp. You need a way to attach the blimp to the tripod head. (Consider a wood model to start with.) You have to isolate the motor vibration noise from the base. Shock mounts are OK. Try Mc Master-Carr. (www,mcmasters.com)

The blimp has to be air tight as possible to block airborne noise. The eyepiece extension should be separated from the eyepiece through the blimp housing. All lens controls have to be isolated between the camera and the outside controls. Rubber works OK. No part of the camera should touch the outside shell other than the base that has to be shock mounted to avoid noise transmitted to the outside shell. More weight generally makes it quieter. You will need a sync or crystal motor and a way to check camera speed from the outside.

Or, you might consider a super Barney. This would make the camera usable outside if not too close to the scene. Any blimp that you can build would probably not be quiet enough for a sound stage anyway. Make a base to which the camera is shock mounted and a Barifoil Barney covering the camera, lens and mag. There would be a glass front attached to the base. Attached to the base and front glass housing would be a Barney with holes for hands to follow focus etc. The Eye Piece would extend through the Barney with no separation. This is easier, but not as good for sound.

Or you might consider instead an old BNC or BNCR or Cinema Products SR-35. I have used all three and they shoot just as good of movies as the latest Panavision or Arri. They are heavy and the viewfinders not as handy, but they are cheap. Scout around Hollywood and not used equipment dealers. Many great movies were shot with them. Both the BNCR and SR-35 do not need zoom lens snoots.

Building a blimp might take more time and money than to go out and earn the money to buy and old sync sound camera. It matters what you need sync for and how much time and inconvenience you can deal with. A homemade blimp will probably not be as good as any of the old cameras mentioned above.

© Copyright 2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.