Affordable automation for very lightweight scenery?

Joshualangman

Active Member
Joined
May 18, 2011
Location
New York
Hi all!

Here’s a fun question. Please note: this is for preliminary brainstorming purposes only. It’s for a show that hasn’t even entered preproduction, and I’m just exploring some first ideas. I will not attempt to implement any automation myself, as I am not a scenic or automation designer.

Suppose I want to have a variety of differently sized fabric panels hanging around the playing space, to be used as projection surfaces. These panels would be very light, and would be suspended at various heights. I want each panel to be able to individually fly in and out, as well as to various predetermined heights, and I want these vertical moves to be programmable. I would be mapping video to the panels, so the positions would need to be precise and consistent.

This would involve some kind of automation system. Here are the parameters. Each panel would need to be on its own independent “channel” (set of winches). Suppose that there are eight or so panels. The cueing software would need to be able to be triggered from QLab, for coordination with video. Oh, and the show will tour.

I was looking at Creative Conners, and their products seem fantastic, but the price for one of these vertical hoists (http://creativeconners.com/products/spotline-kits) would swallow our entire budget. But I think that given the extremely light weight of these panels, such a hoist would be overkill — am I right? Are there similar hoists that could do what we would need and be programmed via the Creative Conners software or other similar software, that are designed for much lighter loads and might be more affordable? Is there any way to do this safely for under $10,000? Under $5,000?

I will bring a set designer and automation expert onboard if we decide to pursue this idea; just trying to get a feel for whether it might be doable at all.

Thank you!
 

DRU

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Feb 4, 2011
Location
Dayton/Cincinnati

Joshualangman

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May 18, 2011
Location
New York
Hm, interesting. The problem I foresee with the roll drops is that I may want to do thigs like fly the panels all the way in so that they're almost touching the deck. In this case, maybe the panel is only 4' high, and I would need to be able to see over the top of it. I don't think there's a way to make roll drops that can have empty space above the top edge, correct?

(Dimensions are completely up in the air and would vary panel to panel, but for planning purposes, say each panel might be 4 x 6 ft.)
 

Joshualangman

Active Member
Joined
May 18, 2011
Location
New York
For reference, here is a very rough sketch of kind of what this might look like. You can see that there will need to be empty space above each panel, at least in some positions.
 

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soundman

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Sep 4, 2003
Location
Nashville TN
I was looking at Creative Conners, and their products seem fantastic, but the price for one of these vertical hoists (http://creativeconners.com/products/spotline-kits) would swallow our entire budget. But I think that given the extremely light weight of these panels, such a hoist would be overkill — am I right? Are there similar hoists that could do what we would need and be programmed via the Creative Conners software or other similar software, that are designed for much lighter loads and might be more affordable? Is there any way to do this safely for under $10,000? Under $5,000?

I will bring a set designer and automation expert onboard if we decide to pursue this idea; just trying to get a feel for whether it might be doable at all.

Thank you!
Under 10K a panel or for the whole project? Maybe you could get it down to around 2K a unit if you had free labor and shop access but that wouldn't include power and control.
 

Joshualangman

Active Member
Joined
May 18, 2011
Location
New York
Thanks, soundman, I was asking for the whole project. Of course, the exact number of panels, their dimensions and materials, and the heights involved, and all undecided. So all very hypothetical. But I have no experience in automation and want to get a rough sense of what something like this might cost.
 

Traitor800

Active Member
Joined
Dec 31, 2006
Location
Lititz, PA
Hm, interesting. The problem I foresee with the roll drops is that I may want to do thigs like fly the panels all the way in so that they're almost touching the deck. In this case, maybe the panel is only 4' high, and I would need to be able to see over the top of it. I don't think there's a way to make roll drops that can have empty space above the top edge, correct?

(Dimensions are completely up in the air and would vary panel to panel, but for planning purposes, say each panel might be 4 x 6 ft.)
A roll drop is going to be the way to go for this. To get the floating look you can attach the screen to the drum with webbing stingers. We've done this a few times for the exact same look.

Also in order to really match the video and the automation together your going to need either a lot of time or a media server with the appropriate plugin running. Matching the AVD curve of an automated axis is extremely time consuming if you are just using a linked go. You really need to pull in at a minimum Velocity and Position but it would be best to also factor in Accel and Target position. All this is definitely doable but you may need to take a look at the number of axes or your budget.
 

PeterV

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Joined
Aug 19, 2015
Location
Los Angeles, Ca
Full Disclosure: I work for Creative Conners and think we offer some awesome automation gear. We may be able to help with something other than our Spotline. Do you have an idea of the overall travel distance and speed you would like from these panels? I know you say "light weight" but can you give me a guesstimate of the load we are talking about. I can think of a couple of options depending on your specifics and time frame. Feel free to reply here or send me a private message. You can also give me a call @ 401-289-2942 and we can discuss in greater detail.

Peter Veal
Creative Conners
 

JChenault

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Joined
Jan 5, 2009
Location
seattle, wa USA
Would it be possible for you guys to post a summary of your discussions. Sounds interesting
 

RonHebbard

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Premium Member
Joined
Jun 12, 2004
Location
Waterdown, ON, CA
Hi all!

Here’s a fun question. Please note: this is for preliminary brainstorming purposes only. It’s for a show that hasn’t even entered preproduction, and I’m just exploring some first ideas. I will not attempt to implement any automation myself, as I am not a scenic or automation designer.

