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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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UMBC: Case Study

A New Theatre means New Tools & Technology

When the University of Maryland, Baltimore County built a beautiful new theatre arts building, they included Creative Conners’ scenic automation to ensure that their students used the latest technology – and that their productions were technically top-notch. Technical Director Patrick McGovern regularly uses his Pushstick, Stagehand controllers, and Spikemark software to give students of all levels exposure to and training in automation.

It’s a Teaching Tool for the Whole Department

McGovern says, “We can teach our automation operators, who may be acting majors, the safety aspect – to watch the cue and be ready to hit the E-stop. With our design and production students, we can go down another couple of levels and talk about what the gear is actually doing while we’re hooking it up. We love it.”

UMBC Rhinoceros

UMBC Rhinoceros

UMBC’s theater students take full advantage of Creative Conners’ state-of-the-art gear as they explore automation and learn how it can enhance a performance – and inspire future technical creativity and success.

Automation is Part of the Curriculum

“We now have a bachelor’s degree dedicated to production and design,” says McGovern. “In our advanced stagecraft class, the students complete a three-week automation lecture and a hands-on project, where they hook up the system and send a wagon across the stage. A graduating student is even looking at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts’ Stage Automation program.”

UMBC Eurydice

UMBC Eurydice

Get Support for the Product & the Project

With Creative Conners’ commitment to supporting our customers regardless of the project, students and directors are empowered – even when they’ve hit a bump in the road. “Last year,” McGovern says, “we hooked up a hydraulic scissor lift. I had a bit of trouble getting a string pot to talk with the encoder through our system. I gave Creative Conners a call – and you set me straight. I was just missing a simple part. The great outcome was that we bought the scissor lift and all we had to do was a little motor modification and teach the drive how to talk to it. Once we did that, it was easy peasy.”

How does your school use automation? Universities and high schools are realizing that automation is within their (budgetary and technical) reach. Actors are exposed to safety protocol when sharing a stage with automation scenery. Design students are experimenting with movement in their designs. Technicians are learning the how’s and whys of machines, controls, and software.

UMBC (and other schools like them) are investing in the next generation of automation junkies. We’re proud to be a part of their effort.


-Until next time… Make it Move.

 

 

2016 Hit Like a Stampede of Oompa Loompas

2016 Year in Review

Photo by Martin Thomas

You never could have predicted the events of this year.

Many of us are glad that it’s over, but now you have to laugh at the remarkableness of what we’ve just lived through. Think about it – we’ve seen the Cubs win the World Series, Brexit won, and the release of another fantastic Star Wars movie (and the loss of a Star Wars legend). Creative Conners has had an extraordinary year of engineering and building new products and cool scenic projects. If you’ve missed it, here are just a few of the highpoints…

Custom Projects

In February we completed our first installation project of the year. Fairhaven Church in Ohio got our first Smart Chain Hoists. We got  a couple of half-ton Chain Master hoists wired up for Spikemark control, installed them, and now they get to fly a fancy new LED video wall. It was a good start to an eventful year.

In May we worked with the gang at the Park Avenue Armory for a couple of neat effects to automate a curtain track and open and close a door. Sometimes the gags that look so simple need special attention to ensure their reality matches the artist’s vision. Our resident New Yorker, Mike Wade was on hand to make sure everything went smoothly. Everyone was happy to see the Trickline get some love for being a simple way to automate a curtain without any fuss or muss.

Meet & Greets

Throughout the year we shared some love with hungry technicians during load-ins and strikes when we arranged for Random Acts of Pizza. Indiana Rep, Pittsburg Public, Edwardsville High School, and Long Wharf Theatre all got a bit of cheesy meaty goodness to help fuel their automation/scenic/painting/lighting workdays.

In March we were excited to see so many of our friends at USITT in Salt Lake City and introduce the redesigned Pushstick. There’s nothing like catching up with old friends and showing off a significantly improved product to get us hyped up.

Over the summer we joined our friends on Reddit for an AMA on r/techtheatre. It was a couple of hours of virtual meet & greet. We answered some questions and got some cool feedback on how people want to move their scenery.

In October, LDI meant that we got a chance to play among the lights, lasers, and fog in Vegas. It was more than a trade show, it was a coming out party for our new print catalog, the redesigned Revolver, the brand new Stagehand Apprentice, and the Floorpocket.

