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June 3, 2014

Student builds rig for Met museum

By Jessica Reynolds Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — An Otsego County man was among seven Rochester Institute of Technology students who designed, built and installed a portable camera rig last month for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

For some of the engineering students, including Zachary Sostack, of Cooperstown, it was their first time inside the internationally recognized museum.

Sostack, who just graduated from RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering with a degree in mechanical engineering, was one of the students who created the custom Vertical X-Y Camera Rig for the museum, according to a recent media release.

Over the past year, the students worked with Susan Farnand, assistant researcher in the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science at RIT, to upgrade a stationary, ceiling-mounted camera rig in the museum’s imaging studio, the release said.

But it soon became evident that the museum also needed a mobile rig to photograph the larger, more permanent works of art on display, such as tapestries and textiles.

Seeing this need, Farnand proposed the rig as a possible Multidisciplinary Senior Design Project. All seniors are required to complete one of these.

The students in Sostack’s group visited the museum in October to meet with its representatives and discuss the design requirements for the portable imaging equipment rig.

“It was pretty cool to be up in their photo lab,” Sostack, 22, said. “They showed us all the projects they were working on.”

From there, it was up to Sostack and his six group mates. They spent the first semester designing the rig, Sostack said. The second semester was spent ordering parts, building the rig and testing it.

On May 15, the aluminum and steel rig made its permanent home at the museum after the students brought it there and installed it, Sostack said.

“It worked well,” Sostack said. “After all the work we put into it, it was great to see the end product in the museum.”

Having the portable imaging rig allows the museum to take detailed, precise photographs in the galleries, and decreases the need to move delicate materials, the release said.

The rig was designed around a winch-driven lift, Sostack said. It can be raised 22 feet, is capable of panning and tilting and can run automatically or manually. It also includes a rail system that the main structure will move along, extending up to 29 feet. The horizontal and vertical traverse structures, rails, camera mounts and electrical system were all built and assembled at RIT.

“We lived in the machine shop,” Sostack said.

Barbara Bridgers, general manager for imaging at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, said this was the first time the museum’s photographic studio collaborated with a group of students to solve an imaging issue. Museum officials were impressed with the students’ dedication and seriousness, and were pleased with the end result.

“They liked it a lot,” Sostack said. “They were talking about all the things they could use it for.”

Bridgers said she expects the rig to be used to photograph one of the museum’s exhibits of 18th-century rooms from English homes called the Croome Court Tapestry Room. The exhibit features elaborate tapestries that extend from the floor to the ceiling. 

The camera rig will work nicely for this task, Farnand said.

“It is elegant in its simplicity,” Farnand said of the rig. “They worked really hard and I’m impressed with the whole team, and the senior design program in general. It’s a great experience for the students. They get the opportunity to work with real customers and build things that these customers are actually going to use.”