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Meet Our Interns: Part 1

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Meet Our Interns: Part 1

Every year we hire a handful of talented undergrad and graduate student to serve as interns over their summer vacation. We call them interns, but really they are quickly integrated into our team and pitch in on anything and everything in our office. Now that the school year is upon us we’d like to introduce you to the 2017 interns and let them share a bit of their experience working with us. This year we were joined by three great automation nerds, Jessica Gilliard, Ross Berry, and Danton Wein. They are headed back to campus, but they will be missed in our shop.

Meet Jessica

Jessica Gilliard enjoys a challenge. Years ago, she was told that she wouldn’t excel at Technical Direction. But she persevered, falling in love with carpentry, metalworking and creating scenery. She emphatically says, “It became what I wanted to do with my life.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in Theatre Design and Production from California State University, Fullerton, Jessica is currently a second-year graduate student at San Diego State University pursuing a MFA degree in technical direction for Theatre, Television, and Film.

Automation Indoctrination

Jessica gained her first experience using Creative Conners’ Spikemark software during her junior year of undergrad. Encouraged by Cal State Fullerton’s TD, Bill Meyer, her first foray was as the automation operator, where she was “just pushing buttons”. She was impressed with Spikemark’s intuitiveness and ease of use.  By graduation, she was a full-fledge Automation Technician for every show that included moving scenery at the school.

Before this internship, Jessica gained professional experience in CNC work for South Coast Repertory and was a draftsperson for a theme park project. At SDSU, she is a carpenter and teaches stagecraft classes.

Jessica got her foot in the door when she helped set up the Creative Conners USITT booth and met Gareth Conner, Founder and President. “I already wanted to work here, but I wanted to get a feel for it,” Jessica says. She applied for the internship in‑person and was accepted.

In addition to her strong automation skills, Jessica absolutely excels at soft skills that are essential but hard to quantify. She loves learning, is doggedly persistent, and is a creative problem solver. This summer gave her an opportunity to practice and reinforce some real word technical skills as well – metalworking, fabrication, and electrical work kept her busy. “I learned a lot of electrical aspects here, and following diagrams to create pieces of machinery,” she says. “Once I have diagrams in front of me, I can figure out how to do it.”

 

Jess and Ross double-teaming some circuit board fab. #makeitmovecci #scenicautomation #madeinusa

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Coolest Summer Projects

Jessica’s favorite project this summer was the stock ticker for a fantasy football television show, where she used Fusion for the first time. She says, “The stock ticker effect is one of those old timey ticker tape machines that pops out of a desk. It spews the paper out at the announcer. There was a prototype when I came in, but I thought, ‘How can I make this better?’” The creation to completion process was exciting. Now that little machine is in a studio in daily use for a television show.

 

As part of the Creative Conners team, Jessica’s day begins at 8:30 am with a meeting, where Gareth discusses ongoing projects and makes sure each person knows their assignments. Then she jumps into projects, striving to be as efficient as possible.

What has been most surprising for Jessica about Creative Conners is the camaraderie. “I think the people here are great and very talented.” Also unexpected is how small the Creative Conners team is considering the volume of products they produce.

Plans After School

Once grad school is done, Jessica could see her career returning to Creative Conners. But she’s got the talent and drive to chase down any number of opportunities. Time will tell if she ends up at a regional theatre, working in the TV/Film industry in southern California, or something entirely different.

During down time from her busy schedule this summer, Jessica, a first-time visitor to Rhode Island, enjoys relaxing and trying different foods, including the ocean state’s pizza. She’s enjoyed Rhode Island’s awesome food but somehow, she managed to not eat any lobster (for shame).

Last Thoughts

Jessica says this internship has been an unforgettable experience. She feels grateful to have heard about the opportunity from her advisors, Bill Meyer and Loren Schreiber, who had faith in her abilities. “I’m lucky to be here, and hopefully I’m proving their recommendation correct.”

 

Best of Luck Jessica

Now that Jessica is returning to SDSU to finish up another year of grad school we’ll miss her. We know she’ll take back firsthand knowledge of how we Make It Move and wish her the best.

Paramount Theatre: Case Study

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The Paramount Theatre in Aurora, Illinois, includes automation in everything from their weekly film screenings to their exceptional theatrical shows. Technical Director Jason Pikscher embraces the flexibility of Creative Conners’ state-of-the-art fleet of Stagehand controllers, Spikemark software, and machines.

Pikscher says, “We use a Creative Conners Deck Chief system to control our roll drop every week for our Classic Movie Mondays. We show anything from ‘Casablanca’ to ‘Home Alone.’ The Deck Chief and roll drop are fixtures in our theatre.”

