CMU School of Drama

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Commanding the Scenery

Stage Directions: Scenic design is the physical representation of the emotional world of a show, where the vision becomes reality. But making several hundreds (if not thousands) of pounds of scenery move like a vision is not a simple task. We reached out to leaders in the field of automation and asked them how they make automation easier—and safer—for everyone.


Katherine Sharpless said...

I haven't read much about automation so I was lost reading some of the company's descriptions about their equipment, but seeing photos and reading their quotes really got the wheels turning in my head. Although I gravitate towards the more traditional scenic design wise, partly because it's all I have experience with and because of my interest in painting, I felt the need and desire to learn more about how moving sets work while reading this article. It seems that a lot of these companies are introducing machinery and software with strong user interfaces and then see what innovations designers and technicians can create from their products. So especially at Carnegie Mellon, with our access to world class engineers and computer scientists, we can really take advantage of this field and everything it could offer. However without a large budget, it's nearly impossible to get your hands on some equipment to try it out and think about integrating the machines in your design. Hopefully the companies mentioned in the article will continue to build safe, manageable equipment and will then start to focus on less expensive models.

noah hull said...

Of all these systems the two that seemed the most interesting to me were the systems and software from Creative Conners and Kinesys USA. The part of spikemark that I really liked was its ability to talk to other systems over a network, especially projectors. The idea of being able to have projectors and screens align themselves almost sounds too good to be true and it would certainly open up some interesting collaboration possibilities between scenic and media designers. For Kinesys USA it was their K2 system that sounded the most interesting and is the one I’d most like to work with of all the ones on this list. I got the opportunity to learn a little about how automation systems (or at least the one we have here) work last year when I was on crew for Plague in Venice. The thing I remember being the most difficult about that process was getting the giant moon/mirror to move in the pattern we wanted it to since it wanted to move straight up or down and then left or right and we wanted it to move on a diagonal. Having a software that would let us just drag it through the pattern we wanted and then calculate the numbers itself would have made things much faster. Its ability to simulate the movement and see if it would hit anything or otherwise interfere with other elements of the show would also have been a huge time saver.

John Walker Moosbrugger said...

It would be hard to dispute that automation is going to continue to be an essential part of high end live performance for a long time to come. It’s fascinating to read about all of the different approaches each company is taking to this new field, even if it did seem like the article just copied corporate press releases. In particular the Rose Brand winch caught my eye as something really cool. It has a relatively low installation time and while not able to fling hundreds of lbs across the stage it seems extraordinarily flexible. I can absolutely see a world where they are actually, despite their limitations, actually proving to be a better fit than the navigator automation we currently have. I am excited to see the directions the automation industry ends up going in over the next several years an hope I will get a chance to use all of these systems in ways they were never intended to be used.