Stage Automation Level 1

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Stage Technologies Automation User Generated Handbook

This is intended to be a quick reference guide created by the students of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in their work on the Stage Technologies Illusionist desk. It aims to provide basic instruction and advice on common processes.

Details of the installation during Easter 2008 here Stage Technologies Installation


There are three items of hardware that we use.

  • The Illusionist Desk [See section title 'Desk Hardware']
  • The MCC (Motor Control Cabinet)
  • 4x BigTow200 Motors

We also have:

  • 4x Spreader Beams
  • 16x Standard Spreader Beam Clamps
  • 8x Short Spreader Beam Clamps
  • 4x Swivel Diverts With Additional Spacers
  • 4x External ESTOPS

All of this hardware is designed and built by Stage Technologies.

Motor Control Cabinet [Front]


  • Rotate Power switch to turn both ON and OFF
  • Always make sure that an ESTOP is connected to the next available port. This is because the ESTOP system runs in Series. You must also complete the chain by placing the ESTOP jumper in the next available port once all the ESTOP have been fitted. The system will not run unless the ESTOPS are connected in this way since it is seen as a short circuit.
  • Only one Motor can be selected at a time when being used in Local Control.
  • Local control runs in 'Jog Mode' so positions and speed are bypassed.
  • Hold down either UP or DOWN to move in Local Control
  • Hold down the RED 'FAST' button as well to make the motor move quicker
  • Always remember to switch back to Remote when finished using Local Control
  • When running an axis in after moving the motor, always use Remote control from the desk because Errors [Such as a Cross Grove] can not be rectified in Local Control.
  • Always Re-reference after moving the motor.

Motor Control Cabinet [Rear Connections]

MCC Rear ConnectionsV2.png

Big Tow200 Motor Connections

Motor Connections.png

  • Always remove the Encoder and ESTOP/Power cables when moving the motors and coil them out of the way.
  • Always leave MSPEC on when moving motors to prevent possible crushing
  • Before removing any connectors always ensure that both the Illusionist Desk and the MCC are powered off to prevent Errors.

Moving The Big Tow200 Drop points

  • The winches always stay where they are, mounted overhead on the beams.
  • There is always one pulley below each winch, mounted ona spreader beam, to receive the wire rope coming from the drum and divert it to the drop pulley. These pulleys have a 180 degree sweep and can be mounted facing any direction effectively giving full 360 degree diversion.
  • The drop pulleys are mounted on spreader beans and can also be mounted in any orientation. Care must be taken to ensure the wire rope passes cleanly through the grid without rubbing.

Desk Hardware

The desk we use for the Automated Flying system within the Academy is the Illusionist Desk.

The controls for the desk

  • A flat panel display screen
  • 58 command keys on the right hand side of the console
  • A compact external keyboard
  • 3 E-Belt playbacks (far left red,then blue and yellow) each with go/stop and select keys
  • An emergency stop button
  • A touch pad with left and right mouse buttons
  • A single adjustable desk light
  • A writeable CD Rom drive
  • There is a mountable rack
  • A single dead man's handle situated below the playbacks

With the dead man's handle it is essential it is pressed and held down before a move and kept pressed down for the duration of the move.

Command Keys

Axis is a resource command. When pressing the axes key it allows the operator to add or remove a selected axes from a playback or to apply specific properties to the selected axes (accel,decel,speed). The axis key must be illuminated amber when wanting to reference.

Group is a resource command. This key allows you to load groups onto a playback, or specify particular properties (accel,decel,speed). The group key must be illuminated amber before referencing.

Action is a resource command.This key is used to load an action onto a selected playback. When loaded to a playback it overrides any existing instructions on the selected playback with action.

VCAction is a resource command. When the action key is pressed twice this allows the operator to load a previous Visual Creator Acton on the selected playback. Loading a recorded VCAction overrides any existing instructions on the selected playback with VCAction.

State is a resource command. This key loads a state from a current show. In performance mode this is the default command.

Macro is a resource command. Pressing this key allows the operator to load a specific macro onto a selected playback. The macro will be executed when the playbacks 'Go' button is pressed. However the software used within the academy does not feature macros.

The previous section remains highlighted and therefore does not always need to be selected. Most command keys also feature a record/delete function.

Control of Axis

Each axis can be moved easily without having to group or reference them first. To move a single axis-

  1. select the playback you want to use by pressing the button above it, the yellow tick should appear
  2. Select which axis you wish to move- [Axis] (1)
  3. Enter the height to which you want the axis to move- [pos] [5000]
  4. If necessary select the time in which you want the move to be completed in- [time] [10]
  5. Hold down the DMH
  6. Press the button below your selected playback where the message reads "GO"
  • The speed at which the axis is travelling can be increased or decreased by using the E belt
  • The DMH must be held down until the move is completed
  • In order to stop the move before it is completed press the button below the playback where the STOP message is shown
  • In order to move more than one axis, at point 2 enter- [Axis] (1) [->] (4)
  • To clear the playback and begin a new command- [enter] [enter]

Using Playbacks

Playback works in two different ways, Joystick and Speed. On our desk there no up and down keys so the E-belt is used to change both the percentage of the plotted speed and direction.

Selecting a Playback

Each playback has a select button which is situated above the E-Belt.Only one playback is active at one time, so when a command is entered it will be applied to all axes on the selected playback.