The Floorpocket was developed throughout the hot days of summer and was unlike anything at the show. What made the experience even sweeter was immediately after LDI, the Floorpocket went off to its first rental gig and was an unrivaled success. You’ll hear more on that soon.

New Software

We didn’t let up as the year came to an end. In December we released the next major update to Spikemark. We developed the cure to your worst nightmare – what happens if you lose power to your automation gear. How will you get your scenery back in position without the headache of re-homing each piece? Persistent Positioning records your data to your Stagehand once a move is complete. So when the facilities guy shuts off the power by accident, you don’t need to sweat it when power is restored. Spikemark knows where everything is.Persistent Position

What’s Next

Regardless of how 2016 treated you, we hope 2017 is better, bigger, and uses a little bit more automation on stage.
What do we have on the agenda for 2017? Here’s a sneak peek…

• We are prepping a few surprises for USITT in March.
• We’re making it even easier to dip your toe in the automation game.
• If you are an undergrad or grad student dreaming of moving scenery, we’ve got something special coming your way.

2017-Let's Get Moving

Spikemark 3.7.0 is here!

spikemarkWe have been working hard for the last few months to update Spikemark and we are pleased to announce that it is ready for prime time!  The newest version of everyone’s favorite automation control software includes a few additional features, updates the firmware on the Stagehands and squashes a couple of bugs.  Although we put the new firmware through its paces in the shop, if you are currently in the middle of a run we recommend holding off on the upgrade until your current show closes.

 

ADDED FEATURES:

Persistent Position.

With the newest Stagehand firmware installed, the current encoder position will be stored in the Stagehand – meaning the 9v batteries are no longer necessary to hold the position information.  This new feature is available for all Stagehands except the FX.  We added some behind the scenes magic which writes the position to flash memory after the position has been steady for 20 seconds.  Additionally, anytime the E-Stop is triggered the Stagehand will compare the current position to the stored position and write it to memory if it is different.

If you have a Classic or original Mini you will now see encoder counts on the display when jogging as well as rolling fault messages.

Persistent Position

 

CTRL-SHIFT-T.

We added a keyboard shortcut which will attempt to ‘connect to all stagehands’.

CTRL_SHFT_T

 

A New Stagehand FX Input Trigger.

We added a new Input trigger event to the Stagehand FX – you can now choose to turn on a given output.

Stagehand FX.ISO

SQUASHED BUGS:

  • The position scale wizard now accepts decimal values.
  • Inactive motors will now stay inactive after a network disconnect or faults.
  • Long-running time-delay cue links will properly become disabled in the event of an ESTOP regardless of parent cue status.
  • Stagehand FX Input triggers were not being processed correctly after Spikemark v3.5.1, this is no longer the case.

Download this upgrade now and start playing with these new features today.

 

Paramount Theatre: Case Study

Les Miserables2227

The Paramount Theatre in Aurora, Illinois, includes automation in everything from their weekly film screenings to their exceptional theatrical shows. Technical Director Jason Pikscher embraces the flexibility of Creative Conners’ state-of-the-art fleet of Stagehand controllers, Spikemark software, and machines.

Pikscher says, “We use a Creative Conners Deck Chief system to control our roll drop every week for our Classic Movie Mondays. We show anything from ‘Casablanca’ to ‘Home Alone.’ The Deck Chief and roll drop are fixtures in our theatre.”

The Paramount Theatre also uses turntables of all sizes with their Revolver kit. “Right now it’s doing great in ‘Mamma Mia,’” Pikscher says. “It’s driving a turntable weighing just over a ton, plus another ton of scenery, plus 30 actors. I would say it’s easily driving 5,500 pounds like a champ. We even did a 30‑foot turntable for ‘Les Mis’ and were closer to 8,000 pounds with no problems.”

Les Miserables3915     Les Miserables3884

Because Spikemark does all the calculations for positioning and speed with a few inputs, dictating positions and writing cues is quick and easy. “Because it’s a revolve, the math could get too complicated if I had to figure it out myself. It’s easier to just drag it with Spikemark or the Showstopper Consolette and say, ‘OK, they want to go counterclockwise’ and set the time and speed. As opposed to trying to subtract 363 degrees from whatever position I’m currently in.”

