Steps to a Successful Load-In
Creating a new show from scratch is a developed skill: The more times you do it, the more efficient your process will become. Let's step through the process in a chronological order that we have found works in most scenarios to program automated scenery for your show. Keep in mind that your own process is something that will be developed over time and will most likely diverge somewhat from these basic operations. You might say that it is an art form!
If you have never set up an automation system before, it can quickly become overwhelming. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle, and while much of it can happen concurrently, having an order of operations may help catch mistakes and issues before they become a hassle. The rest of this guide will cover the various steps you will need to do as you set up your automated system in order:
- Machine/Mechanical Setup
- 1.This involves installing the machine(s) that you will be using to move scenery, such as securing a Pushstick v2 to the floor, installing the deck track, reaving the cable, and tensioning the system. This step is often done concurrently with Step 2.
- Control Setup
- 1.Controls are anything involving the electrical components of the system. This includes the Spikemark Computer (any Windows PC with Spikemark installed), the Stagehand(s) controller(s), an E-Stop system with our Showstopper devices, and any necessary networking equipment.
- Initial Testing/Configuration
- 1.Testing your machines and software is very crucial, yet one of the most skipped steps in the process. This will ensure that your software values are set correctly, and that each machine operates correctly both manually, and with cues. It’s much easier to find an issue with the basic set-up before actual scenery is moving around onstage.
- 1.Confirm Encoder Counts - The encoder direction must agree with the motion direction. When manually jogging in the FWD direction from the Stagehand controller, the encoder must produce positive counts. Similarly, when manually jogging in the REV direction, the encoder must produce negative counts.
- 3.Verify IP Address - Make sure you set up all the IP Addresses with no conflicting addresses and connect to your Stagehand in Spikemark. Good network practices should be used when configuring your automation and show networks.
- 1.Also be sure to check that you only have one instance of Spikemark running at any given time to avoid accidentally connecting to the wrong show file.
- 4.Reset Position - Tell Spikemark where “home” is. All moves in Spikemark are absolute - Move Stage Left Wagon from X position to Y position. Spikemark does not move in relative moves such as “Move Stage Left Wagon 24” to the right”. The home position is generally “0”, though it can be any valid value.
- 5.Set Position Scale - Incorrect Position Scales are often the culprit for inaccurate moves. Most of our preconfigured machines in the Machine Library have a default position scale. It is a great idea to start with the preconfigured position scale and verify that it is correct by using an old fashioned tape measure and comparing that measurement to the position in Spikemark. If you are using a machine not in the Machine Library, you will need to set your position scale using the position scale wizard.
- 6.Set Limits - The hard limits exist to stop the machine from traveling too far, potentially causing damage to the machine or the scenery attached to the machine. It is good practice to set the limits initially to protect the machine and then to reset the limits once the scenery is attached. We’ll touch more on this later, but be sure you understand the benefits and limitations of hard/physical limits vs soft (software) limits and what precautions to take when waiting to set one or both.
- 1.Hard Limits - Physical limits that trigger a stopping response in Spikemark. The hard limits should not be used to stop motion during normal cued operations. There are typically two sets, Initial Limits - set to constrain the travel during the show - and Ultimate Limits - set at the furthest possible extents of travel to prevent hitting anything else.
- 2.Soft Limits - Software(Soft) limits are set at the farthest extent of unit travel for cued motion. If you don’t have a specific location for these and pace and travel allows, we recommend setting the soft limits at least several inches inside your hard limits.
- 7.Determine Max Speed - We can use Spikemark to tell our machine can go any speed we want, but this doesn’t mean that the machine has the capacity to achieve that desired speed. At this point, it may save you some headaches if you perform a quick test to determine the maximum speed at which your machine is capable of moving. If you attempt to cue your machine faster than it is capable of moving, you may experience pesky Position Errors because your machine is physically unable to maintain the position that Spikemark is expecting from your machine.
- 8.Move To Position - Write a couple base cues to verify that the unit will move both slow and fast to a specific and known location. Then verify with another cue that it will move back to the starting location again.
- Scenic Integration - Attach your scenery to your machine.
- Final Testing/Configuration - Similar to the previous testing, but now you have scenery moving on stage. This testing/configuration is geared more towards fine tuning whereas the initial testing and configuration is to ensure your machines are running correctly before you attach your precious scenery.
- 1.Check Limits - Don’t forget to set both hard and soft limits. As you set your limits, use this time to get a sense of how fast you are comfortable moving the scenery. Sometimes a machine can move a piece of scenery faster than what is safe for the people located near the moving scenery.
- 2.Cue Test - Run your cues using the new limits. Check for smooth acceleration/deceleration, and accurate positioning.
- 1.PID Tuning - Tuning will smooth out your motor’s movements and allow you to achieve tighter position tolerance during cued movements.
- 2.Default Speed/Accel - Set your Default Speed and Acceleration to a good average speed. Tech tip: Be the hero! Give yourself headroom to increase your speed/acceleration.
- 3.Target Tolerance - This is how close to the target position Spikemark will get before deciding the cue is complete. Too large of a value will produce sloppy results, too small a value and the cue may never complete, though it will be at target. An ⅛” to ¼” is a decent start place. The tighter the tolerance, the more refined PID Tuning you will also require.
- 3.Max Position Error/Lag Time - The Max Position Error or MPE value is what Spikemark uses to determine how when a machine is “out of bounds” during cued motion. If the machine moves outside this range, Spikemark will Position Fault. The smaller the value the better.