We had opportunity to talk with Tabb Firchau from Freefly Systems about the launching of the new MōVI Pro. Here is our conversation.
Stabilizer News: Hi Tabb, what can you tell us about your career with stabilizers, how did you start, and where did you get the idea for MōVI?
Tabb Firchau: MōVI originally started out as an aerial gimbal. I have been involved in the Remote Aerial Cinematography industry for almost 15 years now and originally I was only thinking about aerial shots. Once we built the very first version of the aerial gimbal, we quickly became obsessed with shooting on it. This led to using some carbon booms from our cinestar 8 to quickly fashion a rudimentary ‘handlebar’. I still remember the first time we shot with it and how exciting it was! We were shooting stable footage from this tiny, lightweight stabilizer. The first time I tried it I knew that the tech would change the way films are made. Every day from there on was a race to announce MōVI at NAB!
SN: Can you explain the process of creating the MōVI, from the basic idea to the manufacturing and marketing.
Tabb: Our team follows (or tries to!) a fairly normal product development process. It goes something like this:
Sprint Week – a one week sprint where we try and get clarity on exactly WHAT we are building and WHY it’s important.
Product Requirements Document – This is the document where we define ‘what’ it is we are building, and what specs / performance it needs to achieve.
Alpha build – We ‘hack’ together a test mule that is designed to remove risk from any areas we are uncertain about. For instance on the MōVI Pro, we were worried about the carbon arc design for the pan tube so we hacked together a prototype gimbal using MōVI Ring carbon arcs just to see how it feels. We try to test ideas very early and in whatever way we can to try and gain confidence in the direction.
Concept Design Review – This is where we present the direction that we have settled on. This brings the team together and is a checkpoint to make sure we all have the same thing in our minds. It’s really easy for a team to drift apart during a development cycle, so anything you can do to confirm we are all on the same page saves time and avoids painful course corrections late in the cycle.
Detailed Design Review – Here we review the detailed design. This is the full product designed in CAD. We scrutinize every detail to try and spot any show stoppers before we start ordering parts, tooling, etc. This is always a stressful time since you are typically ordering very expensive tooling for mass production, and if we miss anything it will mean big delays!
EV Build – I hate acronyms…but the industry has settled on these dumb names, so we use them as well to ease communications. EV stands for Engineering Validation. This is the checkpoint where we ensure that our design can achieve our functional requirements. The EV build is usually a mixture of finished parts, 3d printed parts, handmade wiring, etc. We do anything we can to get a early version of the product up and running. For me, the ultimate test I am looking for at this stage is a ‘user test’. I want to take the product out filming and fall in love with it. We usually organize some type of real shoot at this stage to test the product in a real way. We note everything that is annoying and discuss with the engineering team to see how we can improve. If the EV test is passed, we proceed to DV.
DV Build – This stands for Design Validation. This step is to confirm that we can build a batch of units that meets the cosmetic, functional, and performance criteria we have established.
PV Build – This is mass manufacturing. Can we build the product to meet all cosmetic, functional, and performance criteria in mass with an acceptable yield rate.
Promo Videos – We always shoot our own promo videos. We LOVE this part of the process. Typically we look for a few great people to collaborate with. For MōVI Pro, we looked to Tim Sessler and Ty Evans for our launch videos. Both these guys are a blast to work with, and create such visually compelling content. For the piece with Ty Evans, we shot over the course of 3 nights in LA and it was a crazy, awesome experience. Ty is just an unstoppable force….he wills things into existence and puts in the work to create amazing things. I would work with him again anytime!
SN: Are there any interesting or funny stories that happened during the tests of first MōVI?
Tabb: Ha! A few come to mind. The first one is a funny supplier story. Early on we were sourcing a one cell lithium battery for the MIMIC. We had RFQ’s out to a handful of suppliers, but we were not getting much traction with any of them. Then one of them finally agreed to make samples. They sent a shipping confirmation and we were all so excited to have a potential solution!
Our receiving department alerted the Engineering team that a shipment have arrived, but that it was just a stuffed animal. We went over to investigate and Maria mentioned to us that the teddy bear looked like it had been cut open and sewn back up??
We almost just threw it away, but luckily ripped open the back of the bear. Inside were 5 sample one cell lithium batteries! The cells were awesome quality…to this day I don’t quite understand why they shipped in this manner (maybe to avoid lithium regulations) but it sure made everyone laugh.