As the primary Spikemark programmer, Pikscher is able to program quickly and efficiently during load-in and tech. Once the show is programmed, a crew member can take over running the show during rehearsals and performances. Pikscher says, “It’s pretty intuitive. You can quickly figure it out as you go. We’re able to program 25 cues in 10 minutes. I can’t ask for much faster than that in the world of automation.”

ACS-350

The Paramount Theatre amazes audiences time and again with its technical wizardry. The payoff happens every time a set-piece “magically” moves across the stage. For “A Christmas Story,” the theater’s Pushstick controlled the 1939 Packard. Pikscher says, “It worked like a charm.” They also used a Pushstick to drive a two‑story rotating house. Pikscher is very impressed with how quiet and fluid it was. Most importantly, the audience experienced a great opening moment of the show, where a main character says “The house on Cleveland Street,” and a two‑story, 29‑foot‑tall, 45‑foot‑wide house moved downstage 30 feet without any effort at all.


This is the second in a series of case studies we will present to show how Creative Conners automation can be used in a myriad of venues and applications. We’ve collected examples of churches, theatres, and schools that have incorporated our Stagehand controllers, machines, and Spikemark software in unique ways to solve unique problems. Stay tuned for more.

-Until next time… Make it Move.

Fairhaven Church: Case Study

Fairhaven Church Automated Screen

Fairhaven Church in Centerville, Ohio, wanted to reflect something old and something new in their newly-designed chapel. The staff wanted an elegant and traditional aesthetic while enhancing the space’s functionality with technology – including Creative Conners automation. Their chapel hides a large LED screen in a narrow pocket in the ceiling. The screen weighs almost 1500 lbs. and is raised and lowered with a Creative Conners Smart Chain Hoist.

Chapel Construction

Fairhaven’s Ministry Services staff member Ryan Adams, who leads operations, says, Fairhaven has long been committed to an intergenerational ministry that values the expression of worship in a variety of styles while maintaining a singular scripture message from our pastor. In order to accomplish this we wanted a space that had a traditional look – interesting wood, stone, and glass – so it is very clean and beautiful. But we had to integrate technology so it could serve as a video venue as well.”

The automated video screen provides the best of both worlds. The screen’s movement is seamlessly integrated to feel natural. Adams says, “At the beginning of service, the screen is part‑way down – high enough to see the words and graphics that are displayed. During the greeting time, we drop it down to about six feet above the stage, so that it’s right at eye level. It’s almost like someone’s standing on stage when the pastor starts his message.”

Fairhaven Church Spikemark Automation Desk

By automating the screen, Fairhaven Church preserves the excellent quality of their gear without sacrificing the look of the room. “We’ve tucked all of the technology into areas that don’t draw attention to it,” says Adams. “You often have to compromise – if you want quality technology, you end up sacrificing aesthetics. In this case, we are able to get technology that integrates into the chapel’s design so that it doesn’t stand out, which really makes it brilliant.”

Both older, more traditional worshippers and younger millennials feel at home in the chapel. Attendance is growing, and they’ve hosted numerous events and weddings in the space. Adams says, “With weddings, we don’t usually need technology in that room, so we can just slide the screen right up into the pocket, and nobody even knows it’s there. It just gives a sense of a traditional, very classical-looking chapel. We couldn’t be happier. It really is a great space.”

Finished Chapel with Screen


This is the first of a series of case studies we will present to show how Creative Conners automation can be used in a myriad of venues and applications. We’ve collected examples of churches, theatres, and schools that have incorporated our Stagehand controllers, machines, and Spikemark software in unique ways to solve unique problems. Stay tuned for more.

-Until next time… Make it Move.

 

 

See you @ LDI 2016

 

Teaser Banner

 

It’s that time of year…

The leaves are changing color, the school year is in full swing, and entertainment techs are heading to Las Vegas. LDI is around the corner and we are prepping to go. Come and check us out.

We’re at booth 1259

Look for the orange truss – you can’t miss it.

We’re looking forward to catching up with some old friends, meeting new ones, and showing off some new gear. You can register for a free exhibit hall pass by following the link below.

