The idea came while shopping with my wife. I was waiting outside the fitting room of a Tilly’s, when this blast from the past came on the screens. I haven’t heard 1979 in probably over 10 years and The Smashing Pumpkins had once been my favorite band. Apparently the 90s is finally retro now, which inconveniently reminds me of my slow yet eventual descend into irrelevancy. Then again…
It’s a great song. It’s an even better music video. It’s an idealized version of the American teenage experience, an experience I share. The scenes from 3:04 has always stuck with me, a shot of the hooligan from close range as he walks into the convenience store. The camera tilts and shakes in rhythm with his footsteps. This led me to the discovery of the Snorricam.
The Snorricam, named after the Icelandic Snorri brothers (I’m not making this up), is a chest mounted rig that aims the camera at the wearer. When the model walks, they do not appear to move but everything else in the background does. It is essentially a hands-free selfie stick.
The clip above from Requiem for a Dream is perhaps the most famous use of the Snorricam in Hollywood, a hauntingly great film by the way, especially if you are prone to addictions. Jennifer Connelly is seriously underrated and reminds me of a blue-eyed brunette I once knew in Montreal.
Trying to buy or rent a Snorricam seem to be impossible for mere mortals as I couldn’t find anything online. I came across a myriad of DIY tutorials, but many were incomplete and others were hilarious. So we took this person’s original design, improved it in terms of comfort, and made our own. Total materials cost about $20.
PVC piping is really grown ups’ lego. You can pretty much build anything with PVC pipes. They are inexpensive, easy to work with, and lightweight. I chose 1/2″ diameter piping for their size and lightness. You may want to go larger to 3/4″ if you have a very heavy camera or a large DSLR, but I suspect 1/2″ will be more than enough for most camera setups. Seven pieces of 2′ precut PVC should be more than enough with one left over just in case.
Joints connect the pieces of piping. Joints can’t connect to other joints, so you’ll need to cut a small piece of piping in between them if you want to join them tight together (as you’ll see later in the center section).
This simple tool made all the difference. I tried using a hack saw and it took so much effort and made a mess everywhere. I bought one of these Ratcheting PVC Cutters and it took me 15mins to do all the cutting and assembly. I highly recommend getting one. I returned mine afterwards.
The camera mount was fairly straightforward but requires drilling. You’ll need to drill a hole at the center of the cap and the bottom of the T-joint. Have the guys at Home Depot do it for you for free and make sure the bolt threads nicely through the holes.
Most camera tripod mounts have 1/4″ or M20 thread size. Above is the finished camera mount. If you are worried about the PVC cap scratching the bottom of your camera, you can put some padding there as well.
A final word on PVC cement. Do not glue anything down until you have finished all your cutting and assembling. Make sure everything fits nicely and flush. PVC cement is pretty much instant and there is no going back if you make a mistake! Work outdoors because the you’ll get high off the fumes. I’d put down some newspaper as well as the stuff tend to drip everywhere.
Putting it Together
Don’t worry too much about the exact lengths of each pipe. Just know that the three long pieces in the middle were not cut and left at its full 2 feet length. This isn’t an exact science. I eyeballed everything and everything came out flush.
The lower subframe rests on the model’s abdomen. It is a sideways rectangle with three horizontal sections. The bottom section is a single PVC pipe. The middle and the top sections are smaller pipes connected via the T-joints. I suggest starting with the bottom long piece because this will determine the rest of subframe. Think about how wide your model’s waists are and cut accordingly.
The upper subframe houses the camera mount. It is connected to the center subframe via 45 degree joints. This puts the camera up near the eye level of the model, which makes for the ideal composition. Make sure the upper subframe fits very snuggly into the center subframe as it will not be glued together.
Again, do NOT glue anything until you have finished assembling the whole thing. Make sure everything fits snug, as you should be able to hold the frame without it falling apart. I glued everything except for the 4 places located on the upper subframe. I figured this way, I can change the camera mount in the future and also control the angle of the camera.
Work outdoors because the you’ll get high off the fumes. I’d put down some newspaper as well as the stuff tend to drip everywhere. PVC cement is pretty much instant bonding so there is no going back if you make a mistake!
I lightly sanded the PVC pipes, cleaned it off with soap and water, then spray painted the whole rig with flat black spray paint. I wanted something sightly more professional looking than a bunch of white tubes. I’m very happy with the way it turned out.
Since the lower subframe supports the weight of the camera on the other end and rests on the model’s abdomen, I padded the pipes with pool noodles I bought at the 99 Cent Only Store. The size fits perfectly and doesn’t look like they will fall off easily. Alternatively, you can zip tie the noodles onto the pipes for a more secure fit.
If you recall, the upper subframe is not glued to the center subframe. It is detachable and so upgradeable should the camera mount be damaged. The camera mount can also be rotated to adjust for composition and angle of view. If the camera moves around, you can always duct tape this section to prevent the mount from rotating.
For about $20 and a lazy afternoon, we were able to build a lightweight yet strong Snorricam for our Sony A7. In Part 2, we will do a series of videos and cinemagraphs with the Snorricam and see what working with this rig is actually like. Stay tuned.