Suppose I want to have a variety of differently sized fabric panels hanging around the playing space, to be used as projection surfaces. These panels would be very light, and would be suspended at various heights. I want each panel to be able to individually fly in and out, as well as to various predetermined heights, and I want these vertical moves to be programmable. I would be mapping video to the panels, so the positions would need to be precise and consistent.

This would involve some kind of automation system. Here are the parameters. Each panel would need to be on its own independent “channel” (set of winches). Suppose that there are eight or so panels. The cueing software would need to be able to be triggered from QLab, for coordination with video. Oh, and the show will tour.

I was looking at Creative Conners, and their products seem fantastic, but the price for one of these vertical hoists (http://creativeconners.com/products/spotline-kits) would swallow our entire budget. But I think that given the extremely light weight of these panels, such a hoist would be overkill — am I right? Are there similar hoists that could do what we would need and be programmed via the Creative Conners software or other similar software, that are designed for much lighter loads and might be more affordable? Is there any way to do this safely for under $10,000? Under $5,000?

I will bring a set designer and automation expert onboard if we decide to pursue this idea; just trying to get a feel for whether it might be doable at all.

Thank you!
Joshua; A few thoughts for you in no particular order:
The software, sensors and control hardware will be quite similar wether you're hoisting a couple of pounds or a couple of thousand. Certain costs will be somewhat similar / close to fixed.
In some ways, heavier loads are a little easier to deal with in that they'll maintain tension on cables, minimize slack and span horizontal runs without sagging. All of these (seemingly small) details aid with reducing backlash and improving accuracy. Gravity can be your friend when hoisting, less so when traveling horizontally. Your very light projection surfaces MAY require frames to maintain taughtness. When rolling a projection surface, you'll likely need a bottom pipe to aid with taughtness and pulling out wrinkles. Lightweight materials, gauzes, scrims and screens are subject to the whims of air currents from ventilation systems, passing actors and nearby dancers. If they're being flown into a densely packed grid, any amount of sway MAY cause them to come up under something comparatively heavy. If your supporting cables are only designed to accommodate the extremely light weights, you're going to have unanticipated grief when they drift and attempt to lift a 2,000 pound LX pipe in passing. No matter how light your load is, you don't want it falling out of your 'sky' mid performance. Having one of two lines fail leaving your load whacking peoples' heads from the side isn't anything you want to experience either. Properly engineered hoists include programable load sensing in their designs and capabilities.
"Yo yo" drums, in addition to winding straight up without the inherent side travel of a horizontal, grooved, drum, have another feature / problem in that they'll wind faster as the cable builds up (effectively increasing their diameter) and descend slower as they unwind. This is easily accounted for in a servo controlled, positioning, drive but not something most people think about when they figure they can build their own automation gear with supplies from Home Depot. All problems can be dealt with but safe solutions cost money AND THEN you want to synch speeds, and positional accuracy, with your projections. I don't want to come off as too much of a nay sayer but do realize what you're trying to accomplish. Economical options are out there but they'll likely exceed your budget. You may want your "automation expert on board" BEFORE you go much further in your planning. I believe most of the foregoing posts are politely trying to brace you for this. Perhaps I'm just being a little more blunt about it.
Toodleoo!
Ron Hebbard.
 

kicknargel

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Joined
Aug 10, 2009
Location
Denver, CO
Daydreaming, because I don't know even quite enough about projection mapping to be dangerous: Instead of trying to precisely control the movement of the screens to sync with projection, could the projections, by way of a camera, sense and adjust the mapping to the positions of the screens, in a live manner?
 

sk8rsdad

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Ottawa
Probably. One approach would be to set up a DLP projector to cover the entire area the panels will be in then dynamically mask out the areas where the screen isn't. The math gets a little wonky since the screen moves in a a conic section through the beam, and you'd have to find a program that accepts dynamic input, but it's possible.

I'm not sure how to reliably get feedback about where the screen is, especially when unlit. Perhaps some battery powered IR LEDs mounted on the panels and a Wiimote sensor. What do you know... you can find anything on the internet: http://wiimoteproject.com
 

TheaterEd

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How wide and how long will these panels be?

My first thought on reading your description is to make individual automated roll drops similar to these (http://www.thernstage.com/products/roll-drops/). You could make them yourself or have a third party build them.
Anyone have any clue what the price range for something like this is? Just wondering if its something I can save up for or just a 'pipe' dream (pun fully intended).
Our Proscenium is around 45' wide by 16' tall. Are we talking $20k, $10k, $5k, or $2k? Just looking for a very rough ball park.
 

StradivariusBone

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Space Coast, FL
This got me thinking, and this is purely hypothetical- what if you used a winch that pulled on a length of wire rope that was anchored to the grid on one end, but looped down through a pair of blocks attached to the scenery? Problems I can see would be leveling the scenery, a lighter piece would definitely wobble as it moved up and down, but control of the height could be managed by the amount of cable the winch pays out. I don't have any projects that need something like this, but was just wondering if this would be viable or catastrophic.

hypothetical.png
 

Joshualangman

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May 18, 2011
Location
New York
Just wanted to note that Peter from Creative Conners was very helpful, and I'll post some updates when I have a more solid idea of where I'm headed with this. Thanks to everyone who's chimes in.
 

RickR

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Joined
Sep 18, 2009
Location
Spokane, WA the great "Inland Northwest"
The simple rigging option is to make each position/scene it's own drop on it's own batten, assuming you have a fly set. You would have some focusing issues if you need more than a few pipes worth or you have large spacing. You're going to have those regardless, but this method might make it worse. So it's more a transfer of problems from rigging to projection.
 

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