Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Adobe has a PDF that describes their TRACE command that will help you convert a rastor image into vector art (in CS2). It also explains the difference between the two well (often a difficult concept for unfamilar people to grasp).

Additional information about how to use the trace command:

Adobe Design Center
Watch a tutorial video
Tutorial 9 site

What is nice about CS2 is that it really helps to relate graphic work to CAD. We can lay something out that has a printed graphic and send that to be printed, and CNC the substrate all from the same file and be assured that they will line up nicely (always depending on type of material the graphic is printed on off course).

Similar to the other converters, if you aren't using CS2 (or the new additions) already in your work, it may not be cost effective.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

"Walking Mad"

Take a look at this video of Walking Mad, produced by Hubbard Street Dance. We built the set piece - and it was an interesting project. The piece had been done previously, but we needed to recreate all of the tricks based on images, videos and very basic drawings of the structure. A few tricks that the sets uses is alignment pins to help guide the walls together w/ receiving holes, DeStaco clamps to hold the walls together, and a clever cantilevered stacks of weight to counterbalance the walls.

Friday, October 30, 2009


I found a fun (albeit off topic slightly) website today while looking for a local museum. It is the A Sightseers Guide to Engineering. There are a variety of locations listed, and each has a "fun fact" relevant to the attraction. Check it out, perhaps you will find an interesting engineering sight near you.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rastor to Vector Image Software

Arbor Image has two products that are interesting for drafting; Draftsman Cutting Shop and Draftsman 2002. These programs take rastor images (like a photograph or scanned in drawing) and covert it to vector art. Vector art can be used for cnc cutting. With the listed prices, you would need to see how much you would use it before it would be cost effective, but it sure would beat importing and image and "tracing" over it, which I have often done in the past for scenic units such as ground rows, proscenium edges and other decorative cut pieces (both for hand cutting and cnc work).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Austin Hardware

If you're looking for an illusive piece of hardware check out Austin Hardware Supply. They have a bit of everything, including extensive toggle clamp and hinge options.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hardware Info

Interstate Screw Corp has an interesting page about myths and misconceptions regarding fasteners. They also have a variety of technical information that is available, such as the recommended tek screws for different material thicknesses.

Friday, June 19, 2009

History of Plastics

The PPC website has some interesting information (quoted below) about the history of plastics. They have a variety of materials on their website along with qualities attributed to each type. The website seems a little out of date, but the information seems valid for an introduction to the many types of plastics.

Plastic materials trace their origin in this country back to 1868, when a young printer named John Wesley Hyatt came up with Celluloid, the first American plastic. He mixed pyroxylin, made from cotton (one of nature's polymerics), and nitric acid, with camphor to create an entirely different and new product. Celluloid quickly moved into many markets, including the first photographic film used by George Eastman to produce the first motion picture film in 1882. The material is still in use today under its chemical name, cellulose nitrate.

In 1909, Dr. Lee Hendrik Baekeland introduced phenoformaldehyde plastics (or "phenolics", as they are more popularly known), the first plastic to achieve worldwide acceptance. More importantly, Baekeland also evolved techniques for controlling and modifying the phenolformaldehyde reaction so that products could be formed under heat and pressure from the material. This characteristic of liquefying the material so that it can be formed into various shapes under heat and pressure is still common to most plastics.

The third major thrust in the development of plastics took place in the 1920s with the introduction of cellulose acetate (which is similar in structure to cellulose nitrate, but safer to process and use), ureaformaldehyde (which can be processed like the phenolics, but can also be molded into light colored articles that are more attractive than the blacks and browns in which phenolics are available), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC, or vinyl, as it is commonly called). Nylon was also developed in the late 1920s through the classic research of W.T. Carothers.

Each decade saw the introduction of new and more versatile plastics. In the 1930's, there were acrylic resins for signs and glazing and the commercialization of polystyrene, which became the third largest-selling plastic, literally revolutionizing segments of the house wares, toys, and packaging industries. Melamine resins were also introduced; these later became a critical element (in the form of a binder) in the development of decorative laminate tops, vertical surfacing, and the like.

Polyethylene -- today's most widely used plastic -- evolved out of the need for a superior insulating material that could be used for such applications as radar cable during World War II. The thermoset polyester resins that only a decade or so later were to radically change the boat-building business in the United States were also a wartime development introduced for military use. And acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene plastics, or ABS, (the plastic most often used today in appliance housings, refrigerator linens, safety helmets, pipe, telephone headsets, and luggage) owes its origins to research work emanating from the crash wartime program aimed at producing large quantities of synthetic rubber.

The decade of the 1950s saw the introduction of polypropylene and the development of acetal and polycarbonate, two plastics that, along with nylon, came to form the nucleus of a sub-group in the plastics family known as the "engineering thermoplastics." Their outstanding impact strength and thermal and dimensional stability enabled them to compete directly and favorably with metal in many applications.

