Film Tech Pioneer Jean-Marie Lavalou Dead at 76

Film Tech Pioneer Jean-Marie Lavalou Dead at 76


Jean-Marie Lavalou, co-inventor the world’s first remote-control camera system, which gave birth to more fluid crane shots and a new world of creative possibilities for motion pictures, died on July 15. He was 76.

Born into a well known family of camembert cheese makers in Normandie, Lavalou’s career took its tech twist when he met inventor-partner Alain Masseron. In the 1970s, the duo devised unique camera movements while making a film inside a submarine during their national service in France.

This eventually led to the invention of the Louma Crane, which became widely used in film and television production around the world. (The term Louma derives from LOU & MA from their names.)

For the project, Lavalou and Masseron brought together a team of engineers. Subsequent research and development in Paris, as well as alongside partner and David Samuelson of Samuelson Film Services and his team of engineers in London, resulted in the world’s first remote-controlled camera crane.

An early user of the system was director Roman Polanski along with his cinematographer Sven Nykvist on 1976’s “The Tenant,” where it was deployed to create the film’s opening and closing sequence shots.

Retired Panavision executive Andy Romanoff recalls that the Louma Crane came to America in 1978 and was utilized on Steven Spielberg’s “1941.” The system “introduced us to a whole new camera language,” he says.

“Jean-Marie worked day and night adapting the crane to the demands of Hollywood filmmaking,” adds Romanoff. “In later years, he became friends with camera crews all around the world as he visited sets to hear how he could make the crane easier and more useful for them… He spent his whole life dedicated to making better tools for making movies.”

In 2005, the Motion Picture Academy bestowed a Technical and Scientific Achievement Award on Lavalou, Masseron and Samuelson for the Louma remote-controlled camera head.

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