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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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Random Acts of Pizza

This could be your Tech Table

So your stomach’s grumbling and its hours before you get to go home. All you can look forward to is your stage manager giving you a break from this never ending tech rehearsal. And what then? You’ll have to find something to eat at that vending machine by the call board. You know the one… Are you going to have a sticky bun or a bag of chips? The choices are less-than-stellar.

But, maybe you’ll get a surprise. Your friendly automation junkies here at Creative Conners are randomly sending Appreciation Pizza to the technicians that use our gear as a way of saying Thank You. Whether you are buying or renting for the first time or you are pulling out your Creative Conners gear from storage – let us know when you load-in, tech, and strike. Let us know on Facebok, Instagram, Twitter, e-mail, or the comments for this post.

We appreciate all of our customers but thought a bit of an extra special thank-you might be a nice thing to do. We’re not a pizza company so we’re not sending everyone pizzas -it will very much be randomly done.

Now, time to get back to that rehearsal and eat your sticky bun.

Make It Move!

 

Welcome to 2016

You’ve made it through the holidays, and now it’s time to get back to work. We’re right there with you. We have a busy year ahead of us, and we want to give you a preview of what you can expect from your friendly scenic automation experts.

  • Be prepared for new products. We’ve got a lot of fun toys on the drawing board and we know you’ll love them. You’ve already got a couple of spy shots of one, but there are more to come. Check back here often!
  • We have missed seeing your smiling faces, so you can expect to see us in-person this year. Workshops, meet and greets, trade shows – you’ll be seeing a lot more of us.

CCI USITT (1 of 14)

  • This year, know that your voice counts, and we are listening more than ever. We want your opinions to be heard. What are we doing right? What should we focus on? What products should be developed to make your world easier? We’re looking to improve – and we can only do that if we know where to concentrate.
Photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives via Foter.com / CC BY

Photo Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives

  • Lastly, we understand the stress of tech week and the lack of time to fill your bellies, so we will occasionally be sending our customers “Random Acts of Pizza” to ease the hassle of those late night rehearsals, load-ins, and strikes. Keep watching this blog and Facebook for more info.

Photo credit: Matthew Kenwrick via Foter.com / CC BY-ND

Now let’s get back to work. You’ve got a show to put on and we’ve got your automation gear to build.

Until next time…Make it Move!

 

 

2015 in Review

Creative Conners 2015 Year in Review

As 2015 winds down, we wanted to take a few moments to review some of this years highlights. It’s been a heck of a year. Thanks to you, our customers, (both loyal returning users and first-time automation newbies) we’ve provided some very cool gear to theaters , scenic studios, and event producers all over the United States (and our Canadian friends as well).

We are proud to have been a part of some amazing projects. It’s remarkable what something as simple as a turntable can add to a show. Our friends at The Geffen Playhouse and the Atlantic Theater Company made good use from their Stagehands and Spikemark to power their turntable for “These Paper Bullets.” And Mystic Scenic created an awesome reveal for the new Cadillac CT6. South Coast Rep made excellent use of their stock of Creative Conners’ gear when they need ed synchronized scene changes during “Of Good Stock.”

 In 2015, we also found new ways to reach out and share what we love. Circuit & Gear PodcastOur Podcast, Circuit and Gear opened up a whole new way to get into our heads and see how we work. We’ve received great feedback and are eager to share more of our addition to automation in the coming year. We also added a new staff member just for you west coast automation junkies. Peter Veal is our Business Developer and is making house calls to theaters all over Los Angeles and southern California (or in one case, Ohio). Wherever you need us, we can be there.   This has also been a busy year of new products and updates to existing products. We’re working to make your scenery automation life a bit easier. With the Rhody , you have all your control, power, networking and e-stop needs in one convenient case. We’ve updated the Showstopper 3 and Stagehand Mini^2 to metal enclosures – it seems like a little improvement, but refinement makes your show run more smoothly. And we’ve continuously improved Spikemark – squashing bugs and tweaking code to enhance performance.  

