Any Questions? Call us 401.289.2942

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

Home » Archive by category "Service"

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.

 

share your automation, #makeitmovecci

Let’s face it, automation is cool. It’s okay to brag. We won’t judge. We know you do amazing things with our gear (it’s why we we make it, after all).

So why not share what’s moving on your stage, tag it #makeitmovecci on Instagram and let us send some free swag your way.

For inspiration, enjoy these automation achievements you and your colleagues have sent us. Click on any picture for more info and make sure to follow us on Instagram!

Many thanks, keep making it move!

Instagram Postcard Front

 

Backstage-in-NJ-1

Backstage at Rhianna / Eminem “Monster Tour”, 2014

Cookie Monster Backstage at Beauty & the Beast, 2014

Cookie Monster Backstage at Beauty & the Beast, 2014

 

Mule Sheaves at New York Theatre Workshop, 2014

Mule Sheaves at New York Theatre Workshop’s Love and Information, 2014

Circular Platform with Access Panels Open at University of Delaware's Faust Production

Circular Platform with Access Panels Open at University of Delaware’s Faust Production, 2014

 

Construction of Stage Lift for Old Globe's Production of Winter's Tale, 2014

Construction of Stage Lift for The Old Globe Theatre’s Production of Winter’s Tale, 2014

Ohio State Production of "Working"

Ohio State’s Production of Working, 2008

Spamalot-Control-Table

Automation Control Table for 5th Avenue Theatre’s Production of Spamalot, 2014

Village Theatre - Tommy

The Village Theatre’s Tommy, 2007

Ford Show

StageHouse Las Vegas Set for the Ford Show

chinglish-video-cap

Berkley Repertory Theatre’s Production of Chinglish, 2013

 

Sprocket, Our Official Blogger Dog

Okay, this one’s just for fun. It’s Sprocket, keeping an eye on cables and keyboards for us.

 

Refined Revolver Machine for Turntables

Revolver  2014 - cropped

When you’re talking about a friction drive, more surface contact is always desirable. And give that our most popular machine, the Revolver, is a friction drive for edge driven turntables, we talk about it a lot. Recently that talk turned into a very real refinement for the stock product, resulting in better engagement between the friction wheel and any drive ring as well as easier access for maintenance.

Responding to the need from new customer Stage House, our fearless product engineer, Royal, experimented with relocating the bearing plate on the Revolver. Previously mounted above the 3″ friction wheel, the bearing plate was moved below it to offer 3/4″ additional contact between it and the turntable drive ring.

This change necessarily meant the encoder would shift up to maintain proper alignment with the drive ring, but did not compromise the Revolver’s slim 9″ height profile. In addition to the improved contact, which insures less slippage, the bearing plate relocation makes maintenance much simpler, specifically when the friction wheel needs to be replaced. Seeing how well this worked for the Stage House job, and always looking for product improvement, we decided to make the change permanent for the stock machine. The last change to the Revolver was in 2011 when it was improved with a spring loaded suspension mount for the encoder (New and Improved Revolver Encoder Mount, Oct. 2011).

Revolver PartsOf course many things remain the same. The 5hp friction drive still comes prewired to connect to the Stagehand Classic motor controller, and has a maximum rim speed of 36″/second, but can be over sped to achieve a rim speed of 72″/second. It is available for purchase at the same $20,000 plus shipping, or rental at $200 / week plus shipping and prep. While all purchased Revolvers will now have the new raised friction wheel, Revolvers from the rental stock will see the improvement gradually as their wheels need to be replaced, at which time the new frame will be swapped in allowing for the altered bearing plate placement. And the above picture of all the pieces required to build a Revolver remains humorously accurate.

Many thanks to Tony Lamecker from Stage House for working with us on this!

 

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

Rigging the HP Discover Flip Door with a Pushstick Winch

For most who attended HP Discover in Las Vegas this year the appreciation was on the technology showcased for business and government customers. But let’s not forget that a dramatic entrance, such as the flip door used by  HP CEO Meg Whitman, had some fun technology of its own.