The Paramount Theatre also uses turntables of all sizes with their Revolver kit. “Right now it’s doing great in ‘Mamma Mia,’” Pikscher says. “It’s driving a turntable weighing just over a ton, plus another ton of scenery, plus 30 actors. I would say it’s easily driving 5,500 pounds like a champ. We even did a 30‑foot turntable for ‘Les Mis’ and were closer to 8,000 pounds with no problems.”

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Because Spikemark does all the calculations for positioning and speed with a few inputs, dictating positions and writing cues is quick and easy. “Because it’s a revolve, the math could get too complicated if I had to figure it out myself. It’s easier to just drag it with Spikemark or the Showstopper Consolette and say, ‘OK, they want to go counterclockwise’ and set the time and speed. As opposed to trying to subtract 363 degrees from whatever position I’m currently in.”

As the primary Spikemark programmer, Pikscher is able to program quickly and efficiently during load-in and tech. Once the show is programmed, a crew member can take over running the show during rehearsals and performances. Pikscher says, “It’s pretty intuitive. You can quickly figure it out as you go. We’re able to program 25 cues in 10 minutes. I can’t ask for much faster than that in the world of automation.”

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The Paramount Theatre amazes audiences time and again with its technical wizardry. The payoff happens every time a set-piece “magically” moves across the stage. For “A Christmas Story,” the theater’s Pushstick controlled the 1939 Packard. Pikscher says, “It worked like a charm.” They also used a Pushstick to drive a two‑story rotating house. Pikscher is very impressed with how quiet and fluid it was. Most importantly, the audience experienced a great opening moment of the show, where a main character says “The house on Cleveland Street,” and a two‑story, 29‑foot‑tall, 45‑foot‑wide house moved downstage 30 feet without any effort at all.


This is the second in a series of case studies we will present to show how Creative Conners automation can be used in a myriad of venues and applications. We’ve collected examples of churches, theatres, and schools that have incorporated our Stagehand controllers, machines, and Spikemark software in unique ways to solve unique problems. Stay tuned for more.

-Until next time… Make it Move.

Decisions, Decisions: Buying vs. Renting – Part One

Do you hate wasting money as much as we do? There is no feeling that irks most of us more than realizing that your budget is too tight and you have to start trimming effects from your show. Whether it’s lighting, sounds, scenic or (say-it-ain’t-so) automation, every show has a budget that is too small and artistic ideas that are too big. You have two obvious choices when it comes to automation gear: you can rent it or buy it (or you can also make it yourself, but that’s a blog post for another time).

Let’s examine a few pros and cons for both options…

Rent StampRenting

Pros

  • Lowest initial investment – A short term rental will always be less costly than an outright purchase.
  • Faster turnaround – A rental order can leave our doors in a few hours if you are in a jam and we have the gear available.
  • No maintenance needed – We prep, test, and maintain each component of our rental inventory so you always receive ready to use gear.

Cons

  • Freight costs are doubled – We have to ship it to you and ship it back. Twice the fun!
  • Less time to set up and experiment – If your rental arrives just before your load-in, you won’t have much time to play with it before it has to be ready for rehearsals.
  • Rental inventory availability – Our rental inventory is large but not infinite. There is always a slight chance that when you need a piece of equipment our shelves are bare. Make sure you call early to book the gear you need.

Buying

 

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  • Opportunity to train staff and students outside of show time – Owning a kit means your staff can become expert users and technicians.
  • Equipment is available for multiple shows every season & every year – Why not automate ALL your shows?
  • You can tweak, customize, adjust, or hack your gear to your heart’s content –  Push your gear to your creative limits.

Cons

  • Initial investment is higher
  • Longer lead-time – Plan on 3-4 week before your order ships.
  • Requires storage space when not in use – make sure you’ve thought about where to put this stuff once your show is over.
  • Maintenance – Dig into that manual or give us a call because you will need to make sure your gear is properly cared for.

It can be difficult to see a clear winner when considering performance automation. While you may only need the equipment for one show, you may be better off investing in a system to use in more shows and as a training tool for your staff or students. Imagine how impractical and wasteful it would be if you rented your entire lighting kit for every show. For the very same reasons you may want to build up stock of lighting gear, many theater are building up stock of automation gear. But our rental option means you don’t have to forgo automation entirely if the funds aren’t in your budget this year (or next).

In the next post find out how you can stretch every budget dollar as far as possible regardless of if you rent or buy.

Until next time … Make It Move!


 

2015 in Review

Creative Conners 2015 Year in Review

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

Photo credit: ToddonFlickr / Foter.com / CC BY

Photo credit: ToddonFlickr / Foter.com / CC BY

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

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

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

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

Until next time… Make it Move!

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