DIY person lift

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juggler

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OK, so I'm new here. I work in an international secondary school (middle/high for you Americans). We have a reputation for producing grand musical productions and I suggested we fly Mary Poppins this year. I have suggested a zip line with a second cable controlling the descent speed. This could also pull her back up. The director has now also requested a single point lift.

I have been searching the net for advice and suggestions and came across this board. I have read all threads I can see on this topic, each one has a similar (actually, identical) theme - DON'T DO IT. So this thread title will light all your touch papers.

I'm reasonably intelligent, have an engineering degree and a healthy fear of accidents. I have done the maths and know the strains on the cables. I will buy the kit in the UK and not locally here (North Africa). I understand FoS, how dynamic forces multiply static forces multiple times, redundancy in safety systems and what fail safe means.

Can you convince me why I shouldn't attempt this? Why is it much more complicated than people realise? One good example is the story of the Cirque de Soleil fatality. It explains how a particular brand of cable was used that wasn't designed to twist. As it twisted the helical core and outer helix (which were twisted in opposite directions) shortened and lengthened respectively thus losing some of its strength. This I understand. This convinces me that more complex lifts and twists are beyond me.

The idea that fall arrest harnesses can stop blood flow as they are there to save your life IF you fall once, not suspend you long term is a good point, but I'm not clear on why an abseiling (rappelling) harness can't work - isn't that exactly what they're designed to do?

To say a single point lift requires the professionals I think is overkill. That a rock climber and mechanical engineer can't manage a simple scenario, I roll my eyes, mutter "H&S gone mad" and am thankful I'm not working in the West.

"Don't do it" in capital letters doesn't convince me. I need reasoned arguments.

Calling me an idiot doesn't convince me. I need reasoned arguments.

A link to a fatal accident story doesn't convince me. People die on the roads, but you still drive right?

Insurance requirements don't convince me. We won't have any, nor be able to get any where we are.

The fact that you have seen many dangerous setups doesn't convince me. I have seen dangerous examples of many things (driving, crossing railways, electrical work, vehicle maintenance) but I am confident and competent to do all those things and safely.

OK, there we have it. Let the comments flow. Tell what am I ignorant of? Let's keep it civil though!
 

dvsDave

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Okay, before we start, I'm going to step in and make 3 statements

1. We will NOT discuss how to do this. Controlbooth does not condone DIY flying. We will be merely pointing out why this is a terrible idea.
2. @juggler you have the lives of students in your hands. We applaud you for coming to ControlBooth and asking why this might be a bad idea
3. Some very smart people who have spent their lives rigging and flying people professionally are going to come to this thread and respond. Due to corporate NDA's and social media policies, many of them cannot say where they work. However, please understand that these guys have collectively hundreds of years of professional experience combined. I know where they work and I will vouch for their statements.

Please keep it civil.

dvsDave
 

DRU

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Can you convince me why I shouldn't attempt this?
Nope. It seems that you've made up your mind already. You appear convinced that you are competent enough and confident enough in your abilities to do this, and it seems that any argument anyone makes on this forum you will simply brush away.

I don't know about the laws in Egypt, but in the "West" (America for me), it is better, risk and money-wise, to hire a professional company to fly people rather than do it yourself. It's a liability issue, and if your rig hurts or kills someone here in America, you are set up for a bunch of lawsuits that will cost you and your company a lot of money if you aren't properly covered with insurance and proof of competency.

I hope nobody gets hurt, and I hope your school doesn't become another example of what not to do.
 

