Build an advanced DIY motion control slider for timelapse and stop motion animation

Mar 13, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Build an advanced DIY motion control slider for timelapse and stop motion animation

Mar 13, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Since initially discovering the Arduino, Eduard Puertas has spent a lot of time experimenting with it. It’s all an attempt to make his working life easier. As a stop motion animator, anything that makes his life easier is welcome. The Arduino allows him to automate many tasks that would be difficult to achieve manually. At the very least they’d take him a very long time to get perfect.

Eduard has built many automated motion control systems for his work based off the Arduino, including a slider. Now he’s revising his previous slider design to help improve things a little. He wants to keep the low weight while allowing for a larger load capacity.

YouTube video

So, let’s look at the parts list

You’ll need a motor and stepper motor controller for each axis you wish to control. If you just want to add simple linear motion, then you’ll only need one. But it’s always good to get a couple of each to have backups. If you want to start panning and tilting the camera during the slide, you’ll need more, but can control them all from the same CNC shield.

Eduard also has these parts, minus the slider rail & carriage, available together as a complete kit for around $170. The kit also includes a few items not mentioned in the list above, such as a power supply and various connectors you may need.

A few tools you might need include…

Eduard’s previous slider had been based off a pair of cylindrical rails. This worked well for a light camera rig, such as a mirrorless or small DSLR. But with tripod heads, large DSLRs and heavy lenses, it would tend to dip as the camera moved closer to the centre. As well as creating imperfections in the horizontal movement of the camera, this can also cause the camera to lean slightly as it moves across the shot.

The new design is based off the Igus Drylin 10-40 system, and offers a much more stable platform. This is thanks to the fact that the two rails are connected by a base, and are generally much tougher. Dry fit friction sliders aren’t usually the most popular for smooth manual motion. It’s just to difficult to provide an even pressure along the whole run of the track with your hand. But, when powered by stepper motors, they provide extremely smooth and even movement for both video and timelapse.

The first step is to attach the motor bracket. Eduard drills two holes in the end of the rail to attach the bracket, mounting the motor upside down on the end. He then taps these holes to ensure the bolts will screw straight in without issue. Be sure to use plenty of lubricant while drilling and tapping.

While the drill’s still out, now’s also a great time to cut the holes for mounting the slider to a tripod. Eduard measures, drills and taps several sets of holes to account for 1/4-20″ & 3/8-16″ tripod mounts. The M6 thread on the end is for the free bearing on the opposite end of the slider to the motor.

1/4-20″ and 3/8-16″ holes are also drilled and tapped into the carriage itself. This allows for easy mounting either directly to a camera, or to a tripod head.

With everything drilled and almost ready to assemble, Eduard had to fabricate just one custom piece for this slider. This is the clamp which holds the belt onto the carriage. For this, he used a couple of small piece of aluminium, a hacksaw, and lots of filing and sanding. But, you can save yourself a whole lot of effort by just buying a clamp.

All of the parts then need to be cleaned to remove all of the lubricant added for drilling, and then everything just bolts together.

Finally, it’s just a case of setting up the software. This is the most expensive part of Eduard’s setup. He uses Dragonframe, a stop motion animation application for Windows & Mac. It costs $295. If you’re working a lot in the studio, then it may be worth going this route.

If you want to take this out on location, then, it may be better to simply write your own Arduino sketch, with some kind of control interface. Of course, you can always carry a laptop around with you and your slider. It’s not exactly the most portable of solutions, but it will provide a great degree of control.

My needs for motorised sliders aren’t quite as demanding as Eduard’s. So, for me, a simple Arduino sketch with a couple of dials and a switch to control the speed and direction of travel would be perfect. But, as it’s based off the Arduino, there’s a million potential control interfaces you could create. I have an old Igus based slider here that I haven’t used in a long time. Since switching to a bearing based carbon fibre slider, I’ve just had no need. It might just be time for me to dig it out and motorise it, though.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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3 responses to “Build an advanced DIY motion control slider for timelapse and stop motion animation”

  1. Stefan Kohler Avatar
    Stefan Kohler

    Satya :-)

  2. Arno Avatar
    Arno

    If I want to use Dragonframe, is there any steps involving programming the arduino or does Dragonframe recognise it automatically?

  3. Diego R Avatar
    Diego R

    Hi, If I want to add second axis for pan movement, where can I see the instructions to do this?