The 1960s and 1970s also saw their share of new plastic introductions, most notably thermoplastic polyesters with the kind of outstanding resistance to gas permeation that made them applicable for use in packaging. During this period, another sub-group of the plastics family also started to emerge, the so-called "high temperature plastics," which includes the polyimides, polyamide-imides, aromatic polyesters, polyphenylene sulfide, polyether sulfone, and the like. These materials were designed to meet the demanding thermal needs of aerospace and aircraft applications. Today, however, they have moved into the commercial areas that require their ability to operate at continuous temperatures of 400 degrees F, or more.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hardware Source

Wild West Hardware offers "Unusual Hand-Forged & Hard-to-Find Rustic Hardware". You can find a variety of economical barn hinges, decorative nails (good for rivets/upholstery, and specific design needs)dummy hinges, and a variety of other pieces. It is definitely worth a look.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Building a Sandwich

Over on the blog at Taylor Studios there is a post comparing building a sandwich to the design process in a commercial environment. Its a concise and fun way to look at the process.
However, if you are hiring someone to do design, you should confirm what your expectations are for the design process. For instance where I work, the first phase is a creative design phase. This would end with parameters on which the schematic design would work with. The schematic design would take these parameters and do several options (we do usually do 3). The creative development is important so that the schematic design can start to narrow some options. Since we do WAG/Rom Budgets and rough sketches during this period, having a decent idea of direction is necessary.

The end of the final design phase is an important point - at this point the design should be able to be very specific. If you are doing the design and build, perhaps this isn't as much of an issue - except that you will undoubtedly have scope creep, and lose money. If you are sending the final design out to be bid, the design package has to be done in such a way that your bids will come back and provide you with an apples to apples comparison.

A colleague, Chris Wilson, a Project Manager for a local museum stalks about the RFPs & the Scope of work:
Scope of Work (or Scope of Service) – assume nothing.

This is where RFP’s live and die. 99 percent of your effort should be spent on this section. This is the place for any and all information that might be relevant to the fabricator. Assume nothing. Leave nothing to chance.

Stick with me for a minute:

Imagine that you want a cookie. You call 6 bakeries and tell them that you would like a price for a cookie. You get six prices that are wildly divergent. You realize that you should have been more specific. You stipulate chocolate chip. Still the prices are all over the map. In separate conversations you stipulate size, type of flour, etc… Eventually, you have told the (now annoyed) bakeries (in a very tortured, drawn out process which, by the way, is not documented anywhere) the following information:

I would like one (1) chocolate chip cookie between 5 and 5.5 inches in diameter, containing no less than one heaping tablespoon of semi-sweet chocolate morsels. The cookie shall have a slightly gooey texture, but shall have sufficient tensile strength to be self supporting if lifted from one end only. No trans fats shall be used as part of the ingredients of this cookie, and it shall not be processed on any machinery that comes in contact with peanuts, or any other kind of nut. The cookie shall be delivered within the next 24 hours, in packaging that does not require the use of any tools to open.

Now, of course you would never buy a cookie in this way, because it is a far more intuitive process than building an exhibit. And because there is a cultural understanding of what is in a typical cookie.

I simply use this as an example of how you will never get what you want unless you ask for it.

This is why the Scope of Work, and especially the TECHNICAL exhibit descriptions are so important in an RFP. Depending on the characteristics of the exhibit you are building, the descriptions can be as important as the drawings.

Bringing that back to the sandwhich, unless the size and number of bacon/tomato slices are noted as well as the type of bread and such are documented, you may still find differences. One shop might use a high sodium bacon, because it is more economical. Another might use a high quuaility one, but less of it. A third shop might want to use turkey bacon because they have some left from a different recipe. While a shop might be able to save you money (value engineer) or increase the value (value added) you want this information to be clear so that there are no surprises. "Oh you wanted extra mayo - thats extra $$...."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hidden Doors

I came across this site, and thought it would be an interesting technique for theatre stagecraft. The article has a good amount of information and feedback about how to construct a pivoting bookcase. The pivot hinges are one of the reasons for the success of this design, but it is interesting to see the way they cut the molding and rear of the shelving unit to make it open propoerly.

Once your done, check out the rest of the articles.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Barn Wood

Every now and then a show comes along and they want the look of old barn wood. I have (and have heard stories of others) that managed to actually get lumber from an old barn, which only manages to work out in very ideal situations. It also works better in certain parts of the country. The same is true for rough sawn wood - it isn't available everywhere. And of course there are a variety of ways to distress wood - but it never quite looks just right.

So the next time you find yourself in this situation check out Appalachian Woods. They offer flooring and a variety of reclaimed beams.

Also check out:
Allegeny Woodworks

Monday, June 1, 2009

SA Baxter Hardware

For some very fashionable hardware check out SA Baxter. They offer high end hardware and the ability to custom make hardware.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Austrialian Production Management

On Stephen Dean's blog Ramblings of a Techie he recently did an entry on Production Management. It is interesting to read the blog as he is in Australia, and thus has a different point of view.

