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Spikemark Goes Greek with New Periaktoi Feature

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Spikemark Goes Greek with New Periaktoi Feature

Spikemark 3.1.11 Screen Shot

Screen Shot of Spikemark 3.1.11 with New Periaktoi Scenic Elements

 

Spikemark 3.1.11

Our latest release of Spikemark scenic automation software adds a new visualization option for rotating scenery in the Stage Model Viewer. Scenic elements can now be shown as Periaktoi (pronounced “peh-ree-AKH-toy”) to more accurately represent multi-sided spinning walls. The update is free and recommended for all users.  As always updates will not affect existing show files.

Automation operators will find easy access to the new Periaktoi feature, named after the traditional Greek three-sided rotating columns. You need only add a Revolver machine to the virtual stage model, then select “Periaktos” and number of sides from the Schematic side bar control. Gareth notes that “this feature is in addition to the previous option to show rotating scenery as turntables, and tracking scenery as walls or wagons.”

The new Periaktoi feature emerged from a specific request. This fall, long time automation customer Mystic Scenic Studios was contracted to build and automate the set for the October Adobe MAX conference, and they felt their automation operator needed a more realistic representation of a pair of three-sided rotating walls. Additionally, because images are continually projected onto the walls, the video production company for the show enjoyed the benefit of accurately experimenting with cueing off-site, simply running Spikemark in Simulator mode.

Other Improvements to Spikemark in 2014

In addtion to the Periaktoi feature, Spikemark has seen updates throughout the year to increase its versatility, robustness, and user friendliness.

•Drag and Drop features enhanced.
•Meters added as a valid position unit.
•Auxiliary output switching added to allow for improved hydraulic lift control.
•Active time linked cues completely sever when “Enable All Links” box is unchecked.
•Best of all, Spikemark was made free in January 2014.

Click here for full release notes on all versions.

Spikemark is the brains of our automation system, and pairs with one of our Stagehand motor controllers (Stagehand Pro, Stagehand Classic, Stagehand Mini, or Stagehand FX). We believe it is an intuitive and powerful interface to control all moving scenic elements. Spikemark’s full Stage Model Viewer allows the operator to see a real time 3D visual representation of the stage in Simulator or Live mode. The Simulator mode allows users to experiment, design, cue and run all of the automation in a show without connection to any Stagehands or motors. Download it now, and have fun with the new Periaktoi feature!

The Monster Tour Raises Standard for Hydraulic Lift Control

The Monster Tour, August 2014. Performers on hydraulic lifts in front of tracking video walls. Photo: New York Times.

The Monster Tour, 2014. Performers on hydraulic lifts in front of tracking video walls. Photo: New York Times.

In his May “Songs to Spectacles” article for the Washington Post, Steve Knopper gave a wonderful prologue to the summer concert season, summarizing the humorous and humble beginnings of the modern concert special effects industry. From the 1980’s antics of rigs with forklifts and “delightfully primitive…old-fashioned levers” to a full take over this century by “computers and robotics”, Knopper suggested this year’s season was poised to “blast into high gear with the latest and greatest in digital innovations.” It’s as though he knew we would do something awesome with computer controlled hydraulics.

Rihanna

Rihanna rising on hydraulic stage lift during The Monster Tour, 2014. Photo: Jeremy Deputat

Our friends at All Access Staging Production in Los Angeles were eager to up the ante in their control of  hydraulic lifts on The Monster Tour (Eminem / Rihanna).  Controlling hydraulics with a computer can be tricky, but with our own latest and greatest controller, the Stagehand Mini2 (that’s “mini-squared”), we were able to offer them reliable repeatability, and easy synchronization of three hydraulic stage lifts as well as two tracking video walls. In total the lifts would be used roughly 12 times during the 50-song show, amassing more than 20 cues including video wall movement. “The Monster Tour” opened at the historic Rose Bowl on August 7 to wildly positive reviews, and the show itself opened with Rihanna rising first on one lift, then as profiled on billboard.com, Eminem emerging on another lift “strapped to a stretcher à la Hannibal Lecter.” Those crazy kids.

It all happened rather quickly. The three-city tour lasted just two and half weeks in August (although it was able to entertain almost 250,000 fans thanks to the massive venues.) We ourselves only had three weeks of preparation for our part in the stadium scale production designed by Tribe Inc. to “match the epic nature of [the] two iconic artists.”  Our task was to control the two 4′ x 8′ platforms (each comprised of two stacked scissor lifts) which could completely collapse below stage level or elevate 6′ above. From the same computer screen, the automation operator would also control two 8′ x 24′ tracking video walls.