Click below to get a free exhibit hall pass on us.

LDI Badge

Come for the automation stay for the light show.

 

 

Decisions, Decisions – Buying versus Renting: Part Duex

Often you don’t have a choice whether to buy or rent – those decisions are made by someone solely concerned with dollars and cents. Here are a few bits of advice to make sure your theatre is not being pennywise and dollar dumb.

coin stacks

If you are using your automation gear for a show that you do often (every year or even every few years), an outright purchase will usually save you money. You save on shipping and you ensure that you are never without the equipment you need when you need it. One of our customers recently realized that their annual rental of two Pushsticks  for the last 5 years would have paid for the purchase of the same equipment if they had seized the opportunity sooner.

If you are on the fence and are considering a purchase of Creative Conners’ equipment but need to test drive it first, we can apply a portion of a rental to your purchase of the same gear immediately after your rental period has ended. This way you are assured that the kit you rent is the one you want to own.

If you have the available capital or  a budget surplus – bite the bullet and buy the gear!  A budget surplus will be eaten up by some other department if you don’t claim it. Plus, Creative Conners’ gear can open up design possibilities that positively affect every element of every show. If you only rented when you could have easily bought, you’ll be kicking yourself by the start of your next show.

Lastly, because Creative Conners’ components are plug-and-play operable, consider at least owning a Stagehand controller and a Showstopper emergency stop. You can rent the winches, hoists, or other machinery on an as-needed basis. When you need a Pushstick, Revolver, Spotline or another one of our stock machines, a rental will still be necessary. You also open up opportunities to build your own home-brewed machinery and you won’t need to worry about the front-end control or software.

          mini2

If you have a project that is on the fence about automating the scenery, give us a shout and talk through your options. If nothing else, you can pick our brains and chat us up for ideas on how to get it done and how to fit it into your budget. We love talking about all things automation and seeing what imaginative ideas are floating around in your heads.

Until next time… Make It Move!

Decisions, Decisions: Buying vs. Renting – Part One

Do you hate wasting money as much as we do? There is no feeling that irks most of us more than realizing that your budget is too tight and you have to start trimming effects from your show. Whether it’s lighting, sounds, scenic or (say-it-ain’t-so) automation, every show has a budget that is too small and artistic ideas that are too big. You have two obvious choices when it comes to automation gear: you can rent it or buy it (or you can also make it yourself, but that’s a blog post for another time).

Let’s examine a few pros and cons for both options…

Rent StampRenting

Pros

  • Lowest initial investment – A short term rental will always be less costly than an outright purchase.
  • Faster turnaround – A rental order can leave our doors in a few hours if you are in a jam and we have the gear available.
  • No maintenance needed – We prep, test, and maintain each component of our rental inventory so you always receive ready to use gear.

Cons

  • Freight costs are doubled – We have to ship it to you and ship it back. Twice the fun!
  • Less time to set up and experiment – If your rental arrives just before your load-in, you won’t have much time to play with it before it has to be ready for rehearsals.
  • Rental inventory availability – Our rental inventory is large but not infinite. There is always a slight chance that when you need a piece of equipment our shelves are bare. Make sure you call early to book the gear you need.

Buying

 

PFor Sale Stock Image Stamp [Converted]ros

  • Opportunity to train staff and students outside of show time – Owning a kit means your staff can become expert users and technicians.
  • Equipment is available for multiple shows every season & every year – Why not automate ALL your shows?
  • You can tweak, customize, adjust, or hack your gear to your heart’s content –  Push your gear to your creative limits.

Cons

  • Initial investment is higher
  • Longer lead-time – Plan on 3-4 week before your order ships.
  • Requires storage space when not in use – make sure you’ve thought about where to put this stuff once your show is over.
  • Maintenance – Dig into that manual or give us a call because you will need to make sure your gear is properly cared for.

It can be difficult to see a clear winner when considering performance automation. While you may only need the equipment for one show, you may be better off investing in a system to use in more shows and as a training tool for your staff or students. Imagine how impractical and wasteful it would be if you rented your entire lighting kit for every show. For the very same reasons you may want to build up stock of lighting gear, many theater are building up stock of automation gear. But our rental option means you don’t have to forgo automation entirely if the funds aren’t in your budget this year (or next).