Our friends at Production Plus built the door and tasked us with rigging the automation for it. Much like the progressively detailed studies an artist develops before the final painting is created, the flip door rigging saw its share of iterations, three to be precise. You can see each one in this video, and read more about them below. And yes, that’s Herbie Hancock’s 1983 “Rockit” in the background, just for fun.

The first wooden mock-up came together quickly and established the core design to meet the criteria. In that design we decided to use a Pushstick winch to raise and lower the door, rather than mounting a motor at the hinge which would have required a custom machine. By using the winch and rigging the door exclusively to the surrounding wall they built, we saved both time and money.

Built and rigged in a day, the wooden mock-up showed that a winch line would nicely raise and lower the door, even if the orientation did give it a rather drawbridge like quality.

The second mock-up, also built in a day,  grew to full size, sported a steel frame, and brought into the design two critically placed sheaves. Our Turnaround Sheave took the lines from the winch and guided them each to a custom sheave which changed the line in two directions. These three turns of each line precisely positioned them to lift the door with as little friction as possible.

Pushstick Winch, Turnaround Sheave, and Custom Sheave on the Flip Door Steel Mock-Up

Custom sheave (left) and Turnaround Sheave (right) guide the winch lines on HP FlipDoor.

 

With testing complete at our shop, it was time to pack Royal and the rig for Production Plus’ shop outside of Chicago to test it once more on the actual flip door. By automation rigging standards, it was a relatively simple packing list: Stagehand ACTurnaround Sheave, custom sheave, cables, power distro, showstopper, turnbuckles, toothbrush, toothpaste, and PLSN to read on the plane.

A similar process took place outside of Chicago. And when we say outside, we really do mean al fresco. The flip door and its companion wall outgrew the shop space and required set up in the parking lot. Once the wall was built, only fifteen minutes was necessary to mount the sheaves, run the cables, adjust the turnbuckles, and connect the winch & electronics. With a beautiful Midwest sunset for a backdrop and a fork lift bracing the wall, the flip door rigging looked good. Time to pack for Las Vegas.

Construction of HP Flip Door Frame by Production Plus in Burr Ridge IL

HP Flip Door & Wall Frame with Forklift and Sheaves in Sunset Silhouette at Production Plus

Stunningly vast and cavernous, the Venetian Palazzo auditorium was transformed into a dynamic and inviting space for thousands to celebrate all things HP and IT. As in the previous shop set ups, Royal attached the pulleys while the wall flat, then rigged the rest after the wall was up. Flip door opened smoothly. Flip door closed smoothly. No problems.

Venetian Palazzo Auditorium During Load-In for HP Discover, Las Vegas 2014

Placement of Sheaves on HP Flip Door Wall at Venetian Palazzo Auditorium, Las Vegas 2014

Royal remained on site to run the automation during the show and was able to offer advice on a mobilator giving Production Plus some problems. He adjusted it to run more smoothly and also operated it during the show. It’s handy to have an automation tech in the house.

Many thanks to Doug, Duane and Jacob at Production Plus. We were happy to be involved in bringing the HP Discover event to life. Let’s keep makin’ it move.

Gareth Conner Reflects on Ten Years of Automation Success

If there were a “2014 Theater Technician’s 365 Day Desk Calendar”, June 28 would surely mention Creative Conners. We imagine it would say something like “On this day 10 years ago a new business was incorporated with the mission to provide affordable, accessible and high quality automation equipment to the theatrical industry.” And there’d be a picture of our beloved Gear Guy from our logo, and maybe a mention of turntables or the evolution of computer controlled motion. We’d take it as a reminder that the years do add up, success doesn’t come without patience, and there are important times to stop and reflect.

Celebrating this anniversary had us first thinking about numbers. Initially it was novelty numbers like how many times do we think  Gareth has said the word “Stagehand”, then practical numbers like how much food to cater for the 10 year anniversary party today. But gradually we got a bit more introspective which resulted in this interview with our fearless leader and company founder.

Q: We know it’s been 10 years since the company was founded, but how many years since you first began creating the system?

Gareth: Yes, it was a few years prior. My initial experiment developing a Stagehand control board was in January 2001. I know it was January because it was a New Year’s Resolution I got to right away.