Debuting our Mini2 on this job, we took full advantage of its programmable outputs which give it a versatility well matched to the nuances of hydraulics. For example, since there would be six scissor lifts in this production, each set of two would only require a single case with one Mini2 and two valve power supplies. And the entire six lift system would only need one pump.

Click here to view a system diagram of the components used.

When we aren’t using our open shop space for corn hole or pallet jack skating, we routinely build, rig and run numerous automation set-ups for both custom and stock products. Nailing the specifications of this hydraulic job required just that. We borrowed a single acting scissor lift and old Feller Precision proportional valve from our local buddy Stage Machines. Although none of the parts in this test rig except for Spikemark control software would be the actual components in the tour, it did show that we could meet the technical spec of the job, namely that a proportional valve could be used on a single acting lift all connected back to our Spikemark control software.

After testing was complete, the Mini’s along with the other components were speedily built and shipped to the All Access shop in Los Angeles for their shop test. At this point, although the units had shipped, and Gareth himself was about to get on a plane bound for L.A., a problem arose that was easily corrected thanks to some key features of the Mini2. The necessary addition of a solenoid locking valve programmed to fire when the lift speed approached zero was merely plug and play due to the Mini’s auxiliary outputs and ability to have firmware changes made via Spikemark. Really, it’s like the Swiss Army knife of automation controllers.

Gareth’s travels to L.A. insured the shop test of the lifts went well, and he returned to L.A. the same week not just to keep racking up those frequent flyer rewards, but to assist with on-site cueing after the lifts were loaded into the rehearsal space at the Sports Arena. Taking advantage of the proximity to our Rhode Island shop, he and Royal later joined the crew for their NJ shows at MetLife Stadium. They offered back up as well as direct support for the automation operator. Again, the show was executed very well. Video walls tracked, lifts glided up and down, and of course there were pyro, lasers, smoke machines, and very talented musicians anchoring the entire production.

Backstage-in-NJ-1

Backstage at The Monster Tour, MetLife Stadium, NJ. Spikemark software is partially visible on the center computer screen. Photo: Gareth Conner

We were pleased to offer our technical assistance with the motorized video walls and stage lifts, all moving at the push of a button with an accuracy to .050″. Contributing to a part of the visual extravaganza at a Rock-and-Roll show reminded us how spectacle bolsters the music and the artists in a way that heightens the entire experience for the audience. Specifically heightened to 6′ above the stage on hydraulic platforms.

Many thanks to All Access for inviting us!

(Please scroll down for a complete list of gear used.)

Backstage-in-NJ-2

Backstage view of hydraulic stage lift on The Monster Tour, 2014. Photo: Gareth Conner

 

Complete gear list

Control

Mechanics (by All Access and Fluid One Productions)

  • 96″ Stroke Single-Acting Scissor Lifts (6)
  • Hydraulic Power Unit (1)
  • Hydraulic Accumulators (6)
  • Electro-Proportional Valves (6)
  • Solenoid Lock Valves (6)
  • Friction-drive “Mobilators” (2)
All-Access-Shop-1

New Stagehand Mini2 with a custom valve power supply, hydraulic accumulators, solenoid lock valves, and Atos proportional valves. Photo: Gareth Conner

All-Access-Shop-3

Gareth’s backpack atop a Hydraulic Power Unit (HPU) with accumulators used for testing. Photo: Gareth Conner

Spikemark and WATCHOUT: Step by Step

Back in August, we introduced Spikemark’s WATCHOUT integration which makes it easy to synchronize projection with the motion of automated scenery.  Several theatres have used this new feature to great effect, but I wanted to take a little time today and show how everyone can take advantage of this fun capability. 

DISCLAIMER:  I am not an expert in WATCHOUT, so this small tutorial is written from the perspective of an automation operator, not a projection wizard.

Alright, let’s get started.

Assume that we have a little show with an automated wall panel attached to a traveler track.  On cue, the wall panel will track from Stage Right to Stage Left.  As the panel tracks across the stage, we need to project a graphic onto the panel and have the image move along as if it were glued to the panel.  Here’s a screen shot of the Spikemark cue:

image

In order for WATCHOUT’s projectors to track an image synchronously with the motorized panel, we need to send the position of the panel to WATCHOUT.  Spikemark will communicate with WATCHOUT over the Ethernet network,so both the Spikemark automation computer and the WATCHOUT production computer need to be plugged into the same physical network.  In addition, the two computers need to have compatible IP Addresses that share the first three segments of the address with unique fourth segments.  I have the addresses assigned as such:

Spikemark computer is 192.168.10.119

Spikemark-IP-address

And the WATCHOUT computer is 192.168.10.9

Watchout-ip-address

With both computers addressed properly, we need to tell Spikemark where to send the position data.  In Spikemark select Show Control –> Watchout from the menu.

