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Pack Up Your Automation, This Is One for the Road

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Pack Up Your Automation, This Is One for the Road

Behind the scenes of our new road case, The Rhody.

IMG_0114

Royal and the first Rhody

Two years ago we decided that we would offer an ATA style road case to house our Pro Line gear for clients with touring and special event productions. It would be the icing on the cake. Well, more accurately the cake box, but a really nice indestructible box…on wheels.

Then we got busy completing more of that Pro Line: Stagehand Pro (11/2013), Spotline (4/2013), Stagehand Mini^2 (8/2014), and Showstopper 3 Consolette (11/2014). But we came back to designing the road case as time permitted. Our production engineer, Royal, advanced the project in a few bursts spread over an 18 month timeline, culminating  with the official launch of the Rhody this January.

The design began with the decision that the Rhody would house a complete automation system for a 4-axis show (although it has unlimited expandability and customizable components). Actually, for Royal, the designing began with some gummy bears and fresh batteries for his TI-83 Plus. Then he set to work fitting together the puzzle with the following pieces:

  • Showstopper Base
  • Power Distribution
  • Showstopper 3 Consolette
  • Touch Screen Monitor
  • Rack Mounted PC
  • Ethernet Switch
  • Uninterruptible Power Supply
  • 4 Stagehand Pro’s

Royal’s recent machine design hampered him only initially. “Designing the Rhody proved to be a challenge,” says Royal, “since I couldn’t use 3/8″ plate steel or machine it out of a huge block of aluminum. It was after those revelations that I decided to go out on a limb and use this new material called Plywood.”

Embracing his return to an organic building material, Royal drafted up the first iteration, but it proved too large. Something like the size of a queen bed.

too big

First Rhody Design, Too Big

So some rearranging was in order but Royal set to work in Solidworks and eventually configured the system in a more appealing 43″ x 57″ x 28″ size.

Drawing- Roadie - Sheet1
The final design of the Rhody not only includes robust hardware, coated plywood and aluminum construction, a slide out operator desk with touch screen monitor, and 3.5″ locking swivel casters…

PDF- Roadie Overview-crop2
…it also features lids with legs to become backstage work tables. Thanks to our friend Chris Moses for reminding us that, when not actively covering something, lids are infinitely more useful as tables.

rhody legs

Rhody Set Up

Originally Gareth planned to manufacture the Rhody in house, but a chance encounter with an old friend connected him with Case Craft. They build custom cases “for life on the road” and were eager to build our Rhody prototype. On working with Case Craft, Royal commented, “I wish ordering my gluten free meals at restaurants was as easy as ordering the Rhody from Case Craft.”

Our working title for the road case was The Roadie, but it became iresistible to change it to The Rhody given the quirkiness of our home state. We’re happy that somewhere in between the coffee milk and the quahogs there’s room for a small automation manufacturer. It also opened the door for naming our companion road case, the Li’l Rhody, each of which houses another 4 Stagehand Pro’s. Of course you can have as many Rhody’s and Li’l Rhody’s as you like, all run by a single automation operator.

Working towards making Rhode Island the scenic automation capital of the world inspires us to think about lots of new products. “The most exciting things on the not too distant horizon are the Stagehand Servo and Friction Drive,” says Gareth.

Gareth and Royal (and Sprocket) testing out motion control with servo motors.

Gareth and Royal (and Sprocket) testing out motion control with servo motors.

 

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.

 

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.

USITT 2014, Booth #1229 Made it Move!


Sometimes when we tell people in our every day lives that our business is theatrical automation, there is a blank inquisitive stare and a pause which we quickly fill with phrases like “we make scenery move” and “have you ever seen a show where something on stage revolves?”  Not that we mind.  We understand it’s a niche market, but it makes for a comfortable and exciting attendance at the annual USITT Conference & Stage Expo where not only does everyone know the term “theatrical automation” but an impressive number of attendees want to talk to us about how to automate, and how to do it well.  Our team (Gareth, Royal, and Ryan) couldn’t decide if they felt like rock stars or kids in a candy shop at last week’s Conference & Expo in Ft. Worth.  Probably a bit of both.

