‘Father of counterbalanced fluid drag head’ dead at 92

Chadwell O’Connor, regarded by many as the father of the counterbalanced fluid drag camera head, died Sept. 5, 2007, at 92.

Throughout his life, O’Connor pursued two passions: steam engines and camera support. Chadwell and his wife Helen shot their own steam locomotive movies in the late 1940s.

Annoyed by the jerkiness of his pan and tilt shots, he developed the world’s first counterbalanced fluid drag camera head, which enabled his pictures to be smooth and clean.

In 1950, while O’Connor was shooting trains in Glendale, CA, another locomotive enthusiast inquired about what was between the camera and tripod. That enthusiast was Walt Disney. He liked the counterbalance fluid head so much that he ordered 10 and stopped all motion shots of his current film “Living Desert” until they received the new equipment.

O’Connor opened a side business building fluid heads, first out of his garage, then as the business grew, he opened an office on Green Street in Pasadena, CA, which his second wife Regina ran during the day. Both of them pitched in at night.

So influential were O’Connor’s contributions that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored him with a 1976 Sci-Tech Award and an Oscar in 1993. In 1994, the Society of Operating Cameramen presented him with a Technical Achievement Award.