Thus, you will note that all of the things he lists aren't the same here - for instance in many cases the PM supervises the TD or Properties Master who creates a budget or organizes the props. We often add in more global management - working on next years season planning for instance. I think it is part of the challange with theatre is that the same term means different things even within the US, but even more so across international boundaries!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Vintage Hinges

Historical HouseParts has some great historic hinges, as well as other types of hardware. Check it out - it looks like a great resource for that perfect piece of hardware you need to complete a production.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Opera Pins"

I heard a term today in the shop that was new - Opera pins.

They are really just large shop-built lift-off hinges. But they do work nicely.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Theatrical Lighting Database

The New York Public Library and Lighting Archive has created an online Theatrical Lighting Database. On this site you can browse the lighting info available for A Chorus Line, Sunday in the Park with George, and several others. The information includes the plot, paperwork such as magic sheets and cue sheets, and even notes.

Custom / Specialty Steel Shapes

GSP offers a variety of specialty steel shapes, and will do custom work. While expensive to use, it can be necessary in certain jobs. The J channel is something in particular that has been useful.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Dykes Lumber

On the East, (though I see is everywhere) Dyke's Molding numbers are often called out on designs. Dykes now has their molding catalog available online. They also have flexible moldings available in all of their profiles.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Quality and Value

One of the topics I have been pondering lately is how you quantify quality. At the commercial scene shop I work at we are aware that we tend to not be the low bid. We try to provide a level of service and quality that makes our price, through higher, still a good value. But how do you qualify that one of our clients will have an experience with us that is 10% (an arbitrary number) better in terms of service or quality that what they would have experienced with another vender?

On some of the proposals we work on, the client will ask for a price for the pieces as drawn / described, and then allow us to put in additional prices to be added (value added) or subtracted (value engineered). I think this can be tricky.

How do you quantify value added? I think we have value added in our core pricing, which cannot easily be taken out and itemized, because it isn’t optional – it is the way we function. We don’t use inferior parts or materials. If I am buying rigging equipment, I am going to buy the right stuff even though it costs more. I suppose I can buy the cheap stuff, and then change order to the right part, but at the same time, not every client would accept that change order. If those parts are to fail, who has the liability? Did they fail at install, or 10 years later – is it warranty work or a client request? I don’t want to put myself or my company in a possible negative situation by using something that is inferior. Other things that we provide – trial assembly / full unit assembly/ test fitting / testing, are items that we need to do for quality purposes, but are also advantages to the client. We know what it will take to install, because it has already been tested. It’s cheaper to test it in the shop that it is onsite – both for us, and for our clients. We can / and have occasionally, cut out some of the assembly time – and in those instances, at the end of the project, the install labor always more than what it could have been. Since hours are building according to actual hours worked (and in accordance to union rules) this can end up costing our clients more – though when we bid the project we will try to anticipate the increase in onsite time due to the minimal testing or assembly.

I won’t talk about value engineering as much, because I feel that it’s a lot easier to do this. The trick is to make it cheaper without affecting the quality. I can make something out of steel more economically than I can from aluminum, but it won’t be as light. I can use 15 oz velour instead or 21 oz. But if a light is immediately behind the drape, then the 15 oz velour should have a black out liner – in which case the 21 oz velour is more economical. Then there is an option regarding what to price – the 21 oz velour which is ultimately cheaper and the best value – the cheapest option which is 15 oz alone, which doesn’t provide full functionality, or the 15 oz with the addition of the blackout cloth. Proposals with a lot of al a carte options can be tricky to put together – and sometimes end up being more expensive as a package because of the way the time break down works out – Building a bench might cost $500- but building 4 won’t necessarily cost $2,000. There is a line that shouldn’t be crossed when value engineering. First, there is a minimal level of what we as a company can / or wants to provide. For instance, locally, there is a shop that in non-union and are basically a couple of guys in a shop cranking out cheap scenery. And if that’s what the client wants – we can’t compete. Something quick and cheap may be exactly what the client wants – but say a potential client sees it and thinks that we can’t build a quality piece – they won’t necessary understand that the set was done “poorly” because that’s what the client wanted. Its better for us to refer the client to another shop that may meet there needs better, and maintain our reputation through jobs that are more in alignment with what we can provide. Secondly, even if we chose to compete against a company that can produce something like that, we can’t really win- the overhead and shop organization that insures a quality product, makes it very hard to push a small job through the shop profitably. In theatre, a shop can produce quality scenery up to a certain scale, but below that is doable down to the smallest piece – profitability isn’t a concern. On the commercial side, the project tends to be a certain scale before it fits into the way we work, and there is a maximum. Point being, now that I have lied about that fact that I wouldn’t talk much about value engineering, is that you can go too far.

I know shops who bid a value engineered version upfront, without description, and then essentially try to change order the client to get back to what the client originally wanted in the first place. So while their bid beats ours in the first round – the final price the client paid may have been higher in the long run that what we offered. I like that we provide a cost that will allow us to meet our client’s expectations without relying on trying to get extra money every time something comes up. We have all been around long enough to know that things do some up. We allow some flexibility – major changes to scope of course require a revised price. This is one way that I think that we positively affect the service that we offer clients.