Spikemark-watchout-menu

A dialog pops up with some configuration details that determine what data is sent to WATCHOUT.

Spikemark-watchout-config

From the top the options are:

  1. Server Address:  The IP Address of the WATCHOUT production computer
  2. Server Port:  The port where WATCHOUT listens for incoming data.  By default, WATCHOUT listens on 3040.
  3. Motor List:  Each motor in your show is listed.  If the Active box is checked, that motor’s position information will be sent to WATCHOUT.  In the Watchout Name text box you can enter a name that will be used inside WATCHOUT to identify the motor’s position.  The Spikemark motor name and the WATCHOUT name can map however you like.  For example, we could have called it “Logo Winch” in Spikemark and “fuzzy pink rabbit” in Watchout.
  4. Sending Position Data:  Indicates whether Spikemark is currently sending UDP packets to the address indicated in Server Address.
  5. Update Interval (ms):  The frequency with which Spikemark will send position updates to WATCHOUT.  The number entered here will determine how many milliseconds should elapse between updates, so higher numbers will result in a slower update cycle.  In practice, 30ms is about the fastest rate consistently possible without adversely affecting Spikemark’s performance.
  6. Messages/second:  The number of position updates that are actually being sent to WATCHOUT each second.  This number will often bounce around by 1 or 2 messages.
  7. Include transition rate in messages:  If checked, Spikemark will send WATCHOUT the number of milliseconds that have elapsed since the last position update.  WATCHOUT can use this information to smooth the animation of the image as it tracks with the motor.  This generally results in a smoother visual result, but can be slightly inaccurate.  Feel free to experiment with either setting to get the most appropriate result for your show.
  8. Send Output:  This is a toggle button to turn on/off the data stream from Spikemark.  The data is sent via UDP, which is a connectionless protocol, so there is no harm sending out the packets even if WATCHOUT is disconnected from the network.  UDP packets will blissfully fall into oblivion if the server is not around to receive them so you can start the output stream before WATCHOUT is running.

With Spikemark configured and the Send Output button depressed, we are ready to fire up the WATCHOUT production machine.  Start WATCHOUT and give your show file a name.  As I mentioned when we started, I need an image to be projected on the traveller panel, so our first step in WATCHOUT is to import an image.

watchout-add-media-file

I selected a Creative Conners Logo image, which shows up in the Media list.

watchout-media-list

Now drag the image from the Media list into the Stage window.  You can see the image displayed in the center of the Stage view and it also shows up in the Main Timeline.

watchout-stage

With the image on our virtual stage, we need start configuring WATCHOUT to listen for data from Spikemark.  We have to enable an  external source (Spikemark in this case) to control the image position.  Double-click on the image in the Media List and select More Effects and Capabilities.

watchout-image-properties

Then, in the Main Timeline, double-click on the image layer to bring up the Media Cue properties window.  Select the Advanced tab and check External Control of Position, Scale & Rotation.

watchout-cue-properties

Our next step is to create a Generic Input in WATCHOUT that has a name that matches the Watchout Name we entered into Spikemark.  We will use the data received from that Generic Input to move the image around.  To add a Generic Input select Input from the Window menu.

watchout-input-menu

From the Input window, click on the little triangle in the upper right corner.  From the menu that appears, select Add Generic Input.

watchout-add-generic-input

A dialog is presented where you can enter the Name of the input and the Limit of the input value.  This step is important to get correct.  The Name needs to match the name entered in the Spikemark Watchout Output window… exactly, same case, same spelling, etc.  The Limit should match the highest value expected to come from Spikemark.  In this case, our traveler has a maximum forward position of 360”, so we can enter 360.

watchout-generic-input-properties

Press the OK button and then the new Generic Input will be listed in the Input list with its current value set to 0.00.

watchout-generic-input-list

Now, the next step is to connect the value of the Generic Input to the x-axis of the Image so that the Image will move as the Generic Input value changes.  To link the image position to the Generic Input value we will create a formula in the Main Timeline.  Select the image layer in the Main Timeline, and then from the Tween menu select Position.

watchout-tween-position

This adds a Position tween track below Layer 1 in the Main Timeline.  This is the good part.  Now that we have a tween for Position, on the left side of the track there is a little round button with an “f” inside.  That allows us to write a formula that will link the position of the image to the value of the Generic Input, the value of the Generic Input will be connected to the data stream from Spikemark, the data stream from Spikemark is driven by the position of the scenery.  The knee bone is connected to the leg bone… still with me?  Great, click the little “f”unction button.

