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Automation

The summer is in full swing 

Interns

Our summer team members, Jon & Kody, are learning lots of new skills. We decided that we’d take the opportunity teach the guys about machining processes while stocking up components that we manufacture for our Pushstick, Revolver, and Spotline. We bought a pile of aluminum stock and steel shaft material…


Shaft  

Lathe

Jon is learning how to single-point thread on our lathe…


Jon on the lathe  

CNC

Kody is learning how to operate the Tormach CNC mill to make various parts (bearing housings, tension mounts, etc.)…

Kody on the Tormach 

Busy Summer

Both Kody and Jon are fast-learners, careful, and competent. They are doing great work here and seem to be enjoying the opportunity to learn some skills that aren’t common in typical scene shops. In the coming weeks they’ll get a chance to do some electrical & electronic work. Should be fun!
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Automation

The students from UConn's automation in theatre class visit the Creative Conners shop Entertainment Automation Education

This semester Gareth has been filling in for Jack Nardi, teaching the automation class at UConn while Jack’s on sabbatical. For this week’s class, Jack and the students visited our shop here in Warren, RI. Gareth gave them a tour of the facility, showed them some of the major tools used in fabricating our gear, and demonstrated some of the processes that we go through to turn bits and pieces into machinery and electronics.  When the tour was over, the class split up into teams and they set up and cued a Revolver, a Pushstick and a Curtain Call. Gareth said that the students enjoyed it very much, and there’s no substitute for hands-on teaching. Gareth demonstrating the mill: The students from UConn's automation in theatre class visit the Creative Conners shop   Royal demonstrating the Tormach CNC mill: The students from UConn's automation in theatre class visit the Creative Conners shop   Royal and Gareth discussing the workflow of machine design: The students from UConn's automation in theatre class visit the Creative Conners shop   Colleen and Erika working on a Pushstick deck winch, while Jack and Jason rig a Curtain Call traveler: UConn class machines It was a pleasure having the students and Jack visit our shop.
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Automation

Creative Conners President Gareth Conner speaks at USITT USITT Gabfest

Gareth and I went out to Milwaukee last week for USITT 2013. It was a great conference and we had a good time catching up with our friends, meeting some customers in person and talking to new people. Gareth spoke at ‘Turntables On A Budget’ with Scott Bartlett. Scott gave a great talk about different construction techniques and materials choices if you’re tight on money and need a revolve. Gareth spoke about our products, how they integrate with revolves and how affordable they are, especially the rentals. It was also really cool to hear a lot of people talk about the Creative Conners system as the emerging “Industry Standard” for automation in live theatre. A big thanks to everyone who spreads the word! All in all, a great time. See you all in Texas in 2014!
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Automation, Programming, Spikemark, Tips

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.

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Automation, Machinery, Spikemark

Front panel of Stagehand AC Have you ever wished that your machine was faster?

A quicker pull across the stage for a pallet or a faster rotation for a turntable? Of course, you could always re-gear your machine to get more speed out of it. But wouldn’t it be cool if you could just make the motor go faster? Well, you can. Both the Durapulse and Mitsubishi Stagehands can handle overspeeding up to 200%, so if you don’t need all the horsepower that your motor is rated for, this trick can get you that extra speed you’re looking for.

Torque rating based on hertz delivered

In the default settings, 60 hz provides 100% of torque. Overspeeding is simply changing the settings on the Stagehand so that it delivers more than 60 hz which makes the motor turn faster with a corresponding drop in torque. So if you have a 5hp motor and you want to double its speed (and you can get away with 2.5hp), you send it 120 hz. The motor speed doubles, the torque rating gets cut in half at the maximum speed and you’re all a set. If you have a Mitsubishi Stagehand (with the keypad on the front), you need to change parameter 252 of the VFD. That process is explained in section 4.3 of the Stagehand AC Manual 2.1.

What about Durapulse VFDs

If you have a Durapulse Stagehand (keypad on the back), you will need to change parameter 0.04, which is explained in section 4.3 of the Stagehand AC Manual 1.0. In addition to the loss of torque, another downside to keep in mind is that the control signal resolution is also reduced, which makes fine adjustments more difficult. Once your Stagehand is set to produce 120Hz, adjust your maximum speed in Spikemark to allow the motor to run faster in cues. That’s it. Tune in next month for another rollicking good time with Spikemark!
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A common question we get here at Creative Conners is how to build a multi-step cue. We will look at two possible scenarios and explain how to achieve the effect using Spikemark. The first scenario: A turntable rotates slowly at one speed and then at a certain point,  without stopping, the speed changes and the turntable continues at the new speed until the cue ends. This is actually pretty simple to pull off. The trick is to write two cues that overlap, and when the second cue starts, it will smoothly take control of the turntable. Let’s take it step by step. Cue #1 rotates the turntable at 1 revolution per minute with a target of 720 degrees. The second cue rotates the turntable at 2 revolutions per minute and also has a target of 720 degrees. Cue #2 is linked to Cue #1 with a position trigger, so that when the turntable hits 360 degrees Cue #2 will start. When cue #1 runs, as soon as the turntable hits 360 degrees cue #2 takes over, speeds up the revolve, and completes the cue. Cue #1 never completes since it is superseded by cue #2, but that’s OK, Spikemark simply moves on to the next cue. Our second scenario: A wagon tracks upstage towards a wall and when it gets near the wall, the wall bi-parts, allowing the wagon to travel through. The problem with this scenario is that you don’t want the wagon to crash into the wall panels, and you don’t want the walls to open until absolutely necessary so that the movement looks slick. The solution here is three cues. Cue #1 has a target that stops the wagon before it gets to the wall (in case the wall does not open). Cue #2  opens the wall, and can be driven with a position link to of cue #1. Cue #3 moves the wagon through the wall and can be triggered with a position link that references the wall opening once the gap is wide enough for the wagon to get through. The trick is that cue #3 is triggered from cue #2 before cue #1 finishes, so it looks like the wagon has one fluid motion towards it’s upstage target.  If something goes wrong, and the walls don’t open, the trigger point for cue #3 is never reached and cue #1 stops the wagon short of a collision.  Pretty neat, right? By the way, multi-speed cueing is explained in the Spikemark manual on Page 103. That chapter has a lot of info about complex cue creation and I urge everyone to check it out.
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