JChenault

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I have been involved in two flying of humans in our venue. One for Peter Pan, One for Mary Poppins. We hired in a company to do the rig for us. Some of the things that they know that I had not considered:
  • Proper harness. A harness designed to let Peter pan fly is very different from the harness that Mary Poppins needs. MP needs to fly in an exactly upright position. She hold her umbrella up and just rises into the air. Peter pan leaps into the air and 'swims' through it. A rock climbing or fall arrest harness will not work very well for either of these. ( a fall arrest harness tips you forward and does not have enough cinch points. ) Our flying company had dedicated harnesses that worked well for what was needed.
  • Proper attachment hardware. Mary lands. Then she has to be unhooked quickly and easily - ( or hooked up in the middle of a scene). You don't want to have a big bulky piece of hardware. The flying companies have developed their own attachment hardware that makes this connection quick, easy and safe.
  • Proper number of lines and controls. I really don't want to see MP spinning around. If you put weight on a cable, it will tend to turn and you will see Mary's rear end, not her face. To solve this you need a rig with more than one support line. Now your harness becomes more specialized as does the associated hardware that is out of sight of the audience.
  • How sure am I that the ceiling / grid will support the rig? and what do I have to do to make the rig solid so it will not sway as the actor flies, gets on and off, etc.
  • How much training is needed by your fly team. These folks have done this kind of training a lot. They have gotten very good at teaching your crew how to safely fly someone.
  • Training your actors so they feel good about what they are doing and look good doing it. How should they hold their body to stay straight. What to watch for if they start to spin, etc. Lots of knowledge and experience that they have there that you don't.
  • Tested proven hardware up in the ceiling. Not sure I can see how just a zip line would work to rig someone unless you want them to come in very shallowly. If you want to have mary float up, then move off you need specialized equipment.
  • What is it that the operators off stage are holding on to. Wire rope is pretty smalll.
So you are buying several things when you pay for a specialist.
  • Hardware in the form of tracks, cables, ropes, harnesses. Stuff that is specialized for the job at hand and just works better than anything else.
  • The skills and knowledge of the installer who will make sure it is set up safely, and will help you set up a safe environment. This is not novel to them. They are not figuring it out for the first time. They understand what they are doing and will be sure it is safe.
I hope this is civil enough for you. Doing this so it looks right is not at all trivial. Doing it so it looks right and is safe is even more difficult. I would never do any flying of actors without hiring someone who specializes in it. Done correctly it is beautiful and magical. Done badly it is unsafe, and will break the moment and make the audience laugh.
To the moderators - I don't believe I have said anything about how to do it here. Please read and make sure this post conforms to guidelines.
 
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gafftaper

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Hi @juggler, I'm glad you are here giving us a chance to convince you not to do this.

As proof of your knowledge, you said that they used the wrong cable at Cirque Ka, and this lead to the death of a performer. Did you know that a former Cirque employee who never worked on the particular show came up with this theory and spread it around to anyone who would listen (I met with him personally and heard the whole story). Did you know this employee was fired long before the accident happened and people at Cirque say he was a trouble maker. They say he was spreading this story about the cable as revenge for being fired. So did you read the actual OSHA report which showed that the type of cable wasn't what caused the disaster? At the end of OSHA's extensive investigation the report said the cause of the accident was that the performer came up too fast, hit the lower grid, the shock caused the cable to jump and wedge itself between a sheave and the frame that holds it in place, this wedging action cut the cable. It didn't matter what type of cable was used, the cable would have been cut due to the amount of shear force on the cable.

So, what does this prove? You KNEW that the cable was incorrect and how to avoid that problem because you read it on the internet. But it's not true. So how do you know any of the other information you have read on the internet is true? How do you KNOW... ABSOLUTELY KNOW... without ANY guessing... that anything you have read on the internet about how to fly someone is correct? It's that important, because if your information is wrong a child could be badly injured or die. How do you KNOW anything you read here is true? When I say I have over 35 years of experience in theater how do you know it's true or false? How do you know I'm not a 14 year old girl who has never had a paying job in theater? The truth is you can't know anything for sure on the internet. Are you willing to gamble the life of a child on the advice you find on the internet?

I've contacted @What Rigger? (He has a high profile job doing flying effects. His employer doesn't allow him to talk about where, but trust me, there's a good chance you have seen what he does in person or on TV) and @egilson1 (a professional rigger who is regularly asked to speak at conventions on rigging safety) asking them to comment on this thread. Both of them are true experts who I'm sure will comment soon. They will NOT tell anyone on the internet how to fly someone. The truth is real experts who really know what they are doing and take safety seriously will NEVER post how it's done on the internet. The only people posting how it's done are people who either made it up themselves or once worked with someone who did know what they were doing. I worked on a production of Peter Pan where we hired a company to fly people. I pulled ropes and snapped kids in and out of harnesses. But this does not qualify me to fly people myself or to teach you how on the internet.