watchout-position-tween-track

In the dialog box that appears, we enter in a formula in the X axis text box.  Since this is a traveler track, we want to manipulate the lateral position of the image, but if it was a flying piece of scenery we could instead control the Y axis of the image.  To use the value of the Generic Input, we simply type the name of the input.  In this case, I’m multiplying the value of the input by 10 to get the image to track the correct number of pixels across the stage.  The multiplier you use can be adjusted to fit the specific show.

watchout-formula

We are almost there.  Before flipping the last switch to connect Spikemark to Watchout, try clicking around in the Value column of the Input list.  This will manually adjust the value of the Generic Input and if everything is correct so far, as you alter the Generic Input Value the image should jump to a new X position in the Stage window.

watchout-input-manual-check

Alright, let’s get the WATCHOUT computer listening to the Spikemark computer.  From the File menu select Preferences.  Then from the Control tab, check the UDP box next to Production Computer Control.

watchout-preferences

As soon as you click OK, WATCHOUT will start picking up the position data stream from Spikemark (assuming you depressed the Send Output button in Spikemark) and the image will snap back to match its X position with the motor position.  Also, the Generic Input Value should track with the motor position.

Let’s load up cue #2 in Spikemark.  Notice that the current motor position is 0.18” in Spikemark, and that the Generic Input Value in WATCHOUT is 0.175 showing that the two systems are communicating.

spikemark-cue-2-loaded

watchout-cue-2-loaded

Now, let’s run cue #2 in Spikemark.  When it completes, we can see that the image tracked across the stage in WATCHOUT, matching the motor position!

spikemark-cue-2-complete

watchout-cue-2-complete

I hope this gives you a little inspiration to create some stunning stage effects.  This tutorial is just a taste of what can be achieved when Spikemark and WATCHOUT are used together in live theatre.  As you start using this feature in production, please let us know how it works for you and send us some video.  We love to see this stuff in action.

Spikemark 2.8.1 – now with Watchout integration!

WO5LogoComp
Folks sometimes ask us, “How can we synchronize our media server with our automation system?” Starting with Spikemark 2.8.1, we can now answer, “Easily!”

When La Jolla Playhouse needed to match moving video with moving scenery, we added a nifty new feature into Spikemark that will send out motor position information over the network to a remote Dataton Watchout 5 server. The Watchout server can listen to the stream of information that contains any or all motor positions and use that data to move video and images around the stage.

Show control screenshot

This feature is fresh, so we’d love to get feedback from everyone about how to make it even more useful and open it up to more media server applications. So head over to our downloads page, check it out and let us know how you like this great new capability!

2011 Week 4 Recap

The past week was filled with a lot of work-in-process projects, but almost all of those projects are on-going.

Upcoming work with Show Distribution Hoists

This week we started looking at a possible job that requires some easily tour-able lifting motors. Our Pushstick winch isn’t the right choice for such a job, it’s a meaty piece of machinery, but somewhat large and heavy. More importantly, it’s not rated for overhead lifting so I began looking at other options. I’ve mentioned Show Distribution in the past when our Stagehand Mini was used to control their Tour Trolley. They also make a nice chain hoist, the Tour Lift, for lifting applications. It’s a neat machine with the inverter built into the motor housing making a very compact and clean package. After a couple of days of conversations, I think we’ve conjured up a good plan to get our control gear playing nicely with their hoist. Since our control signals are not instantly compatible, we’ll build a little black box of magic to translate between the two systems. Our SpikeMark software will provide an easy and versatile control interface to the hoist which should be a great match for this unnamed potential project.

Without getting too esoteric, the problematic points of integration were:

  • Speed signal: They use a 4-20ma signal for speed with separate inputs for direction. We use a bipolar +/-10vdc speed signal. For long-distance runs between controller and drive, there are some good reasons to use 4-20ma as the signal. Typically, we keep our controllers very close to our drives and the bipolar 10v signal has proven to be a little more versatile. In the past, when interfacing with pumps from Stage Machines, we’ve developed a little converter board to convert between a bipolar 10vdc signal to a unipolar signal with separate direction switches for valve control. Moving to a 4-20ma signal just requires an additional signal conditioner in that circuit.
  • Limit signals: They use a 24vdc signal to signal limits, and we require Normally Closed dry contacts so an additional relay will be needed to provide the dry contact closure.

