Gareth and Royal took their automation show on the road this month as they traveled to the wild landscape of my home state, Texas. The USITT Southwest Regional Symposium graciously invited the Creative Conners team to Austin to hold a seminar teaching the ways of scenic automation in general, and getting the most out of our Spikemark system in particular. Seeing an opportunity for spring thaw from our record breaking New England winter, the guys were all too eager to polish their cowboy boots, dust off the Power Point slides, and jump on a plane.
--USITT SW Automation Seminar. Photo credit: Greg Andrews--
After setting up gear for the seminar (huge thanks to Paul Flint and Alexis Tucker from the Zach Theatre for the equipment), more than twenty students greeted Gareth and Royal at the January 18 morning session. These brave automation thrill seekers were assured of bringing something new back to their theaters, having a good laugh at Gareth’s recollections of all his mistakes leading up to the solid success of his automation line, and troubleshooting their own experiences with automation.
The “Diary of an Automation Junkie” presentation segued into a discussion on the importance of motor size and component selection. If only we could stuff our scenic plans into the equivalent of a Brannock Device and get just the right size motor.
--Brannock Device / Shoe Sizer--
Well, Gareth insists, it really can be that easy. As explained in the seminar, one can use the Creative Conners Motor Calc to work out specifications for your gearing and capacities (it’s free, you have no excuse not to try it). This tool was created to further our principle that this shouldn’t be the hard part for you. More of your time should be spent on your custom mechanical design, not the motor selection. Size it up quickly with something like Motor Calc. Get a good fit from AA narrow to 2E wide. Bunions and all (ew).
Another great tip came up with regard to the ease of flipping motor direction using a simple crossover cable, a great solution for getting encoder values to accurately reflect positive / negative or upstage / downstage movement. We highly recommend our Estore for convenient purchases of essential items like the crossover cable.
And if the morning participants came away remembering only one thing it would have to be don’t use two dogs on a curved track. Unlike two furry dogs on one leash that, with enough training, could move in sync, two mechanical dogs on one curved track will jam up with friction faster than you can say, “How many days ’til first dress?”
For attendees already familiar with the system who were ready to roll up their sleeves and wrap their brains around some of the finer points in automation, an afternoon “Spikemark Intensive” got underway after lunch. Key features of the free Spikemark software were highlighted but not before a reveal of what’s inside a Stagehand.
--Bionic Stagehand Innards (Smithsonian Channel)--
After identifying the name and purpose of each interior component, the conversation honed in on motor tuning. Although it’s a critical component of smooth automation, tuning all too often takes more time than it should. Biggest pitfall? Not getting the proportional gain completely adjusted before moving on to other parameters.
The most important take aways from the discussion:
1. Look at our Motor Tuning Flow Chart, from page 84 of the Spikemark manual. In fact don’t just have a look.
Staple it to your operator’s arm.
--Motor Tuning Flow Chart--
2. If half an hour goes by and you’re not getting anywhere, look for mechanical problems.
Did people come away with a better understand of scenic automation equipment? Yes. Are these technicians now better equipped to achieve their automation goals? Absolutely. Was cholesterol lowered? Well, let’s not get carried away. Taking the magic and mystery out of automation, and laying it out simply for anyone to utilize is our goal. We believe these seminars are an important step in building the skill set of any theatre technician.
Many thanks to the good folks who attended the seminar, and of course our gratitude to Rusty Cloyes and Dave Vieira from UT Austin for their organizing efforts and warm reception.
Our team, however, is not done educating the world about scenic automation equipment. March will usher in two more opportunities for them to change lives. Check us out at the Southeastern Theatre Conference March 6 – 8 in Mobile, AL. And keep your suitcase handy for traveling to the USITT Annual Conference and Stage Expo March 26 – 29 in Fort Worth. We’ll be there at Booth #1229 changing lives the best way we know how.