Releasing the Genie – a super smart camera companion

Cinematography and industrial design duo Ben Ryan and Chris Thomson have just unveiled the Genie, a box that will tell your camera how and when to shoot – and they've kickstarted the pants off it.

Cinematography and industrial design duo Ben Ryan and Chris Thomson have just unveiled the Genie, a box that will tell your camera how and when to shoot – and they've kickstarted the pants off it.

Genie cameraCinematographer Ben Ryan is used to extreme conditions. His work in the past has taken him from blazing hot days in the desert to stomping through waist-deep snow at night just to get the right shot. And now, together with award-winning industrial designer Chris Thomson, a lot of his work is carried out in a shed at the Frankton Marina in Queenstown, as the pair develop a film apparatus called the Genie.

It’s a small box with integrated software connected to any piece of film equipment, such as a tripod or dolly, and to the camera. It’ll then tell the camera to move and shoot how and when you want it. The result? Motion-controlled time lapses or real-time camera moves.

Ryan and Thomson jumped on Kickstarter to fund the Genie, raising more than double their $150,000 target. Ryan says they’ve had some interest from investors but so far they’re going it alone. That said, they’d consider investment from people who can offer skills and expertise that could grow the company beyond just covering costs of manufacturing.

“We run on an extremely lean budget,” Ryan points out. “But that also helps keep us on point with prioritising our spending and making use of the network of other creatives we have around us. “The success of the product as well as future products relies as much on our understanding of the creative market as it does on our business profit.”

Ryan and Thomson have attracted a fair bit of interest from occasional bystanders so far. They’re often approached when they’re out getting test footage, with punters wanting to know what it does and where they can get one.

“We’ve been keeping it pretty close to home up until now but the test footage alone has caught the eyes of a lot of filmers both locally and internationally. The industry is driven by technology and filmers are always on the hunt for new ways to get shots that allow them to better tell their stories.”

The pair came up with the idea for the Genie as a “natural progression” from their original idea of making a new low-cost portable slider. “We really wanted to fill the gap between low-cost, low-quality equipment and the non-portable, high-quality and high-priced equipment currently available.”

They’d spent some time developing a compact and portable slider when the idea hit for adding motion control for doing time lapses. There was nothing like that on the market that met the needs of independent filmmakers. The project got too big, so the slider was put on hold and they directed their efforts towards the Genie. Which is, er, genius.

Everything’s integrated into the body so you don’t need to haul around external controllers or batteries, which most other motion control rigs need. And it can be adapted to be used on existing professional equipment as well as homemade rigs.

Thomson takes care of the design and engineering side, while Ryan looks at testing and developing a marketing strategy.

“We’ve also had a lot of help with some of the detailed work on the final software coding – done by Aidan Fraser – and electronics design from Luther Keats. Aidan has been involved from an early stage spending his nights making sure the software does what we asked it to and turning our user interface design into solid working code.”

With Ryan and Thomson as the sole shareholders, the whole project has been self-funded prior to its Kickstarter efforts.

“We would love to have this as a day job, but a man’s gotta eat, so it’s been a life-consuming hobby of sorts,” Ryan admits. “We take as little and as much other work as we can to cover the costs of living and the costs of developing the product, and this is a constant balancing act.”

Thomson also runs a design consultancy, Deweydecimal, working on design and creative projects, while Ryan films and edits for his company Reason Films and partner company Diaries Down Under, which produces short web video clips promoting the Southern Lakes region, sponsored by the likes of Air New Zealand.