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Diary of an Automation Junky Our latest musings and updates, along with any information we think you might find helpful. Enjoy!
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Peter Veal Joins Creative Conners

Peter Veal has joined Creative Conners as our Director of Business Development. Peter double majored in technical theater and mechanical engineering at Pepperdine University (ultimately dropping the engineering, much to the chagrin of his parents). Now at Creative Conners both areas of interest can be satisfied.

Before joining Creative Conners, Peter worked in positions ranging from props master to technical director. Eventually he moved into an air-conditioned office and behind a desk to work at Rose Brand. After years of explaining flame-retardancy and how to “rope a track” his time in the land of drapery ended. He met new challenges at Miziker Entertainment where he was a project manager for a top-secret project in China (probably not the one you’re thinking of).

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Peter will focus his time at Creative Conners on you, the customer; making sure we build the right system for your show, putting together estimates, ensuring you have all the documentation you need, and just checking to see if you are having an awesome day. He loves getting students excited about all things tech. If you are part of a high school or university and are interested in having an automation seminar, give him a shout. He is based in Los Angeles and is excited to spread the “Make It Move!” mantra to the west coast.

Spikemark 3.3 is released!

Position Scale Dialog

The new Position Scale dialog

Spikemark 3.3 has been released!  Download and upgrade your automation at your earliest opportunity.  What’s new?  Check out the release notes for the details, but the big highlights are:

  • A new Position Scale dialog box has been introduced to make it super-easy to calibrate position scale of any machine in your production.  All the bits that you need are now in one handy dialog box to streamline the process.
  • Bug fixes!  A couple of nasty bugs have been squashed.
  • Soft Stop display in the cue grid has been refined to make the display more logical and easier to comprehend in a flash.

It’s free, it’s awesome, go grab your copy!

Circuit and Gear Podcast – Episode 7

Royal and Gareth chat about the load-in of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  Trucking, installation, and a couple of Spikemark bugs discussed.  Download and listen…

Episodes 4 and 5 of Circuit and Gear

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If you haven’t already subscribed to our scenic automation podcast, Circuit and Gear check out the latest two episodes:

Episode 4

This week, Royal and Gareth talk about using the d3 projection software with Spikemark on a recent corporate event. Then the guys dive into a conversation about the design process at Creative Conners and the CAD tools we prefer.

Episode 5

In this week’s episode, Royal and Gareth discuss some feedback on CAD tools from last week’s show and then finish the CAD chat with a look at EDA tools for circuit design. Next up, they chat about the shop test of the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang rig heading out to Colorado. Finally, they wrap up with a quick look at the new Mitsubishi A800 VFD.

Circuit and Gear Podcast – Episode 3

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Royal and Gareth revisit NORD gearmotors and discuss the advantages and disadvantages compared to SEW. Next up, they discuss different uses for the Stagehand FX. And then they finish with some advice for stage technicians that want to learn a little more about programming.

Check it out!

Circuit and Gear Podcast – Episode 2 is ready

Episode 2 of Circuit and Gear, our scenic automation podcast, is ready for download! Grab a cup of coffee, strap on the headphones, and take a listen!

Check out our Podcast!

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We love chatting about scenic automation, machinery, electronics, programming, and cool gadgets. In that spirit, we’ve launched our new podcast: Circuit and Gear! Sounds fantastic, right? How can you start listening to the musings of our automation junkies? There are three ways:

If you have any suggestions or comments, please let us know and enjoy!

Packaged Hoist for Cruise Ship


On March 4th, we got the call from Scenic Solutions.  They needed three hoists in a hurry for the Royal Caribbean ship, Alure of the Seas.  The ship was moving from the U.S. to its new home in the Mediterranean, and in the process the theatre was to be refit with new shows.  The new scenic design called for a chandelier hoist and two  automated linesets downstage of the proscenium.  While the chandelier hoist was ideally suited for our stock Spotline hoist, a custom machine was needed for the automated linesets.  With space tight, and a April 15th deadline even tighter, Royal Marty and Gareth Conner started brainstorming.  

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Click to see all the sketches…

Collaborating in OneNote, Royal and Gareth sketched out some concepts and landed on a zero-fleet design that could meet the required specs of 3 lifting lines with 40′ of travel, 500 lb capacity, and 36″/second maximum speed.  The hoist needed to be compact enough to fit inside of a pre-built truss and allow for the battens to be placed within 12″ of each other.  With the basic design in mind, Royal rolled up his sleeves, popped open Solidworks, and got to work.  A few days (and nights) later a 3d mechanical design was ready for engineering review.

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To insure that this latest hoist met our own high standards for safety, and the standards of ANSI E1.6-1-2012, we worked closely McLaren Engineering Group as they reviewed the design.

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With the engineering review satisfied, the new hoist headed out to our production floor.  One of the manufacturing challenges we faced was designing a drum long enough to accommodate full travel of 3 lift lines that could be machined using our 4-axis milling machine.  Since a single long drum wouldn’t be practical to manufacture on our equipment, the drum was split into multiple sections that stacked onto a common drive shaft.  This nifty design allowed us to make the drums in small chunks and fit them together like Lego pieces to assemble a long drum. Of course, the tricky bit is getting the helical groove to break precisely on the seams so that once assembled the groove is continuous with no misalignment that could prematurely wear the hauling lines. Our ability to produce tight-tolerance, CNC-machined components in-house made it possible without delaying the production schedule.