When you go to an event / or see items that have been built by us or one of our competitors – what is the quality scale? This would be true for seeing theatre as well, perhaps even more so since you are a distance away, and only see one side from an audience perspective. What is quality – automation? Well, that may be indicative of a certain level of money and skill. A believable paint treatment? The use of light affects the end result as well. In most circumstances I think there are two levels – it looks good or it doesn’t. You see every seam – or they disappear. There is a 3rd level, but I think the scenery that is built will not make that level alone – it must be done in coordination with all of the other elements of the production.

In terms of seeing productions – its stating the obvious that seeing a show on Broadway is a different experience than seeing it in storefront theatre or a church basement theatre, or even a regional lort theatre. We have expectations as to the level of quality for each type, and we wouldn’t expect a small theatre to have all of the qualities of a Broadway house. The flip side of this is that there is a cost associated to this. A Broadway show might cost 150 bucks, while a small theater production might cost 20. My expectations are a lot higher when I lay out 300 bucks to go to see a show with my partner. Here in Chicago, I think this question becomes even trickier – there are tons of theatres to choose from. One show may be 20 and another similar 30. Who is to say that going to one is worth 10 bucks more per person (other than the choice of which title you would prefer to see). What would happen in the movie theatre if shows like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and other huge films were $20 and the shows that weren’t rated as well were $10?

A good example I can mention refers to a production that I was thinking of taking my friends to. I had seen the production at a regional theatre in another city and had enjoyed it. Though I am in a different city now, I saw that it was playing at a local theatre when my friends would be visiting and checked on tickets. Tickets were available for 70 each. Having seen the show in a theatre where the tickets were going for 35, I couldn’t honestly answer how this current production could possibly add that much more value. I doubt the directing would be 100% better – or the scenery or the evening would be that much better. The size of the two theatres was slightly different, but not significantly in terms of quality. I ended up buying tickets for my friends at a small little house, and in terms of enjoyment – probably had as good as of experience for a lot less cost.

Plus, frankly, there is a cost versus experience association that affects the value perceived. If I spend 10 for a ticket, I have fewer expectations than if I spend 100. If I spend only a little and the show is good – I get a great value. If the show is so-so and I spent a lot- I didn’t get as much value. For my clients, value is also different – it may be worth spending extra money to get more service. To take that back to seeing a show- perhaps if the 70 ticket provided free parking so that I didn’t have to pay as much to park downtown, then I would see additional value.

But of course there’s a catch – what provides value to me, doesn’t always provide value to others as well.

What do you think? What creates value? How do you quantify Quality? How do you define what something is worth? How does this information affect the way scenery is built?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Science Toys

While looking for solar panels I ran across American Science and Surplus. They seem to have a little bit of everything - from magnets to hobby motors to solar panels. Now Edmund Scientific has a competitor for magnets and hobby motors for when I am tinkering.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


One NYC Stagehand has an interesting blog on the WPA and how Local One dealt with the problems at hand.
"With rising unemployment in it’s own ranks, IATSE Local One decided to create it’s own relief program. With the agreement of the theatre managers, it was decided stagehands would work a five-show week and that unemployed stagehands would make up the rest of the shows. I haven’t determined how the program was administered, though perhaps like our League Strike, we learned to administer it on the fly. When there wasn’t enough work, there were relief stipends, and in emergency cases, there were loans. Sometimes raffles were held to help individuals, often the retired stagehand without a pension, who were having illnesses or other hard times.

In September of 1935, IATSE representatives, Local One business agents and others in the industry met in Washington and New York with Hattie Flanagan, newly appointed head of the Federal Theatre Project of the Works Progress Administration. In her first Regional Directors Report on Oct. 8th, 1935, Miss Flanagan describes meeting with the various interested parties. After meeting with “National Stage hands Union” she said, "The decision was that we cannot run a union shop, but that preferences is given to union workers because of their professional qualifications".

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tharon Musser

Tharon Musser, legend in the lighting industry, passed away yesterday. A graduate of Yale School of Drama(1950), in 1956 she designed "Long Day's Journey into Night" by Eugene O'Neill. The year 1972 brought her a Tony for "Follies". The use of the first computerized lighting board was ushered into use with her design for "A Chorus Line" in 1975.. The IBDB has her listed for over a hundred light designs - an impressive career by any standard. Over the course of her life she won 2 more tony's and was nominated 7 additional times. Her significant contributions to theatrical lighting and to the theatre itself will be remembered in the theatre history for centuries to come.

The below links will take you to some of the other articles for more information.