In the next post find out how you can stretch every budget dollar as far as possible regardless of if you rent or buy.

Until next time … Make It Move!


 

Meet Our Team: Mike Wade

About a month ago we added Mike Wade to our staff at Creative Conners. Mike is our new Director of Technical Services. That means he will focus on technical support, custom project engineering, and user education.  When you’ve got a question about how to get your gear up and running or you are stumped trying to sort out a tricky bit of Spikemark programming – Mike is the guy to call. On top of that, Mike will be joining Gareth as the co-host of the Circuit and Gear podcast.

Mike’s history with Creative Conners goes back to being our guinea pig to test the original Stagehand prototype. He is an expert in dealing with all aspects of theatrical productions – so take advantage of him joining the team.

Mike most recently served as the production manager at the Atlantic Theatre in New York. He brings years of experience working with commercial scene shops, corporate events and several off-Broadway and regional theatres (Williamstown Theatre Festival, Roundabout Theatre, Daedalus Design and Production, is a brief rundown of his pedigree).

Mike_bio2Because he is based in New York City, Mike serves as our liaison to our Broadway and other New York customers. He’s available for on-site consultations and oversees many of our custom installations. He has already overseen the successful installation of automated variable speed chain hoists for Fairhaven Church in Ohio.

He is available by phone at 401-289-2942 or by e-mail at mike@creativeconnesr.com. Give’em a shout when you find yourself in a automation pickle and need some help.


Meet Our Team: Sylvia Bagaglio

We’re not just automation junkies at Creative Conners. Our expertise runs deep – theatre, mechanics, art, octopi. One of our newer team members is Sylvia Bagaglio. Sylvia describes her job at Creative Conners as Electromechanical Assembler. Whether wiring circuit boards, performing quality control checks on Stagehands, or wiring a new Pushstick deck winch, Sylvia’s wide range of professional experience is put to good use. Get to know a bit more about Sylvia and how she works…

Sylvia hard at work

What did you do before coming to Creative Conners?

I’ve had lots of really interesting jobs. I worked in a fabrication shop for a while, and did some really cool retail installations. If you ever need a mosaic made out of jelly beans…

I don’t even consider that one of the weirdest jobs I’ve had. I worked for a “Peter Pan” [show] and we had a two‑man, larger than life‑size crocodile puppet that constantly needed love, because it was built for a stand‑alone show, and they decided to tour it. It was supposed to look like it came out of a kid’s closet, so it was made out of pajamas and clothespins, and the like.

I worked for a very high‑end lighting designer at one point, like a really frou‑frou designer. I’ve had a lot of experience interacting with higher‑end visual artists.

What skills have been useful in your work here?

I keep taking jobs where I have to do math. It’s really amazing. I thought I got away from that.

Honestly, this might sound weird, but I think the fact that I have little tiny paws for hands has been really useful, because having very dexterous, small fingers has been really helpful for assembling all those little tiny parts that have to get put together.

Were you a Lego kid?

I still have Legos. My new addiction is Metal Earth; little tiny, laser-cut metal models. They’re super tiny. You have to put them together with tweezers.

What do you do when you’re not here?

I read books, and watch movies that are public domain and write reviews about them on a blog called genxpose. Which is great, because the Internet Archive has all kinds of stuff. It’s absolutely free, anyone can have it, and use it, and view it. It’s really simple to download or view on their website. There’s fascinating things on there.

You have an interesting Twitter follower… What’s up with the Octopus? Poctopus?

A couple of years ago, my husband had gotten me this Valentine’s card that has this little octopus. It was holding a heart that said, “I love you a lot.” It was my portable hug. I started taking pictures of him wherever I was traveling. I’d take a picture at the museum, and different places in Europe, or if I’d go to visit a friend of mine from out of town, I’d take a picture with them. That’s sort of how the octopus became a name.

Poctopus

The octopus now has an official twitter account. You can follow his travels on twitter @Poctopus.

Sylvia is just one of the team of tiny paw’d builders, designers and fabricators that help Creative Conners build the automation gear that makes your turntables spin, your wagons travel, and your scenery fly. Give us a call with your next show and Sylvia can add that to the long list of projects she’s been a part of.

Until next time… Make It Move!

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