Please tell us about yourself

“Life is the same except that more people now know me and believe in my software and control system engineering skills,” says Vikas Sathaye, a Pune-born engineer, who was the part of the team that was awarded the Oscars 2018 Scientific and Technical Awards for Shotover K1 Camera System.

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IISC Alumnus Vikas Vinay Sathaye (M. Tech. Instrumentation, 1996) has received the Scientific and Engineering Award 2018 from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, USA, for his contribution to developing an innovative aerial camera system used in filming several Hollywood blockbusters.

He shares the award with former colleagues John Coyle, Brad Hurndell and Shane Buckham at Shotover Camera Systems, a Queenstown, New Zealand-based company.The four received the prestigious award for the concept, design, engineering and implementation of the Shotover K1 Camera System. “This innovative six-axis stabilized aerial camera mount, with its enhanced ability to frame shots while looking straight down, enables greater creative freedom while allowing pilots to fly more effectively and safely,” states the Academy citation.

What did you study?

Born in Pune in 1967,  Vikas grew up in Mulund where he attended NGP High School. After completing his school eduacations, Sathaye completed a diploma in instrumentation from VPM’s polytechnic, Thane. He further studied BE in electronics from VIT Pune, and an M-Tech in instrumentation from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore.

“Though I grew up in Mumbai my parents are from Pune and most of our relatives live in Pune. Therefore, even before moving to Pune, my family and I used to visit the city during summer vacations. It used to be very different at that time, very quiet and peaceful.

“Me and my cousins got together at my uncle’s house for a few weeks to enjoy our summer vacation,” he reminisces.

Vikas never expected to enter the motion pictures industry, yet, his love for electronics and Research and Development led him to where he is today.

Back in 2009, when I joined this new startup company called Shotover Camera Systems, I had no clue that one day we could win an Oscar,” he adds

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

“During the year 1991 when I did my graduation in Electronics Engineering, the R&D jobs needed decent experience. I therefore decided to join an engineering college on a visiting faculty basis and in the spare time develop some electronic products. Eventually I was pulled into a full-time lecturer role when I began to like teaching.

“In the year 1997 the college sent a team of lecturers on a collaborative project with Fiat Italy. During my visit to Italy, I saw the automation in the car manufacturing industry and the various robots handling exciting things. After seeing all of this, I thought of entering the field of hardcore R&D. The closest match to satisfy myself was to enter the field of embedded software development,” he adds.

It was his colleague Shane who insisted him to join the new startup, which further led to them developing the Shotover K1 Camera System.

Tell us about your work

“I hadn’t thought of getting into this industry, but the aerial filming camera system which Shotover wanted to develop closely resembled the six-axis robot.

When I realized that in this new role I will be developing software that will be controlling motors that will drive the robotic arms and position the camera head, I was very interested in this project.

“I could see my dream coming true. I decided to join Shotover Camera System which opened the gates for the motion picture industry.

One of my Christchurch company colleagues, Shane Buckham joined this new startup company called Shotover Camera Systems in Queenstown, New Zealand and asked me if I would be interested in joining. I liked the product that Shotover Camera System wanted to develop and I decided to join them.

Shotover K1 was used in many Hollywood and a few Bollywood movies. The first movie filmed with Shotover K1 was Walking with the Dinosaurs in 2011.

“One of my favorite moments was going to the filming site for Walking with Dinosaurs at Glenorchy, New Zealand and helping the crew use our system,” he shares.

The mount, also called a gimbal, is attached to the base of the helicopter that carries the camera and lens. Its primary function is to eliminate vibration to enable a steady, jitter-free footage, and also move the camera head in any desired direction.

“Traditionally gimbals used to have analog control system and our objective was to design the control system which will be based on digital technology,” says Sathaye. “As a software and control system engineer, my primary job was to stabilize the camera platform and move the gimbal head in the desired direction based on the joystick commands issued by the camera operator. Besides this, I was responsible for driving the servo-lens system and to display all the camera and gimbal-related parameters as overlay on the LCD monitor.”

Starting with a single axis mount for 2D filming, the team eventually developed a 6-axis 3D gimbal that can be used with a wide range of cameras and lenses. Their first 3D prototype, called the Shotover K1, was used in shooting the film Walking with Dinosaurs. Since then, Shotover K1 has been used in over a hundred different films, including The Hobbit, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Spectre, Deepwater Horizon, Spiderman: Homecoming and Dunkirk.

The team received the academy plaques in a ceremony held at Beverly Wilshire, Los Angeles, USA, on 10th February, 2018. “I would like to thank my family, my teachers, friends and colleagues who have loved me and supported me always,” says Sathaye.

Reacting on being awarded an Oscar, he says, “The first thoughts were about my parents and my family. My parents have always supported me. They knew that I had a very strong liking towards science and technology and they cultivated the scientist in me by allowing me to do lots of experiments at home.