For a very long time, the only way to get super smooth, dynamic car-to-car footage of a vehicle was to use what’s known as an arm car – or specifically what used to be called a Russian arm car but now is called the Ukrainian arm car because the company is based in Ukraine and Russia... well, yeah – which is pretty much what it sounds like, aka a fast non-reflective vehicle with a long moveable boom arm with a camera on the end of it in a movable head.
While that sounds relatively simple, it’s anything but. A proper Hollywood-level arm car usually takes up to five highly skilled people to run, costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and is typically based on an incredibly fast SUV like a Porsche Cayenne Turbo or AMG Mercedes.
But what if you need a camera car, didn’t want to deal with any of that and you didn’t have half a million dollars to spend? What if you only had 1/100th of that budget? Could you build something comparable?
In a word, no, but that doesn’t mean you’re totally hosed. The fellas from the YouTube channel CarThrottle decided to try it, and while most of their decisions don’t end up working in their favor, the footage they do get is far from unusable.
They start with a Mercedes minivan with a gimbal setup suction cupped to the front. A rear-facing seat with a harness strap allows someone to hang out of the back to capture cars following. Lastly, there’s a super long telescoping stick with a GoPro mounted to the end to get arm-like shots.
Of course, the CarThrottle way is not the only way to build a camera car for less than an arm car. One of the crew members on Mythbusters built a really interesting camera car setup using an ex-cop car, a pneumatic ram and some off-the-shelf components from DJI to create something that’s way less sketchy than CarThrottle’s and which produces pro-level footage.