Live Design



Friday, April 17, 2009

Welding Resources

The following two links will take you to the Miller welding equipment site where there are lots of resources to help you fine tune your welding skills.
Miller Etraining
Miller Welding Resources

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fake Tree Bark

In theatre the final method of construction of a piece depends on a variety of details. One issue is how labor is paid for. Is it salary, and thus doing something labor intensive is okay? Is it hourly, but out of a budget that doesn't impact show budgets or does the amount of labor used directly effect the budget of a production. In some theatre settings, and in the commercial shop I work in, it is often cheaper to buy something than it is to fabricate it. Thus for a recent project we looked at using flexible bark. The pieces were pricey at about $600 a sheet, but for us to manufacture something similar in house would cost more. Between labor and materials - for us to match the 600 price we would have to be able to mold / carve / paint / and do any sampling for the piece in about 3 hours. There is of course a exception. In the case above we would use less than a sheet. If we were to cover a stage full of trees, economy of scale would probably reverse this. In this case, I would look at it from both directions - the cost of buying premade pieces versus fabricating in house. Once the size is large enough, it makes more sense for us to fabricate. A good example of this is a urethane brick that we have made for some museum exhibits. It's very realistic, and very durable - much more so than vacuform or the wood paneling, and we can easily make it wrap corners. But it was economical because the prototyping, testing, and development was dispersed due to the amount of coverage. All in all, price wise we were right in line with other suppliers, but achieved a better quality of product.

Earth Flora also has a realistic bark for sale, but not as many options and a much smaller size. The question becomes with using these is how you handle seams.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Props Putty

One of the first tricks I learned was using Mortite to keep props on shelves or other surfaces. The other day I was browsing in a local store and saw the Museum putty on sale, and thought it was worth a mention. I like the idea that it is clear, especially now that I have had a couple projects lately with glass shelving.

I have also used poster putty when I didn't have anything else on-hand - though that option isn't as economical.

Museum Putty

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bringing Order to the Chaos

There was one last topic from USITT that I wanted to discuss – the session Mr. Sammler did “Bringing Order to the Chaos”. It was an interesting and very valid session.
-I think the first comment I have is that the session is indicative to where technical direction is going. That the position is becoming more managerial. I think that in today’s age of technical capacity, you can no longer be a jack of all trades as effectively, and that the TD position must be able to pull together the resources needed, not necessarily be able to do everything.
-The key to the system that Sammler proposes is that everyone on the team operates in the same manner. The system must be set up so that budgets are combined for the show and that extra money in costumes goes to scenery or vise versa. If a shop can keep money and use that towards a different show, or for shop improvements or maintenance, then they will be tempted to hoard the money and not be transparent. However, the bulk of the places I have worked provided each shop with a budget, and that money can be used from show to show. I assume that moving around money from department to department is harder for the money people – and I have tended to only see a show based budget work in smaller theatres.
-For the per show budget technique to work, each department must budget, and do so in advance. Many theatres don’t require every department to do an estimate for every show. This is particularly true for lighting and sound. When I have tried to implement this type of system, I found that lighting was a challenge because they wanted till much later in the schedule to determine what they were using. Though I should note that I was working with a Canadian Lighting designer, and that the typical schedules are different (they often do not do a plot until after they see a run through – much later in the process than we do). Without being able to assess the needs of every department, the director can’t make an informed decision about where the money should be allotted.
-I thought it was interesting to hear is views on what a TD should be responsible for. For instance, He stated that it is not the TD’s job to value engineer the set to fit inside the provided budget. The TD should estimate what they feel is necessary to do the design as indicated and communicate those costs (time and materials). At that point director / designer can clarify what they need and where their priorities are to make choices involving all elements, and decide where they want the money to be spent. Perhaps that means that the costumes become simpler, and the scenery budget is allowed as is. Estimates should be tight, but reasonable. An estimate represents the TD’s plan to accomplish the design as they understand it. If the TD must get the show “into budget” it changes the relationship with the team and makes them a “no” person. The 10% contingency cannot be cut from the budget and allows flexibility to achieve the plan.
-It’s easy to budget enough to cover the set.
-Most people under estimate the amount of time it will take to build.
-The TD (or department head) cannot estimate what they don’t know about. If a production manager holds them accountable for things they didn’t know about the Dept. Head will hide money to cover themselves.
-When meeting – it is more about sharing the plan than sharing the budget. This allows everyone to look at what was included, and helps communication between departments – For instance costumes may see that the paint department is planning on texture and that makes a difference to their costumes.

I think that in an ideal work, this is a nice idea. But for this to work there has to be a lot of people who are all operating on the same page. And the production manager / organization has to be open in operating in this manner. And I think that’s a tall order. And practically, if you are in the situation where it isn’t ideal, and you can’t change the whole system to reflect the management system above – quitting your job cause you shouldn’t work in a place like that isn’t really always practical. Though, I suppose, with the rate that Yale churns out students, eventually there is a chance that this way of operating will become more common….

Monday, April 13, 2009

Safety Resources

After taking the OSHA 10 hour construction course for work, I decided to also take the courses offered in the General Industry track for the 10/30 hour courses. While alot of what is presented is common sense, there are many details that we tend to forget about as we get busy and try to accomplish amazing scenery on small budgets. There are lots of places to take the classes online, and they aren't very expensive. My only complaint is that they don't provide resources for you to use in the future other than your knowledge gained. Hence, the following links that provide some similar information.