From Thursday morning’s mad running of the bulls, er…students, who charged the doors of the Expo eager to be first to swipe the swag to the final packing of crates Saturday evening, we didn’t stop talking , listening, and showcasing our equipment and our passion for automation. Expositions are in fact a grown-up Show & Tell, and we were happy to showcase the components of our tried and true system, adding a couple of newcomers to the line up.

Our Spotline hoist made its conference floor premiere with well deserved attention not just for the snazzy rig with orange rope, but also for its applications like flying chandeliers or rigging elevators without counterweights.  Plus, with the tensioner accessory, it can be used as a deck winch. (Take a bow, Spotline).

Also making their Stage Expo debut were the Stagehand Pro, Deck Chief, and Curtain Call, as well as new features in Spikemark that were lots of fun to play with live in the booth.

Enthusiastic technicians numbering over 100 convened to hear Gareth, Loren Schreiber, and Michael O’Nele talk about PID loops.  Loren Schrieber explained the wide use of PID’s in industry (ever use cruise control in your car?) and their essential existence in automated scenery if one is to achieve precision and speed regulation. But jumping into PID’s is not something to be taken lightly, and a little guidance can make all the difference. Michael spoke to this point, effectively relating his experience of Gareth guiding him through tuning a motor for the first time, and correctly configuring the drives in a Stagehand motor controller.  Using an oscilloscope, a motor, a PID controller, and a webcam, Gareth illustrated very clearly how the adjustments to the PID loop changed the electrical waveform while simultaneously observing change in the motor’s movement. It was very rewarding to hear that for some attendees this session solidified their previously piecemeal knowledge of PID’s and left them more confident to harness their use in future.

One of the most impressive moments at the conference came in the sheer volume of attendees to our Basic Machine Design session.  Over 200 people filled the room, with more turned away at the door when the room reached capacity. Adopting the role of true Southern Gentlemen, Gareth and Royal shuffled seats off the stage and into the audience to get attendees as comfortable as possible for the educational session. Although you can buy machines for theatrical purposes, and most theatres you work at will have some machines in stock, this audience clearly keyed into the fact that you still need to know how these machines work and how to build your own machine.  It’s not uncommon for your stock machine not to work with the design specs. Show of hands, who has been asked to build a very tiny deck winch?

Royal and Gareth’s session focused on the deck winch, the most common theatrical machine. They guided the audience through building one of these standard workhorses, slide by slide, from initial concept to sizing the motor and gear box, right through making the drum and frame.

Additionally, the audience got a good lesson in torque and horsepower as well as feedback sensors (after all, who wants motion you can’t control?)

Since there are always more questions than can be answered in a 1 hour 15 minute session, Gareth and Royal left the audience with information on suppliers, a reminder to make use of Alan Hendrickson’s Mechanical Design for the Stage, the link to our own motor calculator, and an invitation to keep in touch with Creative Conners.

As the Stage Expo ended and the dismantling of the booths began, a silent round of applause could be felt in Creative Conners Booth #1229.  To the attendees who took the time to connect with us, thank you.  You made us feel like rock stars. We hope to see you again soon.

Might we suggest May 12 in Chicago for USITT Presents, “Moving on Cue, Automation with Creative Conners.” This will be another opportunity to share our knowledge and passion about theatrical automation.  And we won’t have to explain what we do for a living.  Bonus!

Top Ten Reasons to Find Us at USITT This Week

 

Here’s why you should hightail it on over to  USITT’s Conference and Stage Expo in Fort Worth and see our automation team.

10. Get SWAG.

9. Learn all you’ve ever wanted to know about PID Loops Wednesday at 1pm.  Don’t worry, they will start with explaining the acronym and work right up to applying this knowledge to unmanned space flight (or for lack of time maybe just to your automated scenery).  Click here for the full schedule and location.

