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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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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!

4-1-2015 8-25-18 AM

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.

too big

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.

Drawing- Roadie - Sheet1
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…

PDF- Roadie Overview-crop2
…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.

rhody legs

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.

 

OSU’s City of Angels Puts Showstopper 3 Consolette to Work

automation control
Last fall OSU’s Department of Theatre didn’t just receive one of our first Showstopper 3 Consolettes, they put it to rigorous use right away. In their production of the Tony award winning jazz musical City of Angels  they bravely met the demands of 44 scenes in 26 locations with some slick automation. The resident Technical Director, Chris Zinkon, told us he used 6 winches, 2 double acting pneumatic cylinders, 15 wagons, 12 flying units, and a back wall rigged to move up and down as well as tilt left and right. It took roughly 80 cues to accomplish all of the scenic choreography, and it was all controlled with Stagehands, Spikemark software, and the new Showstopper 3 Consolette.

OSU has been a customer of ours since 2007 so we were eager to hear how our brand new Consolette served them on such a formidable scenic production. Chris praised the pusling go button, backlit keys, and jog joystick of the Consolette, summing it up with “Your controls, machinery, and Spikemark interface were instrumental in helping us successfully pull off a massive production.”

We offer many congratulations to Chris and his crew on a great production, and much gratitude for the kind words. We are thrilled that our gear helped to make the show a success.

Chris was also kind enough to send along video clips of the scene changes which we edited into the short video below. A few clips are a bit rough, but you can still appreciate the incredible scenic choreography. We highlighted it with some 1940’s detective jazz music. Enjoy!

This production of City of Angels was a collaboration between the School of Music and the Department of Theatre at Ohio State University, and played at the Thurber Theatre in November 2014. Directed by A. Scott Parry. Scenic Design by Shane Cinal.

Closed for Merriment, Dec. 22 – Dec. 26

Creative Conners will be closed for Christmas festivities all of next week (Monday 12/22 – Friday 12/26). We will still be on-call for technical support via phone and email, but all other business will have to wait until Monday 12/29.

 

Happy Holidays!

#youcantdothiswithacat

#youcantdothiswithacat

Uplifting Marjorie Prime

Last month’s production of Marjorie Prime at Center Theatre Group featured some pretty heavy lifting under the set. We were happy to provide the automation for that heavy lifting, and coordinate with our good friends at Stage Machines for the hydraulic muscle. Center Theatre Group is no stranger to automation, and have used their Fisher (FTSI) gear regularly. However, the automation in Marjorie Prime would require hydraulics, and that could not be controlled easily with the FTSI gear they own.

Mimi Lien’s set design (a stark, “soul-erasing beige”, assisted living facility 50 years in the future) requested the automation of one large stage platform (traveling 42″), a sinking refrigerator, and a small sliding set of steps. No problem. In the video you’ll see our initial scissor lift mock up, testing at load-in, and the full set in motion. Read on below the video for further description of the process.


The gear line up:
Four scissor lifts
One 10 hp hydraulic pump (that’s right just one)
One custom 10hp drive
One flow divider
One small hydraulic scissor lift
One small pump
One Stagehand Mini
Two Stagehand AC Motor Controllers
One PC laptop with Spikemark installed
Celesco and Unimeasure Encoders
Cables as necessary

After a site survey in sunny Los Angeles at the Mark Taper Forum, the next step was to tackle the largest component, the vertical automation of the stage platform. Working with Stage Machines, we decided to do a mock up of the design for a piston flow divider consisting of one master cylinder and four slave cylinders that could be controlled by a single Stagehand Mini.

With one piston doing the work, and the other pistons mechanically joined together, the exact amount of oil would go into each lift’s cylinder to produce completely level lifting and lowering even though the weight of the platform would be unevenly distributed. Satisfied with the results, production began on those components.

Production of Custom Flow Divider by Stage Machines

Production of Piston Flow Divider at Stage Machines in Warren RI

For the sinking refrigerator, a small hydraulic scissor lift powered by a Stagehand AC was placed beneath the unit. And the sliding steps were rigged to an existing FTSI winch controlled with a Stagehand AC and some help from a custom set of adapter cables.

All the gear was shipped to and installed by Center Theatre without problems. Nice job, everyone!

Special thanks to Assistant Production Manager Kate Coltun, Stage Carpenter Emmet Kaiser, and Assistant Technical Director Chad Smith. We’re looking forward to working with you again!

share your automation, #makeitmovecci

Let’s face it, automation is cool. It’s okay to brag. We won’t judge. We know you do amazing things with our gear (it’s why we we make it, after all).

So why not share what’s moving on your stage, tag it #makeitmovecci on Instagram and let us send some free swag your way.