Safe work
OSHA First Aid
UC Davis Machine Shop Safety This has several pdf's available regarding machine safety (such as drill presses, milling machines, etc.)
Contractors Safety Manual A very comprehensive site.

While there are many resources available online, you should make sure of the applicable local / state laws when implementing practices in your own shop.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Molding Resources

Moldings and decorative elements can be hard to find and specific to the manufacturer. Below are a variety of resources to help locate decorative elements, or can assist with ideas when designing.

Frank Morrow Company has a variety of metal stampings and architectural details.

Decorators Supply has a large variety of wooden and plaster decorative details. While you can order their catalogs (which are great as a resource), you can also browse online and get a variety of CAD downloads.

Architectural Depot

Cast Design Supply

Van Dykes Restorers

Historical Arts and Castings

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Metal Museum

The Metal Museum in Memphis, TN, would make a great visit if you are ever in the area. They also offer classes if you could make your visit last a few days.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Prop Books

These are some of the recommended books that came up in the USITT session on period details.

The Bullfinch Anatomy of Antique Furniture

Antique Directory of Furniture

Authentic Decor All books by Peter Thornton were highly recommended.

Period Details - A Sourcebook for House Restoration.

Encylopedia of Furniture

Also interesting in this session was that I learned that the "bentwood" chair, that every theatre I have ever worked at seems to own in mass was #18 made by Gebruder Thonet. As I was looking up the chair I ran across another potential prop sight - the Chair Blog.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Hardware Resources

Sometimes a project seems like a quest for the perfect piece of hardware. The below links will take you to a variety of vendors with useful alternatives.

Weld On Hinges

Lift Off Hinges

Spring Release Hinges (Also available through McMaster Carr)

J Bolts

Block Hinges

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Fabricator

The Fabricator is a free magaizine (subscribe here that talks about metal fabricating techniques. Their website has a variety of information as well that is useful for someone working with metals, like for instance, this article about bending.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Costumer Exhibit

Christian Lacroix, a costume designer, has an exhibit on display in the National Museum of Singapore. The above link will take you too a blog entry that has a few photographs of his work, from his many years designing for theatre and opera. The museums web site can be seen here. They have additional photographs of the exhibit.

While I don't see myself going to Singapore anytime soon, I think it is great when theatrical and opera design work is shown in exhibitions.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


I recently did the OSHA 10 hour course for Construction Safety. Much of the course is self explanatory and common sense, but I did learn a little more about areas that I don't work in very often. And, I thought that some of the materials would be good for reference - like the sections on power tools, ladders, and scaffolding for stagecraft classes. The department of Labor has much of the information posted here. They also have a variety of teaching aids.

Hand and Power Tools
Power Tool PDF
Stairways and Ladders
Portable Ladders

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rigging - Hangers

Mutual Hardware has a product that they manufacture that is fantastic for rigging. Once you use the delta hanger (with a delta link) instead of the normal D-ring style, you will never want to go back. I know some companies form the cable eyes around the d-ring, but then you have to cut it off to salvage the ring, or you need to add in a shackle. With the link these hangers are easily reusable without the additional cost of a shackle. They are load-rated. You can check them out here.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Roll Drop / Olio Rigging

I had a request for a manual roll drop from a client today, and I started to think about alternative ways to build one. I decided to do a search and found a few sources online for the traditional rigging techniques. I will make a distinction though - there are labeling issues. A roll drop tends to roll down - and only has enough weight in the bottom so it hangs / moves correctly. An olio drop, traditionally, has the roll at the bottom and its top is fixed. On olio drops you see the rigging mechanism (rope)on each side as the rope coils around the tube as it goes up and down.

Check out the links for more information:
How can I make an Olio Drop
Rigging a Roll Drop
Stage Rigging 101 This sight doesn't tell you much about rigging a drop, but it does have a nice overview of the subject.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Woodworking Resources

The following link has a huge list of suppliers for various woodworking products including plans, tools, furniture pieces, and carving / turning blanks. The list includes Klockit, Rockler and Van Dykes Restorers, all of which I have previously enjoyed working with.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Shopbot

At USITT there was alot of interest in cnc machining. Several people there was using a ShopBot. Though it was rumored to be very load, and needed 2 passes through 3/4" plywood, they seemed to like the equipment. Where I work we use a MultiCam for the bulk of our work, along with a Gerber machine. Our machines are no louder than any other shop saw, but easily cut through 3/4" material in one pass. Its amazing to me how much, and how fast technology changes. I think as more machines come out, and they are affordable for scene shops to own and operate, it will really change the way we build scenery, and will allow designers to create organic three dimensional shapes in a way that we have never been able to do economically and efficiently before.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

USITT Resources

I wanted to plug a few resources available through USITT. If you don't visit the commission pages through USITT you are missing alot of good archived information. I do wish that they were a little more "equal" - Like the Technical Production sight has links to past conference session notes, which many of the others don't - and it is a great resource.