 

Stagehand Pro

8. See our usually reserved and hidden-in-the-wings Stagehand Pro handle the glare of the spotlight on Friday 4:40pm on USITT’s Innovation Stage.

 

7. See Ryan’s new haircut. And ask him about his addiction to Samoas®, a.k.a Caramel Delites®.

 

6. Ride on the 3′ mini-spinner powered by the Revolver.

5. Cozy up to words like speed reducer, horsepower, torque, output gearing, drum size, unmanned space flight and more at the Basic Machine Design Session Thursday 2:45pm.  Click right here for the full schedule and location.

Vegan?

4. Find out if these three popular desserts are Vegan: Thin Mints®, Swedish Fish®, Oreos®. (Hint: Ask Royal, it’s a topic near and dear to his heart. Kind of like the Samoas® are to Ryan.)

3. Lose yourself in the acreage of our biggest booth space to date, complete with four machines to monkey around with, and take the quiz to find out which machine you are.

2. Experience wireless automation control from a tablet. Then ask if you can try to beat their score on Three’s.

And the top reason to visit our brilliant Creative Conners team at Booth 1229 in USITT’s 2014 Stage Expo and Conference at the dazzling Fort Worth Convention Center is…

1. MORE SWAG! After all, we brought it just for you.

 

Announcing Our Next Level Gear!

Safe and easy vertical lifting with Spotline hoist

We’re proud to introduce a new line of products, designed to meet the automation challenges of the most demanding productions. Our customers have asked for more features to tackle complex effects, and we’ve packed that functionality into new gear that takes your scenic automation to the next level!

The new lineup includes our Stagehand Pro AC, the completely redesigned Showstopper 3 system, and our Spotline hoist, for safe and easy vertical lifting. Let’s take a look at the highlights:

Stagehand Pro AC

Automation for motorized scenery

This Stagehand is all new, and we’ve focused every improvement toward the power user. We started at the circuit board level, with a redesigned motion controller, new firmware, better reporting and expanded inputs and outputs. The Pro is our first Stagehand with redundant brake control for vertical lifting. Industrial clamping connectors, streamlined cabling, and optional rack-mounting brings the Creative Conners brand of modular automation to touring productions, corporate events, and large performances.

Find out more.
 

Showstopper 3

Image of Showstopper 3 Base emergency stop and cue controller

We’ve completely redesigned our Showstopper system, and you’re going to love the improvements! Redundant self monitoring emergency stop circuits create an industry-leading combination of robust reliability and ease-of-use. We’ve separated the emergency stop components from cue control for increased modularity and expanded capabilities.

Find out more.
 

Spotline Hoist

Vertical lifting made safe and easy

Professional level improvements don’t end with control. In concert with the Stagehand Pro, our Spotline hoist combines a production-ready and versatile machine designed for vertical lifting with the integrated and intuitive safety features you’ve come to expect from Creative Conners. Dual brakes, engineered load-rating, and a show-ready speed of 36″/sec make Spotline the industry leader for safe and easy lifting.

Find out more.
 

New Cable Assemblies for Stagehands

We just received our new multi-cable from Multi/Cable Corp, and attached one of the connectors we’ll be using for the new Stagehand Pro that is part of the Spotline hoist package.

For those of you interested in the technical details, the cable has four 10-gauge conductors and eight 14-gauge conductors. The insulation is UL listed to 300 volts. The connector is a Harting-style from Automation Direct. The big pins are rated for 80 amps and the smaller pins up to 16 amps.

This assembly will handle motor and brake power, with additional conductors for the secondary brake and fast-acting brake circuits that the new hoist requires. Having all the power conductors in one cable makes for a tidy package and minimizes the cable clutter on stage, and as a bonus, we also get a more positive lock with these connectors.

We’re pretty excited about these improvements and we’ll keep posting pictures as it continues to come together.

SHPro cable and connector

 

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