For inspiration, enjoy these automation achievements you and your colleagues have sent us. Click on any picture for more info and make sure to follow us on Instagram!

Many thanks, keep making it move!

Instagram Postcard Front

 

Backstage-in-NJ-1

Backstage at Rhianna / Eminem “Monster Tour”, 2014

Cookie Monster Backstage at Beauty & the Beast, 2014

Cookie Monster Backstage at Beauty & the Beast, 2014

 

Mule Sheaves at New York Theatre Workshop, 2014

Mule Sheaves at New York Theatre Workshop’s Love and Information, 2014

Circular Platform with Access Panels Open at University of Delaware's Faust Production

Circular Platform with Access Panels Open at University of Delaware’s Faust Production, 2014

 

Construction of Stage Lift for Old Globe's Production of Winter's Tale, 2014

Construction of Stage Lift for The Old Globe Theatre’s Production of Winter’s Tale, 2014

Ohio State Production of "Working"

Ohio State’s Production of Working, 2008

Spamalot-Control-Table

Automation Control Table for 5th Avenue Theatre’s Production of Spamalot, 2014

Village Theatre - Tommy

The Village Theatre’s Tommy, 2007

Ford Show

StageHouse Las Vegas Set for the Ford Show

chinglish-video-cap

Berkley Repertory Theatre’s Production of Chinglish, 2013

 

Sprocket, Our Official Blogger Dog

Okay, this one’s just for fun. It’s Sprocket, keeping an eye on cables and keyboards for us.

 

New Show Control Consolette Has Arrived!

We have officially launched the long anticipated Showstopper 3 Consolette!

Showstopper 3 Consolette

 

At the outset we didn’t know it would take quite so many months, or that it would take quite so many Venti Quad Lattes, but we think it was worth the wait. And worth feeding our caffeine addiction.

The first Consolettes have already arrived for those customers who have been eagerly awaiting the backorder. We’d like to extend a huge thanks for their patience. Among them was a very pleased Chris Zinkon, Resident Technical Director for OSU’s Department of Theatre. We were thrilled to hear of Chris’ positive experience,

The new consolette performed beautifully last night. The pulsing ‘Go’ button and backlit keys were a great addition in the low light backstage conditions. [And] I can’t say enough nice things about the jog joystick. This is a super slick design.”

Grazie, Chris!

WP_20141015_21_30_27_Pro

Showstopper 3 Consolettes, Hot Off the Press

The Consolette is a significant addition to our scenic automation arsenal, and offers many powerful , dare we say enviable, features over the previous emergency stop & show control system:

  • Front of House Portability
  • Motor Jog Joystick & Positioning Wheel
  • Four Line Display including Current Cues, Motor Position and System Faults
  • Optional Hold-to-Run
  • Backlit Keys and Adjustable Illumination
  • Improved Key Location and Size
  • Green and Red Indicator Lights
  • Easier Redundant Computer Transfer
  • Ethernet Connection to Spikemark Software

With just two cables to connect we think you’ll find the new E-stop system even more modular than the old Showstopper. Plus the Consolette is ideal to use with Spikemark on a touch screen computer during the running of a show.

And what about the old Showstopper? Well, it will be phased out. Because the new Showstopper system splits into two components (base and consolette) what was previously one (consolette), the old and new systems are necessarily incompatible. However, older Showstoppers will still work with all Stagehands, as well as Spikemark but will not interoperate with Showstopper 3 Hubs or Remotes. Likewise, the new Showstopper 3 Consolette will not work with older Hubs or Remotes.

Showstopper 3 system diagram

Showstopper 3 system diagram


 
The Showstopper 3 Consolette is part of the four product emergency system & show control lineup comprised also of the Base (a required unit), Hub, and Remote E-stops. It connects to 8 axes of motion via the Base, plus 8 additional axes via each Hub as well as unlimited Remote E-stops. Its inclusion in the Showstopper family completes the foundation of our Pro Line, designed to meet the automation challenges of the most demanding productions. It is available for purchase ($2500) or rental ($50 / week plus one week prep fee). The next shipment could be yours…

Tom, Kody, and Gareth Shipping the First Showstopper 3 Consolettes

The entire Showtopper lineup will be presented at Creative Conners’ LDI Booth #2587. Stop by if you’re attending the show, and of course get in touch anytime via phone or email to ask questions or let us know what you think about the product. We’re always happy to hear from you!

 

Spikemark Goes Greek with New Periaktoi Feature

Spikemark 3.1.11 Screen Shot

Screen Shot of Spikemark 3.1.11 with New Periaktoi Scenic Elements

 

Spikemark 3.1.11

Our latest release of Spikemark scenic automation software adds a new visualization option for rotating scenery in the Stage Model Viewer. Scenic elements can now be shown as Periaktoi (pronounced “peh-ree-AKH-toy”) to more accurately represent multi-sided spinning walls. The update is free and recommended for all users.  As always updates will not affect existing show files.

