He first started thinking during the Handball World Cup in 1993. A year later he had a firm idea. Today, cameramen worldwide can work for longer without overworking their bodies. The invention is called the Easyrig, and it was developed together with two exhibitors at Elmia Subcontractor.
But let’s rewind a bit. For 30 years, Johan Hellsten was a cameraman for Swedish public broadcaster SVT in Umeå, working on many popular consumer and lifestyle programmes. He also covered the Handball World Cup in 1993, and that tournament actually planted the seed for the Easyrig.
The heavy camera strained his body, causing him pain in his back, neck and shoulders. So Johan started wondering whether there was a better way to carry heavy cameras. The next year, 1994, he had a firm idea in place.
“I actually invented the Easyrig for myself, and started out by looking around at different trade fairs. Early on I came into contact with Lesjöfors, and later on when I needed a plastic housing I came across Prototal at Elmia Subcontractor,” says Johan.
Put simply, the Easyrig is a mobile camera rig that sits on a backpack. The camera is mounted onto a line at the front of the rig, and the line can be raised and lowered depending on what’s being filmed. It was for this wire line that Lesjöfors came into the picture.
“We started off with a gas spring for the spool that pulls the line, and after that we used the same kind of motor springs that wind the cable in on a vacuum cleaner. We produce them both in Vällingby. There’s also a rig that can be angled, and for that we use a tension spring from the factory in Herrljunga. The spring is visible right at the bend,” says Erik Danell, Sales Manager for Gas & Stock Springs at Lesjöfors. He continues:
“Easyrig want as stepless and friction-free a construction as possible, so we’re helping them figure out the best solution. I started working with Easyrig around 2000, and we’ve always had a close collaboration with frequent contact.”
The early 2000s was also when Johan Hellsten found Prototal at Elmia Subcontractor. As well as the plastic housing, Prototal has also helped Easyrig to develop a waist buckle.
“It has been developed by us locally and was designed by our former manager. Johan from Easyrig had an idea, and we made it a reality. That’s exactly how we want to work with our customers, from the development phase to the finished product. In this case we began by 3D-printing prototypes, after which we produced tools for injection moulding. In that way, the Easyrig products are a dream scenario for us,” says Ola Anteryd, Key Account Manager at Prototal.
The tension buckle at the waist is an important part of the design. It looks like a heavy-duty belt and ensures that the rig fits comfortably.
“Filming major productions with large cameras places huge strain on the back and shoulders. That’s where the Easyrig really comes into its own. It fits just like a good hiking rucksack, and it reduces strain on the body as you wear it on the hip,” says Kim Johansson, Unit Manager 3D Printing at Prototal, himself an enthusiastic video maker.
Today the Easyrig can be found in 60 countries with 82 agencies, and is regarded as something of a standard for mobile camera rigs around the world.
“Once I could see the idea was feasible it was time to start looking at the design, and when it comes to design you should get to Elmia Subcontractor for inspiration. Some of the personnel took the night train from Umeå so they could be at Elmia the next day. We were full of inspiration,”says Kim.
Despite its international success, Johan Hellsten remains firmly on earth in Umeå.
“Every time I’m at a broadcasting fair, someone comes up to me and says thanks for extending their career by ten years as their back doesn’t ache any more. It’s great to hear that,” he says, and adds:
“It’s important for me that it’s made in Sweden. The Americans wanted to buy the company, but I want my daughter to take over from me…”