Q: Is automation always on your resolution list?

Gareth: Well, yes frankly it is, although there are other resolutions that sneak in there. This year for instance I made a resolution to run a half-marathon. I guess you could say I like motion of one sort or another (we’ll see how that half-marathon goes!).

Q: In these first ten years of business operations, how many control systems have you sold?

Gareth: It surprised me a bit when I checked the records on this, but the tally of just the Stagehands sold [each Stagehand corresponding to one axis of motion on stage] is approaching 1000.

Q: So there could be, on any one day of performances around the country, almost 1000 pieces of scenery moving under the control of a Creative Conners system?

Gareth: Yeah, isn’t that cool! Also it would include other countries like Korea, Australia, and this fall our gear will premiere in Istanbul. And that doesn’t include the customers using just our machines with their own control system.

Q: How many machines have you sold?

Gareth: We’ve got 130 machines out there moving scenery. We are very excited to have expanded both the number and robustness of our machine line in recent years.

Q: Looking back, what years brought the most changes for the business?

Gareth: I would have to say 2006 and 2011 were quite significant. In 2006 we introduced our Revolver machine, prototyped the hardware for our Stagehand FX, began offering a rental option for our gear, and evolved the Stagehand in important areas like battery back up, the ability to update firmware over the network, and modified it to work with hydraulics which we appreciate on a regular basis. Just this week we got an order for a hydraulic powered lift control to be used on an Eminem / Rhianna concert.

Q: And 2011?

Gareth: Yes, a lot of changes in 2011. We finally made the leap into a commercial space, which we outgrew in a year and moved up to our current space. Prior to that we had a basement / garage based business and collaborated with two other commercial shops for machine fabrication and inventory housing. Setting up shop in our own commercial space afforded the opportunity to increase staff, bring almost all fabrication in house, and do more R&D on all aspects of our gear simultaneously (mechanical, software, and electrical). Plus, in our current 6800sf shop, we have room to do things like rent arcade games for our anniversary party.

Q: How many new products have you introduced since the ramp up in 2011?

Gareth: The company was launched offering one complete automation system consisting of four products. We now offer about a hundred products and services, which include things like stage hardware and education seminars, as well as the core variety of machines and motion controllers. Most of that increase has happened since 2011.

Q: This may be a painful question to answer, but how many units have ever been returned?

Gareth: Not painful at all. We have had our share of units that have to get repaired or replaced whether it’s been damaged in shipping, has a faulty bit that escaped our quality control, or just components that wear out over time, but it’s a small number and we work tremendously hard to rectify the situation immediately.

Q: Any products returned due to customer dissatisfaction?

Gareth: None. We’ve never had a customer tell us they didn’t like the product and ask for their money back. Although our system is designed to be plug and play, without on site supervision from us, we have always offered 24/7 customer support to make sure it all goes well, and we encourage our customers to stay in touch.

Q: How many lines of code were in Avista? Spikemark?

Gareth: Hmmm…it’s been I while since I checked those stats. I think Avista had about 30,000 lines and Spikemark, at least the first version, had significantly less. Spikemark is a bit more effecient 😉

Q: What’s on the horizon in the coming years?

Gareth: Specifially we’ve got our new Showstopper 3 just about to launch, we’re experimenting with servo motors, wireless control, and developing more machines like a turtle and a friction drive. Also, to accommodate our increase in demand for touring productions we are developing our own road box (aka “The Roadie”) to house the control gear backstage and in the trucks.

Q: What’s the biggest change for the company?

Gareth: Our initial system provided a way for smaller budgeted theatres to begin doing quality automation. Since then we’ve evolved, along with these customers’ needs, to offer more sophisticated products. As theaters are reaching for more and more complex motion, we’ve pushed to raise the bar on our product line to be ready for them, and also to serve the needs of others who are already there. Because of this we’ve expanded the breadth of our customer base. We initially focused on regional and academic theatres, who are still the backbone of our business, but now we’ve got a range of clients from a two week gear rental to a middle school to a year long national rock ‘n roll tour.

