The Industry Loses Chadwell O'Connor


Last Updated: January 21, 2008 11:41 pm GMT
(January 21, 2008) The industry mourns the passing of the father of the counterbalanced fluid drag camera head, Chadwell O'Connor. From his birth on October 9, 1914 to his death the 5th of September 2007, Chad O'Connor followed two passions - steam engines and camera support.

Chadwell and his first wife Helen shot their own steam locomotive movies in the late 1940's. Annoyed by the jerkiness of his pan and tilt shots, he developed the world's first counterbalanced fluid drag camera head which enabled his pictures to be smooth and clean. In 1950, while O'Connor was shooting trains in Glendale, California, another locomotive enthusiast inquired as to what was between the camera and tripod. That enthusiast was Walt Disney. He liked the counterbalance fluid head so much that he ordered ten and stopped all motion shots of his current film Living Desert, until they received the new equipment.

The meeting turned into a life-long friendship, a new direction in O'Connor's life - and a new chapter in movie-making history.

O'Connor opened a "side" business, building fluid heads, first out of his garage, then as the business grew, he opened an office on Green Street in Pasadena which his second wife Regina ran during the day. Both of them pitched in at night.

Concurrently Chad's involvement with steam power also flourished. His relationship with Disney remained so strong that when Walt created Disney World in Florida, he commissioned Chad to make the complete steam power systems for six steam launches and provide the boilers and auxiliary power equipment for the three large paddle wheelers. O'Connor continued to design more steam locomotives, including replicas of "Jupiter" and "#119", the two engines that met on the 10th of May, 1869 - where the Golden Spike was driven at Promontory, Utah-opening the Transcontinental Railway. The engines still operate today.

However, it is his unwavering support for the film and video industry that we most remember. He really enjoyed working with cameramen by inventing solutions for their needs. He produced thousands of OConnor fluid heads and legs from the ever-popular OConnor 100 which is so rugged it is still a staple of camerawork worldwide, to the new OConnor 120EX which was made to complement today's high-end film and television production.

So influential were Chadwell O'Connor's contributions that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored him with a 1976 Sci-Tech Award, and an Oscar in 1993. In 1994, the Society of Operating Cameramen presented him with a Technical Achievement Award.

Here's what a few industry professionals have to say about O'Connor's contributions:

Steven Poster, ASC, President Local 600 International Cinematographer's Guild:
"I can remember the first time I got my hands on a professional movie camera," recalls Steven Poster ASC, Local 600 President. "There was the ubiquitous OConnor Fluid Head sitting right underneath it and almost every movie camera I used in the beginning of my career. I'm writing this from a stage, forty years after that first experience. We just did a shot with the Genesis camera sitting on the latest version of the OConnor fluid head, again supporting the camera. That's a very long and successful professional relationship. Chad's sense of insight and invention will be missed by all of us who take camera operating seriously."

David J. Frederick, SOC, Past President, Society of Operating Cameramen:
" first a camera assistant and then a camera operator, we called for a piece of equipment by its name, for instance, 'bring the OConnor!'" recalls David J. Frederick, SOC. "It was just that, a piece of equipment. But it was also known as a failure-free and foolproof dependable piece of equipment. Now, when I pause to appreciate the man who designed these perfect building blocks of camera work, I really appreciate the dedication to the purpose and the tenacity of the design. Chad O'Connor's life's work, camera support equipment, has become a standing legacy that will long survive us all. The OConnor Engineering team has involved Camera Operators, the SOC, the ASC and other working cinematographers in the development of this equipment that our artistry and livelihood depend on. For that legacy we are much indebted to Chad O'Connor and offer our appreciation."

Gavin Finney BSC, President:
"The relationship between camera equipment and the crew who use it is not an impersonal one based purely on specifications, it can become as personal as a painter to his brush or a sculptor to her chisel; they become extensions of the body, through which we can react to and create from the scene unfolding in front of us. When I first used an OConnor head, it was a revelation. With its infinitely variable drag and minutely adjustable counterbalance, one could custom set the head to almost any camera or situation. It didn't hold you back with coarse settings that were either too strong or too weak; it never slowed you down with limited movements requiring wedge-plates to be added. One could start a film on it and never change the head until one was finished. The greatness of Chad O'Connor's original design is that subsequent attempts at improving it haven't always been successful. In this day of constantly changing equipment, whatever camera I'm using, the OConnor stays on the list."

Chadwell O'Connor will be missed and remembered - by the train world ---- and every time a cameraman attaches a camera to that unassuming but powerful - OConnor Fluid Head.

About OConnor
Pioneering fluid head innovator OConnor has been the choice of top cinematographers for nearly 60 years. Known for their hallmark smooth feel and consistent reliability, OConnor's award-winning fluid heads provide the ultimate control and stability for film-style shooting. Today's line includes the Ultimate range of fluid heads, Cine HD and carbon fiber tripods. OConnor's most recent technological achievement is the 120EX, the flagship of its new series of EXTENDED CAPACITY fluid heads-the EX range.

Along with five other leading brands in the broadcast industry, OConnor is part of Camera Dynamics Inc., which in turn is part of the Vitec Group of companies.


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