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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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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 / / CC BY

Photo credit: ToddonFlickr / / 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!


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


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

Please send us your resume or contact us for more information at:

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

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 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).

IMG_9572 (2)

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.

Spikemark 3.3 is released!

Position Scale Dialog

The new Position Scale dialog

Spikemark 3.3 has been released!  Download and upgrade your automation at your earliest opportunity.  What’s new?  Check out the release notes for the details, but the big highlights are:

  • A new Position Scale dialog box has been introduced to make it super-easy to calibrate position scale of any machine in your production.  All the bits that you need are now in one handy dialog box to streamline the process.
  • Bug fixes!  A couple of nasty bugs have been squashed.
  • Soft Stop display in the cue grid has been refined to make the display more logical and easier to comprehend in a flash.

It’s free, it’s awesome, go grab your copy!

Circuit and Gear Podcast – Episode 7

Royal and Gareth chat about the load-in of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  Trucking, installation, and a couple of Spikemark bugs discussed.  Download and listen…

Episodes 4 and 5 of Circuit and Gear


If you haven’t already subscribed to our scenic automation podcast, Circuit and Gear check out the latest two episodes:

Episode 4

This week, Royal and Gareth talk about using the d3 projection software with Spikemark on a recent corporate event. Then the guys dive into a conversation about the design process at Creative Conners and the CAD tools we prefer.

Episode 5

In this week’s episode, Royal and Gareth discuss some feedback on CAD tools from last week’s show and then finish the CAD chat with a look at EDA tools for circuit design. Next up, they chat about the shop test of the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang rig heading out to Colorado. Finally, they wrap up with a quick look at the new Mitsubishi A800 VFD.

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!

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