2015 has seen some amazing custom projects come through our doors. We love it! Bring us your wacky ideas and let’s make them happen. For Candlelight Dinner Playhouse’s “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” we’ve made a car fly . We designed, engineered, fabricated, and aided in the installation of an awesome packaged lineset hoist – we called it “The Flyman” – for a cruise ship. And we created a heck of a large Sunroof Trap & Elevator for the renowned Steppenwolf Theatre . Each of these projects required a partnership with the end user and our team to make it happen. Our customers are some of the best in the world.


Most importantly, as we wrap up this year, we want to say Thank You to all of our customers, vendors, fans, and friends. You all have the most interesting, creative, zaniest ideas, and we are ecstatic that you choose us to help you make them a reality. Thank you for a fantastic 2015. Let’s have an even better 2016! Make It Move!


Let us know what you need from us to make your automation dream come true. Do you have a brilliant idea that you would love to see us create? Is there a burning question you have about motors, winches, or wire rope – give us a shout and let us help you get your show off the ground, revolving, or just plain moving.

Circuit and Gear Ep 12 – Catching up with Mike Wade

C&G_itunes

We’re back! Mike Wade, Production Manager for the Atlantic Theater, joins Gareth to discuss the Pushstick v2 and the automation used on These Paper Bullets.

Check out the latest episode!

How Do I Even Get Started? Grow Your Scenic Automation Muscle

One of our driving goals at Creative Conners is to help theaters and event producers of all shapes and sizes get their hands on the same automation gear that helps create the most amazing shows in entertainment.

We try to remove the budget barrier – you shouldn’t have to sell your theater’s naming rights to afford a turntable. We also want to remove the knowledge barrier – even if you’ve never been formally trained on automation equipment, you can get started with us. You might be a carpenter with 30 years of experience or an enthusiastic freshman in high school – but for many of you, scenery automation is something you know exists but have never had the pleasure of playing with.

Photo credit: ToddonFlickr / Foter.com / CC BY

Photo credit: ToddonFlickr / Foter.com / CC BY

Here are 5 ways we can help you gain knowledge, build your skill set, and start playing with automation…

  1. Check out our podcast – Circuit and Gear. We started podcasting over the summer and it’s a perfect time to jump into the conversation. We talk about recent projects we’ve worked on and give you an inside peek at the working of our shop.
  2. Reach out to us about a seminar or workshop. We love talking to students and faculty at schools and colleges. We’ve done everything from short master’s classes to full-blown multi-day workshops. Undergrad students often don’t see any automation until they are out in the professional world. We can help your school’s theater program give them a head start.
  3. We’ve made our control software, Spikemark, free because it is an excellent way to start experimenting with your moving scenery ideas. The visualizer that’s baked into Spikemark provides a way to play in a virtual sandbox and get a grasp of what’s possible. You’ll be surprised by how much you can learn just by programming.
  4. If you’ve got a project or an idea that has been kicking around and you want to talk it through – give us a shout. We can help you clarify your idea to achieve a practical solution. We can also partner with you to provide off-the-shelf or custom equipment to make your idea a reality.
  5. Download our white paper on stage automation. This is a quick overview of the components and different types of machines in any automation system. It is a great place to start. It’s not too long and not too deep but still has enough info to make it worth the read.

Like any newer technology, there is a learning curve with scenic automation. But like with many tools in entertainment, sometimes you just need to jump in and start playing. Find a show or a project on which you can  use a turntable or a deck winch. Once you, your director, and your audience have seen how your stationary scenery is brought to life, a new world of creative possibilities will open.

Don’t be nervous – come to the dark side… I mean the automation side .

Until next time… Make it Move!

What’s That Noise? Tech Support to the rescue!

Automation Tech Support NoiseAt Creative Conners, we all know what it’s like to be in a technical rehearsal that isn’t going smoothly. Some days nothing can go right. Other days, there may be one persistent issue that you cannot work out of your show. We hate it. We know you hate it. That’s  why we make sure that if you are having a rough night with our automation gear, we are standing by to help you wring out the system – and get on to whatever the next headache will be. Day or night we pick up the phone and give you the tech support you need.