Automation operators will find easy access to the new Periaktoi feature, named after the traditional Greek three-sided rotating columns. You need only add a Revolver machine to the virtual stage model, then select “Periaktos” and number of sides from the Schematic side bar control. Gareth notes that “this feature is in addition to the previous option to show rotating scenery as turntables, and tracking scenery as walls or wagons.”

The new Periaktoi feature emerged from a specific request. This fall, long time automation customer Mystic Scenic Studios was contracted to build and automate the set for the October Adobe MAX conference, and they felt their automation operator needed a more realistic representation of a pair of three-sided rotating walls. Additionally, because images are continually projected onto the walls, the video production company for the show enjoyed the benefit of accurately experimenting with cueing off-site, simply running Spikemark in Simulator mode.

Other Improvements to Spikemark in 2014

In addtion to the Periaktoi feature, Spikemark has seen updates throughout the year to increase its versatility, robustness, and user friendliness.

•Drag and Drop features enhanced.
•Meters added as a valid position unit.
•Auxiliary output switching added to allow for improved hydraulic lift control.
•Active time linked cues completely sever when “Enable All Links” box is unchecked.
•Best of all, Spikemark was made free in January 2014.

Click here for full release notes on all versions.

Spikemark is the brains of our automation system, and pairs with one of our Stagehand motor controllers (Stagehand Pro, Stagehand Classic, Stagehand Mini, or Stagehand FX). We believe it is an intuitive and powerful interface to control all moving scenic elements. Spikemark’s full Stage Model Viewer allows the operator to see a real time 3D visual representation of the stage in Simulator or Live mode. The Simulator mode allows users to experiment, design, cue and run all of the automation in a show without connection to any Stagehands or motors. Download it now, and have fun with the new Periaktoi feature!

Refined Revolver Machine for Turntables

Revolver  2014 - cropped

When you’re talking about a friction drive, more surface contact is always desirable. And give that our most popular machine, the Revolver, is a friction drive for edge driven turntables, we talk about it a lot. Recently that talk turned into a very real refinement for the stock product, resulting in better engagement between the friction wheel and any drive ring as well as easier access for maintenance.

Responding to the need from new customer Stage House, our fearless product engineer, Royal, experimented with relocating the bearing plate on the Revolver. Previously mounted above the 3″ friction wheel, the bearing plate was moved below it to offer 3/4″ additional contact between it and the turntable drive ring.

This change necessarily meant the encoder would shift up to maintain proper alignment with the drive ring, but did not compromise the Revolver’s slim 9″ height profile. In addition to the improved contact, which insures less slippage, the bearing plate relocation makes maintenance much simpler, specifically when the friction wheel needs to be replaced. Seeing how well this worked for the Stage House job, and always looking for product improvement, we decided to make the change permanent for the stock machine. The last change to the Revolver was in 2011 when it was improved with a spring loaded suspension mount for the encoder (New and Improved Revolver Encoder Mount, Oct. 2011).

Revolver PartsOf course many things remain the same. The 5hp friction drive still comes prewired to connect to the Stagehand Classic motor controller, and has a maximum rim speed of 36″/second, but can be over sped to achieve a rim speed of 72″/second. It is available for purchase at the same $20,000 plus shipping, or rental at $200 / week plus shipping and prep. While all purchased Revolvers will now have the new raised friction wheel, Revolvers from the rental stock will see the improvement gradually as their wheels need to be replaced, at which time the new frame will be swapped in allowing for the altered bearing plate placement. And the above picture of all the pieces required to build a Revolver remains humorously accurate.

Many thanks to Tony Lamecker from Stage House for working with us on this!

 

The Monster Tour Raises Standard for Hydraulic Lift Control

The Monster Tour, August 2014. Performers on hydraulic lifts in front of tracking video walls. Photo: New York Times.

The Monster Tour, 2014. Performers on hydraulic lifts in front of tracking video walls. Photo: New York Times.

In his May “Songs to Spectacles” article for the Washington Post, Steve Knopper gave a wonderful prologue to the summer concert season, summarizing the humorous and humble beginnings of the modern concert special effects industry. From the 1980’s antics of rigs with forklifts and “delightfully primitive…old-fashioned levers” to a full take over this century by “computers and robotics”, Knopper suggested this year’s season was poised to “blast into high gear with the latest and greatest in digital innovations.” It’s as though he knew we would do something awesome with computer controlled hydraulics.

