When President Barack Obama was inaugurated as this nation’s 44th President, he not only made history as the country’s first African American president, but history was also recorded using a special gadget called the Gigapan. The Gigapan is a computer controlled rig that can allow photographers to remotely shoot high resolution images or take time lapse stop motion video over long periods of time. Sadly, the real McCoy is pretty pricey at about $900. Unless, of course, you’re Lego obsessed, like photographer Jim Catan, and can create something very similar with a pilot of plastic bricks and Mindstorms interface at a fraction of the cost.
The rig was designed and built by Lego fan James Catan, who spent three days piecing together a rotating rig from varous Lego sets including the computerized Lego Mindstorms, which comes with a keypad interface for programming what you build to make simple movements in sequence. The rig was built as part of a commission for a site Catan contributes to called Hacked Gadgets. But it wasn’t easy for Jim to get it right. But being a prototype engineer with over 15 years of experience, Jim was able to lean on the familiar ground of trial and error. With something as complex as programming movement, he had to put together and take apart his design several times in order to ensure both a snug fit of all the necessary pieces and to make sure the pieces stay together during the start and stop of the program sequence. But that was the easy part.
Once Jim had the basic design dialed in, he had to write the program which would cause the pan and tilt rig to move precisely and stay within the focal range of the lens he was using. If off by even a few millimeters, there would be a gap in the photo which would necessitate reworking his program to cover the blind spot. In the end, for about a quarter of the cost of a real Gigapan (about $250 in parts), Jim had a bonafide home built tilt and pan photo system that rivals its manufactured cousin in both photo and video quality. Check out these videos of the Lego Pan Tilt in action:
The videos were shot using 500 still frames over the 40 minutes with a frame rate of about 16fps, moving and shooting every 30 seconds. And it not only shows just how robust and flexible Lego builds can be, but how much you can do with what amounts to a simple toy. And with some experience, it shows that you can save some money with them to boot.