Innovative System Tracks Performers, Cameras, Fixed Focus Points Inside a Magnetic Field

AJA may have grabbed the lion's share of early NAB buzz by getting into the camera business, but if you wanted to see a real magic trick being pulled off in Las Vegas, you had to head deep into the Central Hall to see the Andra Motion Focus system from Halifax-based Cinema Control Labs at work.

Andra aims to be a focus-puller's best friend by automating much of the hard work of maintaining focus in a challenging shot, while still allowing the user to enter manual mode when necessary. There are several components to the system, the most mysterious being the black "sources", which turn out to be four-inch cubes that create a magnetic field for motion capture. 
The performer must wear one or more sensors that send information to the motion controller via RF transmission. A sensor can also be used to create a focus point at a fixed location. To calibrate the system, the operator uses an iPad interface to specify the location of the focus point — perhaps a performer's right eye or the left eye — that will be tracked relative to the sensor.
Based on the live NAB demo, it seems to work. The system incorporates a full focus, iris and zoom controller that can be controlled manually via the iPad (Andra is developing a handheld unit it calls the Arc for users who would prefer a more tactile controller rather than a touchpad), so you don't have to bring along a separate controller for shots where you have to work manually.
A number of different packages are available for preorder, but the least expensive point of entry is the $12,750 DSLR Starter Kit. It includes the camera controller, one source (for a roughly 16-foot diameter motion capture area), two sensors, and one hub (meaning you're limited to tracking one actor, or creating up to 16 fixed focus points. Stepping up to the standard package ($17,050) gets you a second hub, allowing two actors to be tracked or allowing the camera to move, and a second source, which can be mounted on a boom pole. And the pro package ($28,800) includes four hubs, six sensors, and four boom poles, for 600 square feet of coverage. At this level you're able to track three actors and a moving camera at the same time, the company said.
If you just want to stick a toe in, Andra will offer a plain-vanilla package with the Arc hardware and its motor controller for $7,900. It's upgradable later to a full Motion Focus system.
An Andra rep at the show told us the company is looking to start fulfilling preorders in limited quantities in November.