Q: What kind of complex motion do you see evolving?

Gareth: A lot of theatres are interested in synchronizing many elements at once. I think we will continue to see an increase in syncing projection and scenic motion specifically. For this reason we are focusing on more intricate software. There is a need to have more devices on the network sharing position information to achieve this complex motion.

Q: Lastly, is there anyone you’d like to thank for these first 10 successful years?

Gareth: The theatres and production shops creatively integrating scenic motion into their shows are top on the list. It is always fun to see what’s moving on their stages, and we thank them for putting their trust in us to provide their automation equipment. Beyond that, if I were to list everyone individually you would see a comprehensive mesh from early influences in high school technical theatre right up to the incredible collaborators surrounding me in my shop everyday. Among the most humorous to thank would be family like my mother who, to this day, does not understand what I do for a living but offers support nonetheless. After 15 years of calling me a set designer she finally asked just last year, “What do you mean when you say ‘automation’?”

Gareth and Royal (& Sprocket) testing out a wireless friction drive prototype in April 2014.

Make it Move…Quietly. Next Day Service Call to Solve Automation Problems

“Creative Conners, this is Royal speaking.  How can I help you?”  That was Wednesday morning at our Rhode Island workshop.  Fast forward 24 hours and we find Royal crossing the Hudson on I-95 headed for Delaware with a 5hp motor, shiny red gantry crane, crates of tools & parts, and a directive to help The Resident Ensemble Players (REP) smooth out the kinks in their automated set for Faust.

Loaded Up in Rhode Island

In just one day our Product Engineer went from a phone call about a bigger motor, to next day on-site motor delivery and 2-days of hired technical support.  By the end of the second day, not only was a 2hp motor swapped out for a 5hp older sibling, but also a solution to a seemingly insurmountable noise problem was found, as well as a thorough re-cueing of the show to achieve more accurate positioning.

We wouldn’t do this kind of last minute hustle for just anybody. Well, okay, the truth is we do this whenever possible, but we are particularly happy to help out our oldest customer. The REP at the University of Delaware placed the very first order with us back in 2005.  Still getting good use out of the original Stagehands and Pushsticks (cue applause), the REP production staff installed the gear to automate two wedge shaped wagons around a circular center stage platform for their upcoming show, Faust.

Faust Set at REP

A clever set design, yes, but the devil is in the details, and in this case Mephistopheles showed himself in the form of friction and noise.  At load-in Keith & John, Technical Director and Asst. Technical Director, discovered their smaller 2hp motor was not up to the task, and wisely initiated the distress call to us with a rush order of the 5hp motor, but soon added a request for in person assistance trouble shooting potential Stagehand problems as well as an overview of the entire rig.

Panels Open to Access Pushsticks in the Pit

Upon arrival, and after a successful motor transplant for the Pushstick, Dr. Royal determined the Stagehands were fine, but the rig of the wagons had a distinct devil to exorcise: noisy bearings which had been over stabilized to the point of creating too many friction points.  Keith and John had been on the right track to replace their wire rope with something that would generate less friction, but unfortunately the product they picked wasn’t as smooth as it needed to be.

New Tek-12 Rope Descends to the Pushsticks in the Pit

Royal recommended switching to a high strength, low stretch, urethane coated Tek-12 rope in addition to reducing the number of the bearings the rope contacted.  This combination successfully cast out enough evil friction spirits that the 5hp motor could easily overcome the remainder.

Saturday morning, while watching the automation operator, CJ, go through the cues in Spikemark to test the new quieter and less stressed motion, Royal observed that the cueing could be reworked to become both simpler and more accurate.  Never touching the keyboard himself, Royal guided the operator through re-cueing the show from the ground up.  He advised the best practice for setting up the show in Spikemark, where to call zero position, and clarified the details of position scale. The operator, experienced in Spikemark, absorbed the advice quickly and had a new show file ready to run that same morning.

A scene from heaven. Faust at REP.

So while God may not be entirely pleased with actions of Mr. Faust, the good people at REP can take comfort knowing the only devils in this production are embodied by actors, and not in their stage mechanics.

 

Google+ Google+