You use the analogy of driving a car, saying it's dangerous but we still do it every day. This is flawed argument. Cars have professionally designed safety systems like seat belts, air bags, crumple zones, safety glass, etc. You are saying you don't need the safety engineers to design safety systems for you. You want to design your own safety systems and install homemade airbags, seat belts, etc... Yeah they might work, but how do you KNOW that they work?

I have a similar job to you. I run a performing arts center at a high school and handle all the technical needs of the school. My first job is to keep the kids safe and minimize risks to the performers and audience. At the end of the night, the most important thing is that EVERYONE walks out the door safe. EVERY decision I make is based off of that. I do a safety retraining every year with my experienced tech students. I tell them if you see something you think is dangerous, you are authorized to say stop the show and I WILL stop it without question. I would rather be embarrassed about stopping a show for no reason than have someone be injured. When it comes to human flying effects, there is a large amount of danger involved, you must minimize every risk factor in order to call it "safe" . I would never allow a home designed flying effect to happen in my theater because there is too much uncertainty. Without having an expert present and without using equipment that is specifically designed for flying effects (not rock climbing or safety harnesses), how can I KNOW that the trick will be safe. I am not willing to gamble the safety of the children I work with every day on something I read on the internet. I don't care if it's legal or not, or about the insurance issues... it's simply a question of do I really KNOW that the kids I am responsible for will be safe?

Trying to be as nice as possible: From what I read, it sounds like your priorities are first about making something that looks cool and your own personal ego of I am smart and I can figure out how to do this and the safety of the children is a distant second. I can't say how that makes me feel and still be polite. I hope you will listen and not do these effects because you understand that the safety of the children is something you can never gamble with.
 
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What Rigger?

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Okay, so, it's busy for me at work (where I'm at right now), but I can tell @juggler that his arrogance is the first problem of many in this potential train wreck.

Juggler, from your original post, you don't seem to actually be here looking for reason, engineering, safety or anything else. You're daring people to knock you down from your high ground. This is trolling, and I'm not impressed. You know just enough to be exceptionally dangerous.

The fact that you say there is no, and won't be any, insurance tells me you and your organization aren't willing to walk the walk when it comes to action. You are willing to put the risk- and the medical bills- entirely on the performers and say "Tough life for you if I screw up. Oh well." This is nothing that a conscionable person would ever say or do to someone who is trusting you, the operator, with their life.

"Can you convince me why I shouldn't attempt this? Why is it much more complicated than people realise?"- right here you are completely contradicting yourself when you boast of how smart you are with your "engineering degree" (which you don't specify what KIND of engineering) and respect for risk. If you're as knowledgable as you claim- and we can see that you aren't from your statements- you wouldn't be asking this question.

The answers as to why you shouldn't do this have been laid out for you here by others, but I also agree that you're going to do whatever you're going to do. You might get lucky and pull it off injury free and your lack of aesthetics won't bother you. Which is another sign of your lack of understanding and hard knowledge. But then again, you might bump that Chinese scaffold failure out of the news cycle as well. I hope you don't f__k this up, and I really hope you don't kill or permanently disable someone's kid/sister/spouse, etc... because that's the road you've already committed to.
 

egilson1

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You say you've done the math. How about you show the work. Are you confident you used the correct equations? Where did you come up with your design factors for the hardware you selected? Are those design factors on the ultimate breaking strength or on the yield point? What happens when there IS a failure. What's the rescue plan? What have you prepaired before hand to say to the family if someone DIES.

Put aside intelligence and think about morality. Is it the right thing to ask someone else to take a risk without fully understanding the variables involved? And by searching on the net and asking here you are clearly articulating that you do not know all the variables.
 

EdSavoie

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Juggler, Many of the posts in this thread are very harsh. Hopefully you understand that it isn't because the lot around here are being pricks or anything along those lines, but rather because what you're asking is incredibly dangerous as has been clearly explained by numerous posters.

For a run of H2$ last year, I briefly formulated the thought about flying a window washing unit only a foot or two off the ground. The flicker of an idea in my head told me how I could do it, and do it with reasonable safety. While I joked about it with the lead actor (He was also a technician and good friend) I certainly wasn't going to execute it. There is simply too much that can go wrong.

