Obituary: Chadwell O’Connor

Chadwell O’Connor, inventor of the counterbalanced fluid-drag camera head has died at the age of 92.

O’Connor’s death occurred on Sept. 5, 2007 and was just recently reported. His fluid head design, introduced in the 1950s, has become synonymous with smooth pans and tilts, with some industry professionals referring to the head as simply “the OConnor.”

O’Connor’s contribution to the film and television industry came indirectly as the result of his interest in steam locomotives. He enjoyed documenting these railroad engines on film and constructed a fluid head that provided smooth action with the lightweight home movie camera he used.

Another locomotive buff and studio head, Walt Disney, observed O’Connor filming trains at a California train station and inquired about the unusual pan and tilt head. Disney was working on a new film, “The Living Desert,” and asked O’Conner to construct a similar head to solve some problems associated with that production. The event sparked a lifelong friendship between O’Connor and Disney, and also the beginnings of OConnor Engineering.

For his contributions to the industry, O’Connor received the 1976 Sci-Tech Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, an Oscar in 1993 and the Society of Operating Cameramen’s Technical Achievement Award in 1994.