NB When the playback is selected the select button is amber and blue when inactive.

  • Icons for Select Button

Tick - This means the playback is selected

Cross - This means the playback is not in use

Start/Stop Button

The button below each playback is a multi-functional button for both start and stop. The button will read the action that is taking place, i.e if the button states 'stop' all axes will be stopped on that playback.

NB The dead mans handle must be pressed to start any movements.

  • Icons for Start/Stop Button

GO - Pressing this will start any movement

STOP - Pressing this will stop any movement

TIMER ICON - This indicates that the playback is busy and the operator must wait till the operation is complete

Changing speed

In speed mode the E-belt is used to alter the speed of the assigned axes. The playback will be set at 100% in speed mode and 0% in joystick mode unless otherwise specified within the state. The plotted speeds can be altered by using the E-belt to slow or speed up the move. The system can determine that no axes will exceed its maximum speed. So as long as the plotted speed of the axes on the playback is not more than 50% of the allowed maximum the speed can be increased to 200%.

Dead Man's Handle

The Dead Man's Handle (DMH) acts as a safety device, which prevents any accidental movements of axes when the operator is not present. As mentioned, before the Start/Stop buttons can initiate any movement the DMH has to be pressed. If the DMH is released all axes being controlled will be brought to a safe and controlled stop. It needs to be noted that the DMH should only be held down by hand, not weighted or taped down when moving any axes. It is also the operators responsibility to make sure the DMH is in correct working order.

Emergency Stops

Our system has a number of Emergency Stops (E-Stops). These are used to in the case of an emergency and will stop all motors in the system. An E-stop switch places the system in a safe off state, this means that whilst the motor stops moving all other monitoring systems are still running. This is to prevent the need for rebooting the system after an emergency stop has been initiated. normally after a short interval the E-stop brings all axes to a fast but controlled stop. After the interval, normally 1 second all power is cut and the brakes are applied to all the motors. When resetting the system it would normally take 10 seconds. To operate the E-Stop the switch is pressed down until it latches. The switch is twisted clockwise to release it.

Using Automation in a show

To use automation in a show you will follow a process of rigging and programming. Here is a simple step by step guide as to the processes required.

Physical Prep

1) Decide on piece of scenery to be moved by automation.

2) Decide on rigging points and position on stage.

3) Decide how many and which motors are to be used.

4) Measure and mark drop points on grid for automation cables.

5) Run in required axis, de-rig previous scenery/weight, and remove all hardware from line.

6) Run axis back out to 2/3m from grid or upper soft limit. Power down (very important).

7) Pull cable through grid, coil and secure out of way for moving motor.

8) Move spreader beams and drop pulleys

9) Take care that the wire rope runs cleanly through the grid truss structure

10) Thread wire rope the through drop pulley and grid, ensure cable will run smoothly through hole, minor adjustments may be required by a boot up or down stage. re clamp spreader beam.

11) Power up. Run cable back into stage.

12) Rig scenery onto lines.

13) Re-set Initial Limits on winch to ensure the wire rope terminations cannot be drawn up through the grid

On Desk

1) Create a new show.

2) Define Axis (i.e whether single or part of a group)

3) Set "zero position" for flown piece.

4) Define soft limits for your scenery (must be within Initial Hard Limits)

5) Record deads for scenery.

Recording States

1) First select your playback followed by the chosen axis then plot move. This could include multi-target moves, triggers, accel, decel, speed and time settings.

2) Record state.

3) Record a Pre-set state with every axis in starting positions.


A Trigger is used to start an action on another axis when one axis reaches a certain speed or position.

A Trigger can be set when the triggered axis's and the triggering axis are set on different play backs


There are many safety aspects to consider when operating and adjusting the illusionist stage automation system. When moving the motors-

The stage MUST be kept clear during the entire move

  • Make sure an isolation form has been filled in i.e. the beams in the grid are switched off
  • The orange grid lights should be switched on before any work on the grid is undertaken.
  • Always wear steel toe caps when moving the drop winches and spreader beams
  • Plan your path and ensure that all obstacles (including counterweight steels) are out of the way of diverted lines.
  • Appoint one person to communicate to the others when and how the spreader beams are being moved.
  • Always re affix the clamps to the spreader beams once positioned.
  • Wind in winch cable, bring it up through the grid and ensure it does not get caught under the spreader bar.
  • Secure all tools you may be using to move the pulleys
  • When removing/replacing the end clamps on the spreader bar, the safety wire must be attached/first detached/last, respectively.
  • The stage floor MUST be kept clear of all personnel when moving spreader beams and attaching or detaching clamps

When operating the the illusionist desk-

  • Ensure that everyone on stage is aware of any potential axis movements.
  • Where possible ensure that the desk operator has a clear view of the axis and item to be flown.
  • When possible and especially if the operator does not have a clear view of the axis, other individuals should be used to spot the axis.
  • E-stop buttons should be run to the position of these individuals.
  • Each E-Stop that is in use should be tested before the start of each performance and reset afterwards.
  • The operator should run through each state before shows to make sure all is in working order and there are no errors.
  • Ensure operator can prove competence in using the software
  • Operator should give an audible warning before moving any axis at any time other than during a performance.
  • Have in place a secondary means of communication with those on stage, in case the primary means fails.
  • Have a hard copy of the cue sheet for the show.