However unlikely, you are putting someone's life in very grave risk. Not only practically, but morally speaking it can't be justified over the safety of the actor. I don't even allow myself or other students to go up to our catwalk because the risk of them falling even with a safety grid in place isn't worth dead hanging microphones, or whatever it may be.

It's the same principle as DMX pyrotechnic machines, however unlikely it may be to trigger falsely, it isn't worth the risk of setting the actor (or anyone else) on fire because it faults at the moment someone is where they shouldn't be.
 

venuetech

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Experience is the main ingredient you are missing.
we get so cranky about the subject because we do not like reading about fatal accidents that could have been easily prevented.
You do not board an aircraft with a pilot who has never flown at the controls.
 

What Rigger?

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You say you've done the math. How about you show the work. Are you confident you used the correct equations? Where did you come up with your design factors for the hardware you selected? Are those design factors on the ultimate breaking strength or on the yield point? What happens when there IS a failure. What's the rescue plan? What have you prepaired before hand to say to the family if someone DIES.

Put aside intelligence and think about morality. Is it the right thing to ask someone else to take a risk without fully understanding the variables involved? And by searching on the net and asking here you are clearly articulating that you do not know all the variables.
I'll second what egilson1 has said here. Juggler, you have made your claims that you can do this, so the burden of proof is on you to prove it using science. What can you supply to us to show that you aren't wrong?
 
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Amiers

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Experience is the main ingredient you are missing.
we get so cranky about the subject because we do not like reading about fatal accidents that could have been easily prevented.
You do not board an aircraft with a pilot who has never flown at the controls.
We prolly would just not ask anyone else to do it. :dance:

To the OP:
Flying people is a trade like anything else and not something anyone can just do properly and safely.

If you have any doubt about anything then you need to hire a professional.

The reason you won't find any write up or "how to" on flying is because it is dangerous.

The no insurance part sucks and I feel for anyone that works at a place that doesn't give basic workers comp.
Maybe this year before you try to fly people convince the powers that be to get some sort of liability insurance.
 
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venuetech

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http://www.zfxflying.com/

call them up I think you will find the right package and an affordable deal
much cheaper than a lawsuit. I bet they would even direct you to a nearby competitor if you asked nice
 

Thetechmanmac

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The very title of this thread scares me. 'DIY' and any form of 'person lift' or 'flying actor' should not be used in the same sentence.

As a student, I expect that the teachers and faculty of my school have the safety of the students as their number one priority. There are no exceptions. I would be very angry if one of my teachers was not thinking of my safety first and foremost when creating effects-- or doing anything that involves my well being, for that matter. I don't mean to be rude, but your priorities seem out of order. I have been a member of ControlBooth long enough to have gathered that some of the people that have previously responded in this thread are licensed and trained professionals/specialists. The risks of what you are trying to do greatly outweigh the reward. Consult a professional, and reap the benefits of a successful and safely done show. There is a reason flying companies exist.

You say you have an engineering degree. This is very vague. For all we know you could have a software engineering degree which in no way pertains to theatrical rigging. You say you have a healthy fear of accidents, but it is the very nature of thought processes like yours that cause accidents.

I work for a local production company. There is a venue in my area that we are frequently contracted to do shows at (I believe I have posted about it here before). I know the TD and house LD very well and frequently work with them outside of the venue. Say as we are tying into a company switch, after engaging the switch, we still get no power. Sure, I have knowledge of electricity, understand the physics of electricity but in no way am I qualified to open or tamper with a company switch or other high current/voltage device. I put the life of myself and others in jeopardy. Your situation is no different in the sense that if your are not a licensed professional, you are not qualified to to do the specified task/stunt/effect.

As for flying actors, we are not saying "don't do it" but "consult a professional". If hiring a professional to obtain said effect is not possible, or out of budget, then I highly advise you put the safety of your students in mind and to not execute this effect yourself.
 

