04-28-12: Rogers High graduate invents equipment to ease filmmaking
04-28-12: Rogers High graduate invents equipment to ease filmmaking

Kyle Hart’s quest to create durable yet affordable equipment to stabilize a camera during filmmaking has generated nearly $80,000 in sales from his first invention alone.

The 2006 Rogers High School graduate started making films a year ago and realized his footage was useless without a camera stabilizer — a unit that attaches to a camera to capture smooth, quality video even when the camera and camera operator are in motion.

With the use of a stabilizer, a filmmaker can ride a bike, ride a horse, or ride the rapids and still have steady video footage of the experience using something as large as a digital camera or as compact as an iPhone.

While there are a multitude of camera stabilizers on the market, the 24-year-old Puyallup resident said he was inspired to create one that was more affordable, quick to balance, and easy to pan and tilt.

“I realized I could make one that could sell for 30 to 50 percent less than most other brands,” said Hart, who graduated from Washington State University five years ago with a degree in business entrepreneurship.

Hart had already experimented a year earlier with friends in building an aluminum pole that could be attached to a camera used extensively by sports enthusiasts. The handmade pole extends the camera away from the body to provide unique film angles.

After sketching a design of his new handheld camera stabilizer on paper, Hart purchased items from the local hardware store and spent hours in his garage pounding aluminum into the desired shape and gluing the pieces together.

The stabilizer not only worked, he said, “it worked well.”

First invention

With encouragement from family and friends, Hart took the next step of creating a professional-looking prototype.

He taught himself how to use a computer-aided design (CAD) software program, which allowed him to create a three dimensional model of his invention on the computer. He took the drawings to a machine shop to make the parts.

After almost a year of designing, prototyping, and re-designing, Hart had completed work on the “EZ-Steady” — a lightweight hand-held stabilizer made with counter weights on the front and bottom to eliminate camera shake and give video footage a feeling of flying.

His next challenge was financing.

Hart created a video and posted images of the product on an online crowdfunding site called Kickstarter.

The Internet site allows inventors and other creators to generate financing for their ideas if they raise a minimum number of pledges in a specific time frame.

Hart offered pre-orders of the product at a reduced price. His goal was to get 25 people to pledge money for the product and raise $5,000 in start-up money.

After three days posted on the site, he had $16,000 of pre-orders, and by month’s end he had secured 300 pre-orders worth $79,642.

“It was crazy,” he said. “I had people all over the world asking for my product.”

Hart named his company “Rhino Camera Gear,” uses a rhino’s head as his branding image, and prides himself on manufacturing his parts in the United States, preferably in Washington state.

Asked about the significance of the rhino, he said, “My buddy and I were in the coffee shop trying to come up with a brand. We wanted the name to reflect the products — tough, durable, and American-made. The rhino is tough.”

The firm’s chief executive officer and president, Hart has since designed more than a dozen other accessories that pair with the EZ-Steady for optimum filming.

There are poles to attach a camera and the stabilizer to a helmet or a backpack, as well as a “cliff hanger,” a tripod-style device that allows fi lm to be taken off the side of a cliff.

Hart is featured on his website taking a fi lm of himself at Mt. Rainier National Park as he demonstrates a hands-free attachment that allows a camera to be faced toward the filmmaker. The device allows people to capture themselves and the scenery around them.

One of his newest inventions is a shoulder rest for the EZ-Steady. Another is a slider — a rail on which a camera is attached. The camera slides from one end to the other along an axis during filming to capture objects at different angles.

Puyallup High partnership

Hart developed a partnership this year with the Puyallup High School Engineering Club and works with students after school to create prototypes of his products.

Students take Hart’s CAD drawings and produce three-dimensional working prototypes of the parts on the school’s 3-D printer.

On a recent visit to campus, Hart shared the slider and shoulder rest and asked for input from students and their teacher, Alex Macdonald.

“I like to hear their comments and ideas,” Hart said.

Students, in turn, get practice producing the prototypes and have an opportunity to observe Hart as he examines the parts and determines if there should be modifications before moving to production.

“This is a great partnership between the community and the school,” Macdonald said. “It’s a classic win-win. Students can witness first-hand that there is a profit to be made if they have the skills and the technology.”

Education

Hart attended Hunt Elementary in kindergarten through sixth grade, went to Cascade Christian in grades seven through 10, and transferred to Rogers High for his junior and senior year. During that time, he took Running Start college-credit courses, which allowed him to finish college a year later.

The South Hill resident works full-time selling health insurance in addition to managing his Rhino Camera Gear business. His wife, Danielle, is the company’s chief financial officer, and they have a 6-month-old daughter, Savannah.

Hart credits QUEST, a program for highly capable elementary school students, in helping give him his start in both business and engineering.

“We got to build bridges, which taught me engineering, and I even learned how to program HTML on a website, which I used to build my own company website,” he said.

While he never dreamed of being an inventor, he found success once as a young entrepreneur in the QUEST program.

Students were tasked with starting their own business, he said, and were given tickets they could use to purchase products that other students sold.

“I sold ice cream sandwiches,” Hart said with a grin, “and everyone wanted to invest in my business. I earned lots of tickets.”

Marketing

As an amateur filmmaker, Hart likes to boast he is his own audience when it comes to creating and marketing products.

He advertises his inventions on his website, on Facebook, and on filmmakers’ computer blogs — all at little or no cost.

In the near future he plans to film a behind-the-scenes look at Rhino Camera Gear, documenting how a product moves from an idea to the manufacturing process. Long-term, he is interested in filming documentaries.

“This has been quite a ride,” he said. “I am extremely blessed.”