When our friends at the Actors Theatre of Louisville were having trouble with their recent show, we were there to help . The Actors Theatre’s technical director, Justin Hagovsky, told us they were having some trouble with two Pushstick winches they’ve owned for about a year (beyond the warranty period – but that doesn’t matter, a show was hanging in the balance). We took a look at his Spikemark show file and the show log, and with a bit of back-and-forth conversation decided that the most likely culprit was his Stagehand controllers. We sent him two new controllers and he returned the misbehaving units. All seemed well in his world… until the next night’s tech rehearsal.

The machines were almost perfect, but they occasionally did not finish a move completely – they would miss their mark by three-quarters of an inch. Also, there was an awful sound as one of the winches completed a particular move. We helped him tune his machines to tighten up that missing three-quarters of an inch – it was as easy as walking his tech staff through the process of tuning the motor to get a complete and smooth motion. One more problem solved.

The awful noise problem was new to him and us. A few more rounds of telephone tech support and emails did not get rid of the noise. They double checked to see if there was a physical obstruction in the path of the scenery. Nothing seemed to solve it and the noise persisted. What made it worse is that when they tried to duplicate the noise, it sometimes mysteriously disappeared and other times it was back in full force .

The day before the opening night, when the director was staring daggers at the automation guys and an audience was but one day away… the problem was solved. Here is the e-mail we got the morning after his opening night.

We ran [the Pushstick cues]  a dozen times and then within the whole scene shift sequence. We could not get any faults. We go into tech in the afternoon and sure enough, the noise is back. After a few short mumbles under my breath and the director giving me that same old look, the head of the sound department starts playing the transition music simply to mess with it […]. As I’m walking over to my operator to figure out how anything is different from the morning, I hear the sound that I’ve been desperately seeking to get rid of and I’ll be damned if it isn’t a humming/buzz noise built into the very end of the transition music sound cue. Anger consumed me when I (and the director) discovered this. 

So, there was definitely tuning needed from the Wednesday tech so we messed around with ramp speed until we felt good which was all it needed. But the two hours [spent troubleshooting on] Thursday morning was just good practice. Everything worked out great in the end. We had a perfect opening  … Thanks again guys for all the help. I hope the next time we are in touch is when I am able to buy some more gear from you. Cheers.

We were glad to hear it. If the noise was due to our equipment, we would have been working on it every minute he was working on it. Here at Creative Conners, we stand behind what we build. We stand with you as you do your work. And we stand by when it’s show time.

Until next time… Make It Move!

P.S.

If something like this happens to you, here are three keys to keep in mind.

  1. Don’t panic or make rash decisions; trust us, this will only make matters worse.
  2. Start with the simple things and work towards the more complicated (is everything plugged in and turned on?).
  3. Lastly, if you have paired your own machine to Creative Conners Stagehand controllers, have you auto-tuned the motor? Most people don’t but it can be a lifesaver. Take a look at page 20 of the Stagehand manual.

 

Come work in scenic automation

As you may have noticed, we are incredibly busy churning out some of the most-loved automation gear in the business. It’s great to be popular, but if you love automation, we could really use your help! Come be a part of the biggest little automation company, in the biggest little state in the union.

Creative Conners is actively seeking automation junkies for the following positions:

Machinist/Metal Fabricator

  • Manual milling and turning
  • CNC machining
  • Welding
  • Machine assembly

Electrical/Electronics Fabricator

  • Control panel assembly and wiring
  • PCB assembly and soldering
  • Cable assembly and soldering
  • Troubleshooting with ‘scope and meter

Programmer

  • Embedded systems programming in C/C++
  • Windows programming in .Net (C# or VB.net)
  • Web development in Python
  • iOS programming
  • Some PLC programming is handy

Please send us your resume or contact us for more information at: careers@CreativeConners.com.