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It really does come down to the tackle the flying companies have. Most harness are 5 point and have specific points for the act needed. Cable is special made to be used on a swivel. Sheaves are special made to be used for that cable. What the companies actually do to create the effect is amazingly simple. However, all the stuff they need to do it takes years to design and perfect.... and they all build it in house. You are more than welcome to call ZFX and see if they will sell to you... They might, they might not. They might also give you a price to do the whole gig that is about the same as it would cost you to rig it properly.... especially with the state of your currency.
 

juggler

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Thanks for all the replies. There are some excellent responses and I will be researching further and contacting the suggested companies. To those that have provided me with reasoned answers I thank and respect you.

Some responses are just bizarre though…
What rigger? Says: Juggler, from your original post, you don't seem to actually be here looking for reason, engineering, safety or anything else. You're daring people to knock you down from your high ground. This is trolling, and I'm not impressed.

Actually, engineering reason was exactly what I was looking for, I explicitly said so (and thank you to those who did) yet you neglect or refuse to provide any. I want to respect your experience and expertise, but find it hard to do so when you think a genuine request to be educated and enlightened is trolling! Also, I provided some background on myself which I understand can be seen as arrogance, but without it you have no idea who I am or my qualifications. In fact, for others it’s not enough background info and have asked for more (mechanical engineering BTW, not software engineering!).

Look, here’s the problem. I have heard phrases such as “lives are at risk”, “it’s just not worth the risk”, “leave it to an expert” and so on so much that they are watered down and have lost their impact, people say it just to cover their backs and not when it’s really needed - believe it or not, some people know where the limits of expertise lie. No, I don’t need a “professional” to wire a plug for me. Or a wall socket for that matter. What about a ring main? Can I wire a whole house? Well, mostly, yes (and I did, getting in further expertise well before I reached the limit of my capability). Am I qualified? No. Am I competent? Yes (NB these are legal definitions in UK housebuilding, you don’t have to be qualified, just competent). I paid an architect £000s to design my house but he got some fundamental calcs wrong. I noticed and I sorted it out for him. Is that arrogance? No, just competence.

In answer to the question “am I prepared to put lives at risk?” I would respond, yes, actually I am”. Though I would be quick to qualify that. Everyday we risk our lives and I put the lives of students at risk. Each risk is assessed and I conclude if the risk is worth it. Can kids kill themselves using a drill press in my classroom? Yes. Is it likely enough to warrant them not using it? No. Can the circular saw kill? Yes. Is it likely enough to warrant them not using it? Yes. Ergo, they do not use it.

So will I go ahead anyway? No.

I will consider all the points raised (safety, artistic, procedural, liability and others), discuss the project with other stakeholders, investigate further, consider other options and make an informed decision.

PS - as requested the tension calculations for a static load suspended by a cable. And no, not the limit of the maths I'll be doing.
 

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gafftaper

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I'm going to go ahead and close this thread as people have been civil so far, but I fear further discussion will only lead to a flame war.

@juggler as you move on in your career, I encourage you to focus on safety as your #1 priority above all else. I encourage you to buy and read the 3 volume collection of books on Theater Safety by Dr. Davidson. It's currently on sale for $49. I also encourage you to get the Event Safety Alliance's "Event safety guide". Much of it won't apply to you, but there are a few chapters that are really good and encourage you to really think about the safety of your audience and performers. These books are not exactly fun reading, but they are a real eye opener of the many dangerous things that can happen in a theater. There are so many dangers that we become numb to and take for granted, when we need to be an active first line of defense against them.

I did some dumb and dangerous things with other people's children when I was first starting out. Things that at the time I thought were incredibly clever, but when I look back I realize that I didn't do a good job, I just got very lucky. I am happy to hear you are going to listen the advice given. I don't know if you have children or not, but these days my guiding principal for theater safety is this: "Would I allow my son to: be the one doing the stunt, be the one standing on the set piece, be the one flying through the air, etc?" If I have the tiniest bit of reservation about it, if my answer starts with "as long as...", if there is a "but" in my answer, if my answer is not 100% "yes", I don't do the stunt, I redesign the set piece, I don't allow the flying, or I call a professional. I encourage everyone here to pick the person they love most in the world, the person they would willingly risk their own life to protect, and always imagine that they are the one being placed in danger by your rigging, set design, or electrical work. Then ask yourself if it's really safe.
 
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