First is the Technical Production Commission run by Patrick Immel. There are alot of great resources, including past session notes. The session notes have not yet been updated, but the slides from my session will be included there as well. The other great resource that I want to point out is the Technical Source guide ONLINE! I encourage you to submit your cool projects to the site. It doesn't need to be ground-breaking - there are alot of cool processes out their that we assume is common knowledge that really isn't written down anywhere, and that really is common knowledge when you have worked with X person in X shop.... Plus there are often variations on a theme. For instance, Eric Hart on his Props blog, talks about a process using glue and joint compound to create a skim coat for coating wiggle wood. This mixture seems to be one of many that I have heard over the years, some with additions for other textures, and uses. It would be interesting to me to have some place where everyone can right in their recipes, and what they are good for (much like I have seen lists of blood recipes online).

The education commission has resources available for Creative projects for teaching technical production.

The Costume Commission has an active page here.

The Engineering Commission has information about codes, standards, dmx and ETCP certifications.

The health and Safety Commission has a variety of resources available.

The Lighting commission has information about the recommended practice for lighting design graphics here.

There are also sound, management and other commissions as well - so visit USITT to check them all out. And don't forget to submit an article to the Technical Source Guide ONLINE!

USITT Ursula Belden

USITT also did an exhibit honoring Ursula Belden who passed away early this year. USITT Sightlines published an article about her, and her webpage can still be found online.

The picture below is from The Dyybuk, which she did at Syracuse Stage during my last year there. She took it to the PQ 2003 exhibit as well.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

USITT Ohio Valley Exhibits

USITT had a variety of exhibits worth mentioning. The first picture is a truck for the Grapes of Wrath from Ohio University. Each prop had a description about the process of design, development and the parameters the prop had to fill. It was very interesting to read.

Ohio State University presented a variety of design work and models from the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Research Institute. OSU also exhibited a collection exploring the London Notting Hill Carnival. Click here for more about the Research Insitute.

There was also displays showcasing regional theatre design and entries from the Peggy Ezekiel Award competition.

Monday, March 23, 2009


OnThere are no bad ideas, the recent entry asks about what is missing on the USITT expo floor. I think I would ad to his list the Hossfeld people, and perhaps hardware / caster suppliers.

The Daily AutoCAD blog had a tutorial for getting section views from 3-D solids, relating the the 3D Studio Max comments I made the other day.

The track that I liked from Thern can be seen here:

I like the built-in alignment system.

Thoughts on USITT's Cover the Walls Exhibit

I think that the Cover The Walls exhibit is a great way to share designs (lighting, costume, scenic and technical. It's open to everyone at a relatively low cost. It allows the viewers to see what shows are being done, how they are being approached, and generate new ideas of their own. Its also a great way for acedemia to get out the word about what they are doing at a location where they are recruiting, and for people who are looking for work at USITT to exhibit a portfolio piece.

Despite what reasons people choose for participation, there are a number of ways to approach the final appearance. This year I would say the exhibits were either the traditional pages pined (or attached with double stick tape or velcro) in an artistic array over the space, prearranged foamboard displays attached to the wall, printed / plotted displays, and 3-demensional works. There are some that mix - Mine was plotted, but with full color photos and bluelines attached, and some used a fabric background, with applied works.

There are a couple things to keep in mind when designing the display. They supply pins and hammers, but it's better to design in an attachement method, as the pins are a pain. Make sure your double stick tape is hefty enough to hold your stuff (I made this mistake the first year and needed to resort to pins). They say no 3-D, people do it, but make sure you bring what you need to support the element on your panel. Panel design is important. No matter how nice your work is, if it looks sloppy, it reflects on you. This is like a temporary portfolio review that hundreds of people look at - while not being able to ask any questions to clarify what you were trying to convey. The design needs to supply all the important information in an eye pleasing manner that uses the provided space well.

The pictures below reflect the variety of the displays. The first was done with foamcore boards.

On the one below, I liked the center one with the fabric. The one on the right that was printed was nice, but might have been easier to read if it took up a little more of the panel space.

I liked the 3 demensional elements on this one.

The bottom two was my favorite display. It is obvious that the design took alot of time with the display.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

USITT - Saturday

Today's excitement on the floor was Foy, ZFX, and Hall Associates flying people. The above picture is the ZFX rig.

Besides spending a few remaining minutes on the show floor, I saw two sessions today. The first was "Technical Design / Direction - In a Disney Theme Park". Chuck Davis gave an interesting view into the scale and process that goes into creating a major park element. I think what was interesting to me was the degree that they come up with an idea, but they have to internally sell the idea to get funding. Since these projects are worth millions, they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars proving the ideas and methods as they proceed. While we certainly don't produce on the scope of Disney, we also often don't invest in enough time planning and determining if something will work before we are well into the process and committed. I think sometimes we would be well served to remember that spending some preliminary funding to investigate a technique before commitment allows for a smoother process, and money saved in the long run.

