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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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Circuit and Gear Podcast – Episode 3

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!

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.  


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.


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.


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!


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.


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!



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 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


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


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.


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