A CNC waterjet cut frame parts out of flat plate steel that were then welded into a rigid structure. All the mechanical components were bolted together to create the first of two hoists.


As the first hoist was undergoing load-testing, the second hoist was built and then tested. After load testing was complete, both hoists were then installed in a pre-fabricated aluminum truss.


A mere six weeks from the start of the project, both custom packaged hoists and a Spotline were crated up and headed out the door.

To bring these mechanical beauties to life, our Stagehand Pro, Showstopper 3, and Spikemark software were ready for action. Built specifically to handle the rigors of vertical lifting, the Stagehand Pro was a perfect fit for this job. The Showstopper 3 Consolette’s new jogging joystick and positioning dial made setup easy on-site. Spikemark’s intuitive interface made writing cues a (sea) breeze on the ship.

Royal Marty met the equipment in Spain to supervise the installation and help train the automation crew. Upon his return, Royal reflected, “It was a really great blend of custom machines, and stock control products. The new hoists had to be designed to squeeze into a tight spot in the theatre. Using the new Showstopper and Spikemark was an awesome combination with these hoists.” Six short weeks from the initial call, to shipping out the door, we’re really proud of the result and grateful to Scenic Solutions and Royal Caribbean for the opportunity to do what we do best… Make it Move!

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Two Revolvers Reveal the new Cadillac CT6 at the New York Auto Show

At the New York International Auto Show yesterday, Cadillac introduced the breathtaking new CT6. While the new sedan will get hearts thumping, we were equally impressed by the scenery built by Mystic Scenic Studios, produced by Jack Morton, with video production by Aquila Productions.

The set was engineered with a center turntable to revolve the new Cadillac CT6, while an outer donut ring whisked a cylindrical wall out of sight. To achieve the effect, Mystic Scenic used two Revolver machines, Stagehand controllers, and Spikemark software. Mystic Scenic augmented their own inventory of Creative Conners gear with a rental Revolver for the week. Here’s a video of the shop setup in Norwood, MA as the folks at Mystic were getting ready for the event.

Kudos to everyone for a stunning live presentation!

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Pack Up Your Automation, This Is One for the Road

Behind the scenes of our new road case, The Rhody.

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Royal and the first Rhody

Two years ago we decided that we would offer an ATA style road case to house our Pro Line gear for clients with touring and special event productions. It would be the icing on the cake. Well, more accurately the cake box, but a really nice indestructible box…on wheels.

Then we got busy completing more of that Pro Line: Stagehand Pro (11/2013), Spotline (4/2013), Stagehand Mini^2 (8/2014), and Showstopper 3 Consolette (11/2014). But we came back to designing the road case as time permitted. Our production engineer, Royal, advanced the project in a few bursts spread over an 18 month timeline, culminating  with the official launch of the Rhody this January.

The design began with the decision that the Rhody would house a complete automation system for a 4-axis show (although it has unlimited expandability and customizable components). Actually, for Royal, the designing began with some gummy bears and fresh batteries for his TI-83 Plus. Then he set to work fitting together the puzzle with the following pieces:

  • Showstopper Base
  • Power Distribution
  • Showstopper 3 Consolette
  • Touch Screen Monitor
  • Rack Mounted PC
  • Ethernet Switch
  • Uninterruptible Power Supply
  • 4 Stagehand Pro’s

Royal’s recent machine design hampered him only initially. “Designing the Rhody proved to be a challenge,” says Royal, “since I couldn’t use 3/8″ plate steel or machine it out of a huge block of aluminum. It was after those revelations that I decided to go out on a limb and use this new material called Plywood.”

Embracing his return to an organic building material, Royal drafted up the first iteration, but it proved too large. Something like the size of a queen bed.

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First Rhody Design, Too Big

So some rearranging was in order but Royal set to work in Solidworks and eventually configured the system in a more appealing 43″ x 57″ x 28″ size.

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The final design of the Rhody not only includes robust hardware, coated plywood and aluminum construction, a slide out operator desk with touch screen monitor, and 3.5″ locking swivel casters…

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…it also features lids with legs to become backstage work tables. Thanks to our friend Chris Moses for reminding us that, when not actively covering something, lids are infinitely more useful as tables.

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Rhody Set Up

Originally Gareth planned to manufacture the Rhody in house, but a chance encounter with an old friend connected him with Case Craft. They build custom cases “for life on the road” and were eager to build our Rhody prototype. On working with Case Craft, Royal commented, “I wish ordering my gluten free meals at restaurants was as easy as ordering the Rhody from Case Craft.”

Our working title for the road case was The Roadie, but it became iresistible to change it to The Rhody given the quirkiness of our home state. We’re happy that somewhere in between the coffee milk and the quahogs there’s room for a small automation manufacturer. It also opened the door for naming our companion road case, the Li’l Rhody, each of which houses another 4 Stagehand Pro’s. Of course you can have as many Rhody’s and Li’l Rhody’s as you like, all run by a single automation operator.

Working towards making Rhode Island the scenic automation capital of the world inspires us to think about lots of new products. “The most exciting things on the not too distant horizon are the Stagehand Servo and Friction Drive,” says Gareth.

Gareth and Royal (and Sprocket) testing out motion control with servo motors.

Gareth and Royal (and Sprocket) testing out motion control with servo motors.

 

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