50 years ago, Garrett Brown changed film. Now he has an invention for himself - Technical.ly Philly

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May 29, 2019 10:01 am

50 years ago, Garrett Brown changed film. Now he has an invention for himself

In 1972, the Haverford High School alumnus prototyped what became the Steadicam (of "Rocky" fame). Today, at 77, he's working on a hybrid wheelchair-walker. This one is personal.
Oscar-winning inventor Garrett Brown interviewed by Elizabeth Lea Dougherty, of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Oscar-winning inventor Garrett Brown interviewed by Elizabeth Lea Dougherty, of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

(Photo by Holly Quinn)

Garrett Brown says he might have “gone a little crazy with the ‘Cams.”

In the mid 1970s, he transformed popular cinema with the first: the Steadicam, a device for supporting smooth camera shots for film. It was used by Stanley Kubrick in “The Shining” and in George Lucas’sReturn of the Jedi” — but only after “Rocky,” which got its iconic Art Museum steps shot from Brown.

Later, Brown, who holds more than 50 patents and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2013, also invented the SkyCam (for football games) and the DiveCam (for competitive divers), among others.

Now the 77-year-old is working on something a bit more personal. He’s the cofounder of Exokinectics, a hardware startup building the Zeen, a hybrid wheelchair-walker (named as an homage to an early man-powered vehicle).

“I want this when I need it,” Brown said, while speaking at Introduced, Technical.ly’s conference during Philly Tech Week 2019 presented by Comcast, earlier this month. When Brown’s father was at the end of his life, Brown remembered a painful physical decline from independence.

Walkers are awkward, and wheelchairs can be limiting, Brown said. With his cofounder Chris Fawcett, they’ve patented their “elevating walker chair.”

Find more about the Zeen here.

What does a master inventor advise about invention? “Inventing for money will lead you astray,” he said. It’s about curiosity and persistence and “a bit of madness.”

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His inventions are used widely but none more so than the Steadicam, at least when film is still used. That product has certainly been replaced in part by the rise of graphics and, as Brown put it, “the CGI wienies.”

He was in part joking but his view carries considerable weight, thanks to his influence on the 20th century motion pictures industry. Earlier this year, Variety reviewed his cinematic influence. Last year, CBS Sunday Morning described him as “single-handedly changing how the world sees film.”

But he is no anti-technology Luddite. He is a 70-something startup founder after all.

When asked, he described 3D printing and drones as “marvelous,” once again making the impossible seem possible. Thanks to these and other advances, what’s on a screen is a “bloody marvel,” he said.

At more than 6 feet tall, he’s still imposing. He’s full of stories and gave this reporter quite a bit of joy, just by listening. Still, he’s moved on from a storied film career to this new stage, both of company building and invention advising. Brown was interviewed at the conference by Elizabeth Dougherty, the Atlantic outreach liaison for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

When asked when he would actually go to patent something like an early prototype for the Zeen, he said, “when the idea of someone else doing it gets too annoying.” Dougherty clarified that the official advice is one should file before a public disclosure, but added: “Garrett certainly knows what he’s doing.”

People: Garrett Brown
Projects: Philly Tech Week
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