Rihanna

Rihanna rising on hydraulic stage lift during The Monster Tour, 2014. Photo: Jeremy Deputat

Our friends at All Access Staging Production in Los Angeles were eager to up the ante in their control of  hydraulic lifts on The Monster Tour (Eminem / Rihanna).  Controlling hydraulics with a computer can be tricky, but with our own latest and greatest controller, the Stagehand Mini2 (that’s “mini-squared”), we were able to offer them reliable repeatability, and easy synchronization of three hydraulic stage lifts as well as two tracking video walls. In total the lifts would be used roughly 12 times during the 50-song show, amassing more than 20 cues including video wall movement. “The Monster Tour” opened at the historic Rose Bowl on August 7 to wildly positive reviews, and the show itself opened with Rihanna rising first on one lift, then as profiled on billboard.com, Eminem emerging on another lift “strapped to a stretcher à la Hannibal Lecter.” Those crazy kids.

It all happened rather quickly. The three-city tour lasted just two and half weeks in August (although it was able to entertain almost 250,000 fans thanks to the massive venues.) We ourselves only had three weeks of preparation for our part in the stadium scale production designed by Tribe Inc. to “match the epic nature of [the] two iconic artists.”  Our task was to control the two 4′ x 8′ platforms (each comprised of two stacked scissor lifts) which could completely collapse below stage level or elevate 6′ above. From the same computer screen, the automation operator would also control two 8′ x 24′ tracking video walls.

Debuting our Mini2 on this job, we took full advantage of its programmable outputs which give it a versatility well matched to the nuances of hydraulics. For example, since there would be six scissor lifts in this production, each set of two would only require a single case with one Mini2 and two valve power supplies. And the entire six lift system would only need one pump.

Click here to view a system diagram of the components used.

When we aren’t using our open shop space for corn hole or pallet jack skating, we routinely build, rig and run numerous automation set-ups for both custom and stock products. Nailing the specifications of this hydraulic job required just that. We borrowed a single acting scissor lift and old Feller Precision proportional valve from our local buddy Stage Machines. Although none of the parts in this test rig except for Spikemark control software would be the actual components in the tour, it did show that we could meet the technical spec of the job, namely that a proportional valve could be used on a single acting lift all connected back to our Spikemark control software.

After testing was complete, the Mini’s along with the other components were speedily built and shipped to the All Access shop in Los Angeles for their shop test. At this point, although the units had shipped, and Gareth himself was about to get on a plane bound for L.A., a problem arose that was easily corrected thanks to some key features of the Mini2. The necessary addition of a solenoid locking valve programmed to fire when the lift speed approached zero was merely plug and play due to the Mini’s auxiliary outputs and ability to have firmware changes made via Spikemark. Really, it’s like the Swiss Army knife of automation controllers.

Gareth’s travels to L.A. insured the shop test of the lifts went well, and he returned to L.A. the same week not just to keep racking up those frequent flyer rewards, but to assist with on-site cueing after the lifts were loaded into the rehearsal space at the Sports Arena. Taking advantage of the proximity to our Rhode Island shop, he and Royal later joined the crew for their NJ shows at MetLife Stadium. They offered back up as well as direct support for the automation operator. Again, the show was executed very well. Video walls tracked, lifts glided up and down, and of course there were pyro, lasers, smoke machines, and very talented musicians anchoring the entire production.

Backstage-in-NJ-1

Backstage at The Monster Tour, MetLife Stadium, NJ. Spikemark software is partially visible on the center computer screen. Photo: Gareth Conner

We were pleased to offer our technical assistance with the motorized video walls and stage lifts, all moving at the push of a button with an accuracy to .050″. Contributing to a part of the visual extravaganza at a Rock-and-Roll show reminded us how spectacle bolsters the music and the artists in a way that heightens the entire experience for the audience. Specifically heightened to 6′ above the stage on hydraulic platforms.

Many thanks to All Access for inviting us!

(Please scroll down for a complete list of gear used.)

Backstage-in-NJ-2

Backstage view of hydraulic stage lift on The Monster Tour, 2014. Photo: Gareth Conner

 

Complete gear list

Control

Mechanics (by All Access and Fluid One Productions)

  • 96″ Stroke Single-Acting Scissor Lifts (6)
  • Hydraulic Power Unit (1)
  • Hydraulic Accumulators (6)
  • Electro-Proportional Valves (6)
  • Solenoid Lock Valves (6)
  • Friction-drive “Mobilators” (2)
All-Access-Shop-1

New Stagehand Mini2 with a custom valve power supply, hydraulic accumulators, solenoid lock valves, and Atos proportional valves. Photo: Gareth Conner

All-Access-Shop-3

Gareth’s backpack atop a Hydraulic Power Unit (HPU) with accumulators used for testing. Photo: Gareth Conner

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