The Devil is in the Details and the Details are in the Documentation

4729801304_d50a7c1daeIt doesn’t matter if it’s called a spec sheet, operations manual, or technical handbook; the information provided by a manufacturer detailing the quality and operation of their products is essential for protecting your performers, staff, audience, and facility. You, as the consumer, ultimately have the burden of determining if the equipment is suitable for your needs – so it behooves you to make sure the documentation spells out exactly what can and cannot be expected. Here is the first of three simple but critical areas you should be familiar with in your equipment’s spec sheet.

Standards & Regulations:

Know what regulations and standards are applicable to your gear. Lighting, audio, scenic automation –heck even the chairs in your venue – should meet some basic regulatory standards. The standards will vary depending on the equipment, but PLASA (a leading entertainment trade organization) has created some thoroughly detailed standards for the most commonly used theatrical equipment. For scenic automation gear like Creative Conner’s Spotline hoist, the ANSI E1.6-1 Power Hoist Systems standard should be met. We have engineered the Spotline to meet this standard for overhead lifting and we’ve had a third party engineer review our products to ensure that it is up to snuff.

You should be able to find pertinent information regarding which fire test, electrical code, overhead lifting capabilities, and other criteria your gear does or does not meet. If a particular standard or test is not listed in the documentation, don’t assume that the gear satisfies those standards. It’s worth a call to find out if the manufacturer has had a third party engineer review their drawing or if a lab has conducted testing to satisfy the standards you need to have met.

Like with so many things in life, the devil is in the details and the details hide in boring paperwork. If  a vendor can’t or won’t show you the documentation, find someone who will – it’s not worth the risk. You can download all of the Creative Conners manuals and drawings on our website. If you ever have any questions about how we’ve engineered our products, give us a call – we want you to know what you’re getting.

Until next time… Make it Move!

 


Peter Veal is the Director of Business Development at Creative Conners. He has led a strange and varied life in many realms of live entertainment. Feel free to reach out to him with any questions or comments at peter@creativeconners.com

Can it be operated from a light board?

A common question I’ve encountered regarding scenic automation is: “Can it be operated from a light board?” The quick and dirty answer to that questions is “No, it can’t.” Now, of course the technology is such that someone could make it operable from your lighting desk, but that is not the way Spikemark works (or safe automation works).

If you think of your automation system as another design element – like lighting, audio, or projections –it becomes easier to realize the need for a separate control system and operator. If your sound board operator is supposed to monitor the audio levels and make sure that cues are executed at the exact moment a “Go” is given – shouldn’t your moving scenery have a live person ensuring that performers are on their marks and the movement paths are clear when they take the “Go?”

Chrysler BldgOur Spotline hoist is designed for vertical lifting of up to a 500 lb. piece of scenery.   can move that 500 lb. load at 36 inches per second. Let’s assume a scenic piece is hanging 30 ft. above your stage floor. You can do a rough back-of-the-envelope physics calculation to find out that this scenic piece has the same potential energy as a 15 lb. bowling ball balanced on the top of the Chrysler Building in New York (Potential Energy of both objects= 21 kilojoules).

All that being said, wouldn’t you want someone watching to make sure that bowling ball did not fall from the top of the Chrysler building? Instead of having the bowling ball watcher also running your lights or sound, they should be given the sole duty of making sure that ball is not going anywhere unexpected (especially if there are people underneath). This is the same reasoning behind having a distinct scenic automation system and operator – someone should have “eyes on” the piece of scenery and have the ability to stop it if need be. If your moving lights lose their positioning, it may be bad for your show, but it usually won’t be a life-safety issue.

This is why we have easy to learn and use Spikemark software for human interfacing of all your automated scenery along with a dedicated emergency stop device, Showstopper 3. Creative Conners uses best practices to make sure your show goes on – but with the necessary safety measures and desired user-friendliness .

P.S. There are cases where it is acceptable for your scenic automation to run from a show controller. Theme parks and museum exhibits are great examples of these occasions. Creative Conners automation gear can cooperate with a show controller if and when it is appropriate. For most theatrical performances, it is not appropriate.

Until next time… Make it Move!


 

Peter Veal is the Director of Business Development at Creative Conners. He has led a strange and varied life in many realms of live entertainment. Feel free to reach out to him with any questions or comments at peter@creativeconners.com

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.

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