How Skycam Works

From Steadi to Sky

Steadicam, Skycam’s older sibling
Steadicam, Skycam’s older sibling
© Visionhaus/Corbis

Before you walk, you crawl. Before Skycam, there was Steadicam. Both emerged from the brain of camera operator, inventor and entrepreneur Garrett Brown. In the early 1970s, Brown realized that there had to be a better way to shoot video from a moving camera, without a traditional, time-consuming dolly and rails.

He came up with Steadicam, a vest equipped with counterbalanced equipment that virtually eliminated hand shake and vibrations as a camera person walked to follow the action of a scene. By the middle of the decade, Steadicam had exploded in popularity in Hollywood, and was used on iconic films such as "Rocky."

The success of Steadicam gave Brown momentum to try something even more audacious – filming athletic action from the sky. Helicopters wouldn't work for all sorts of reasons, such as the unsavory potential for accidentally decapitating spectators. So he set about planning and engineering a device that could swoop through open spaces, offering a bird's eye view of the action below.

He envisioned a camera suspended from ropes or cables, zooming around and recording angles never before possible. It didn't take him long to realize his dream.

In 1984, Skycam made one of its first real trial runs during a preseason NFL game between the San Francisco 49ers and the San Diego Chargers. It went well enough that in 1985, NBC licensed Skycam for its coverage of the Orange Bowl matchup between the Washington Huskies and Oklahoma Sooners.

Audiences loved the sky-high views and dynamic angles. ABC licensed Skycam to record the famous Live Aid concerts in 1985, wowing crowds with its audio-video magic.

And then, suddenly, Skycam found itself mostly grounded. It was expensive to operate and pricey to license, and Brown couldn't justify the ongoing expenses.