We like to come up with code names for projects under development….for this project the codename was ‘Meerkat’ Deniz came up with this nice framed print of our mascot to keep the team smiling…..I still have a copy on my desk reminding me to focus on Meerkat everyday!
Another story comes later in the development process when Shane was working on the new version of Autotune. He had a little tripod stand near his desk with a MōVI Pro on top. One day he forgot that the MōVI was turned on and picked it up by the gimbal. Since he was holding the gimbal and it was trying to stabilize, the pan motor started spinning wildly and vibrated so hard that it broke some 3d printed parts on the MōVI. The MōVI Pro has faster encoders and double the power on the pan motor, so Shane really got a workout trying to hold onto an out of control gimbal that day!
SN: What do you think about the competition? There are many cheaper copies of MōVI…
Tabb: It is incredible! We launched MōVI In 2013 and within one year there were like 30 companies with copies. That first year was a bit rough for me. I got lots of emails from people saying “this product does the same thing and is half the price”. In the beginning, before people spent time with the MōVI, they did not understand the performance, reliability and usability difference between the MōVI and other products. After some time went by and people really got to use the MōVI more, the sentiment changed. Then we started hearing more stories about how people loved the MōVI, and how it was helping them build careers, and get shots they never dreamed of, etc.
I think when there are this many copies of a product so fast, it just means it is a good idea. Freefly was lucky to be the first to come to market with a handheld gimbal… certainly others would have come up with a similar idea if we had not. Competition is good; it drives us to keep innovating and solving problems in unique ways.
SN: We have the information that Freefly users are very satisfied with the customer service. How many employees do you have right now at Freefly?
Tabb: That is excellent to hear! The Freefly team is 50 employees right now. I am really proud of the culture we have grown at Freefly. We take our customers’ success very seriously, and always try to ensure we are making the best long term decisions. There are 4 founders at Freefly, and we all love working at Freefly, so we try to make optimal business decisions for Freefly in the long term. Specifically, the support team is made up of Chris, Bryan, Darek, and Adam with Megan and me splitting time leading the group. If you have had a MōVI tech question and needed help, it’s likely this team helped you out!
SN: What can you tell us about the new MōVI Pro?
Tabb: Oh man….where to start. I think the best explanation is to watch this video:
What I would say on top of this is that the level of integration on this product still amazes me. It does everything I dreamed of doing 5 years ago. As someone who is really excited about Aerial Cinematography this thing just simplifies my life sooooo much. Now when Hugh and I want to go filming we can just grab my ALTA, MōVI Pro, MōVI Controller, and one backpack and we are out the door. I am also really excited about the integration with RED digital cinema cameras. Being able to control all the RED settings from 600+ feet away still puts a smile on my face!
On top of this what I can tell you is that the ‘Meerkat’ team (MōVI Pro codename) really poured their heart into this product for the last year. We are all really excited to see what users will create with it!
SN: Can you tell us something about Freefly business plans for next year?
Tabb: Sure, we are going to continue developing products make cinematographers lives easier, more fun, and more productive. We are also hoping to create a framework where we can interact more with the film community and help people try new things and take risks. Freefly just turned 5 years old a few months ago….so we are a baby still and finding our footing!
Our Vision and Mission Statements…
SN: And last but not the least do you have any private time and what do you do in your free time?
Tabb: For free time I love to spend it outdoors. Hiking, running, exploring, shooting aerials etc. I also love to walk….my co-founder Dave and I walk constantly. We solve our toughest problems on long walks. I think the act of walking allows my brain to drift into a state where I solve problems better than being stationary. I also love to learn new skills and research technology in my spare time. I’ve been playing with Fusion 360 from Autodesk lately and researching 3d printers a ton. I also love to shoot things like dronesurfing when we get some down time. The last 6 months of MōVI Pro development have been intense, so I haven’t been the ‘best’ version of myself. I feel best if I spend some time every day working on future products / projects.
SN: Tabb, thank you so much for this interview, we wish you all the best in your private and business life, and many more great products from your company.
Tabb: Thank you for setting this up! I always love reading Stabilizer News to catch up on the latest products in the space.
Last checkup before launching while reading Stabilizer News.