SpikeMark Documentation

Last spring I hired a freelance technical writer to start updating our user manuals. The first manual to get updated is the SpikeMark manual. Catherine has been working part-time for months and this week we put final edits into the book. The new version of the manual weighs in at almost 200 pages and has lots of new details and diagrams. The manual also now documents ALL of the features in SpikeMark, including those features that used only be briefly mentioned in the release notes.

When I started the company, one of my goals was to create an automation system that came with a manual and a tech support phone number which may sound like modest goals, but for anyone that has struggled to use equipment that doesn’t have either a manual or a live person on the telephone you will recognize how important it is! So, I’m very excited to have a new version of the manual and really pleased with the great work that Catherine has done. The new manual should be available in PDF form on our site in the next week, so watch for an announcement. Of course, all new copies of SpikeMark will be sent out with the freshly printed version of this tome.

New Web Site

Work continues on the next version of the Creative Conners main site. While the current site has served us pretty well since it was revamped in 2008, it’s lacking some infrastructure to make it great. The current version is a collection of hand-coded HTML with some XML files for data storage. This is a great example of “build the simplest thing that could possibly work”, but makes some tasks a real chore. So at the beginning of the year we decided to start building out the next version of the site (v3). The Big Goals are:

  • Make it easier to add and edit products. We currently sell 104 products. There are only 14 listed on our site. Hmmm….
  • Create a good overview page where folks who are new to our products and new to automation can get some advice about how to put together an automation system. We have a lot of detail information available for our main components, but I think we really fail to show people how these components integrate together and how they can be used effectively to make stuff move on stage. For the T.D. that comes to our site and says, “I need to make a moving pallet.” I want to help him find the parts he needs and show him how to get started.
  • A better gallery with lots more movies and pictures of our gear in action. Our gear is pretty easy to use, which is great! However, because it’s so easy to use, we almost never travel on site to theatres to help install the equipment. As a result, we have very little footage of our gear in shows, even though well over 100 theatres use our system. We’re hoping to inspire folks to submit videos of their moving scenery with our $250 coupon, we’ll see how that goes…
  • Online ordering. Finally.
  • System configuration tools to help customers select the components they need and interactively try various “what if” scenarios to figure out how much gear they need and how much it will cost to buy vs rent.
  • Online rental reservation.
  • Customer reviews.

That’s a BIG list. Will it all happen. Yes. Will it all happen at once. No. We’re going to start modestly and build it out throughout the year. The first wave should go live in February and if all goes well, it will look exactly like the old site, with more products. I had intended to delve into the details of *how* we are building this site, but this week’s post has already grown a bit long so I think I’ll save that discussion for another day.

Have a great week everyone!

Input Actions — New SpikeMark Features

Just a quick post to point out a cool new feature in SpikeMark — Input Actions.

Before Christmas, one of our customers had a specific need. They do a lot of performer flying systems and build incredibly complex cue link sequences to achieve realistic flying effects. Sometimes a winch needs to be temporarily removed from the show for a cue or two. If a performer Overview misses a pickup, Days the motor needs to be disabled and the automation tech Laurence will drive the winch manually to get the actor back on spike. They have built their own hardware to make it easy to switch between automated control and joystick control, but SpikeMark wasn’t playing nice. In an automated cue link sequence, SpikeMark wants to see every motor involved in the cue load the cue information before executing. This is obviously done for safety, if the cue isn’t fully loaded SpikeMark doesn’t want to crash scenery. In the performer flying scenario, the operator KNOWS that it’s OK to run the cue sequence, in fact disrupting the link sequence causes a lot of trouble. What was needed was a button that wholesale jerseys could be pressed to temporarily deactivate a motor and let the wholesale jerseys rest of the show carry on as if it didn’t exist. So… what to do…

Just after Christmas, another customer had a asztma show with a triple ring turntable. Each ring would be running in a cue and at an actor-driven moment in the offense show, the middle ring needs to decelerate and stop. If you tried to use “Stop All Cues”, all 3 rings would stop. The stop point is actor driven, so there’s no way to write an automated link. What was needed was a button that could be pressed to abort a single motor out of a cue sequence. So.. what to do…

We add a new feature called Input Actions. If you have a cheap jerseys China Stagehand FX, you can now use the inputs to trigger global actions. The first two actions that have been created are:

  • Deactivate Stagehand

    This action will take a motor out of all cues until the input is released without affecting cue links.

  • Soft Stop Stagehand

    This cheap jerseys action will abort a Stagehand by taking the programmed deceleration rate immediately without effecting other motors running in a cue.

Input cheap jerseys Actions can be added to any FX input and multiple actions can be attached to a single input, making some cool effects possible. Below is cheap jerseys a screenshot:

If you have ideas for more Input Actions, let us know because I’d love to make this feature South even more useful.

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