Next I went to "Draw Me a Picture: Collaborative Problem Solving through Digital Storyboarding". It was chaired by Robert W. Johnson, and the presenters included Gregory K. Bell, and Greg Stump. The session was an interesting view on how technology is improving and growing as a communication tool. Some of the packages that we receive are fully storyboarded, and 3-D rendered, and I suspect that much of that is to sell the product, not really for building, but it helps on the build side as well. In 3D Studio Max they showed off the section tool to get 2-D sections from a complex 3-d shape. That is a handy feature, but not enough for me to buy the program. They also talked about modeling a complex 3-D shape (a bust for Mozart) and then doing a section about every 1/2, which was then used to machine the shape. After that they did fine tooling, and made a mold from the piece to make multiples. As great as cnc machining is, I take from this, that it still isn't to the place where it is easier to simply machine something than it is to make a mold and cast duplicated. (Which for complex 3-D items is true where I work as well). The other design they talked about was a structure used for Jesus Christ Superstar where the cross was on a cantilevered beam, and after being crucified, the cross slid back, leaving Jesus hanging against a black background. The set was cool, and the 3-D software helped them animate the sequence to make sure that everyone knew what they were looking for and to help start the technical discussions. The middle part of the session was about how they accomplished the effect. The last part largely revolved around SketchUp. having heard and seen alot of the program, I fully agree to its usefulness. The presenter showed using it to define the structure, and building off of drawings created by SketchUp. This is certainly intriguing, and though he said the tolerances were much more precise than what we need in theatre, I still am suspect. For instance I know some people who routinely use it for preliminary design development, but when it comes time to build, the tolerances are usually +/- inches - far too big to use for build.

The last session of the conference for me was "Tricks of the Stage - Stage Magic". It was nice to see so many prop related sessions this year, and I enjoyed this one as well. John M. Lavarnway chaired the session and went through, with input from his other panelists, how to put together the effect. He stressed defining the effect, research, covering liability concerns, reliability concerns, and how to work with the Actors with the trick. They then showed a variety of effects such as using solenoids for Blithe Spirit, the throwing knife trick, and turning wine into water.

By the time that session let out the expo had been closed for about 45 minutes or so, and the strike was quickly proceeding.

Friday, March 20, 2009


(TD) Squared has a blog about their trip to USITT. Check it out for some session info on sessions I wasn't able to attend.

Friday at USITT

Another good day here at the show. I spent some extra time on the show floor today talking to people and manufacturers. I met Jacob Coakley from Stage Directions, who finally got me to go to and sign up. At the USA booth I ran into Susan Crabtree. At Thern I took a look at a track I think would be very useful for where I work, as it has alignment pins that keep each section of the track together. Checked out Bad Dog Tools for cnc router bits, as well as talk to loads of others. The floor seems large this year, especially with the extra exhibits around the Expo.

Session wise: I came in late to the Hands-on Pneumatics session, and while it wasn't a "talk" like I had expected at first by reading the session info, it was great!. There were panels of pneumatic effects set up, and you could play with the parts to make them work. There was also a variety of technical solutions that involved pneumatics that you could manipulate as well (Like an air caster out of an older edition of the Tech Expo). Kudos to the organizers.

The flip side of this session - is that I think something like this ought to be in every classroom teaching automation!

The next Session I went to was Partnerships and Co-Productions Chaired by David Grindle. Since I have worked for a variety of Co-Productions it was interesting, but wasn't very new to me. One good resource they pointed out was that Opera America has a Co-Production Handbook. The catch - you have to me a member of Opera America to download it.

Then, with David Boevers (CMU) and Roy Harline (Texas Scenic) I presented A Project -Based Approach to Technical Direction. It seems to go well except for the fire alarm. But we got an audience back and the session continued. I will put a link up for the presentation file.

Then was the Distinguished Achievement in Technical Production Award which was given to Ben Sammler.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


The Stage Expo is open and there were lots of things to see. The way the day worked out for me I only went to 2 sessions. The Technical Production Reception was great, and I got to hear what some members are thinking about. Cirque Du Soleil's "Behind the Proscenium" was disappaointing to me. I had heard such good press about their past sessions, I thought I would go (despite numerous other enticing options), and it was really just a "how you can work for us" session.

The Sky Hook from the Tech Expo

Low Profile Drop-Stop Wagon from the Tech Expo

Tech Expo Shot

A Snapping Hook

The expo floor

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

USITT Cover the Walls

This is my Cover the Walls exhibit this year. While the exhibit is marketed towards designers,but I figure technical design counts. Actually, despite the terms on the exhibit form, they welcome the TD's into the fold, and I would like to encourage more of you to show your work in upcoming years. I hope when the exhibit opens tomorrow to have some exciting shots of the Expo Floor, Tech Expo and the finished Cover The Walls exhibit.

USITT 2009 Day 1

Greetings from Cincinnati!
Day 1 has gotten off to a great start - through a long one. This year promises alot of great sessions, and so far so good. One of the things I really like about teh Duke Energy Center is that the second floor has large windows that overlook the stage expo space. So though I was able to see some of the set up when I was putting up my cover the walls exhibit and helping with the Tech Expo, I could also see how things were progressing in between sessions.

I managed to sneak in a full day of sessions as well. I started off with the Automation 101 - Brakes. Chair Alan Hendrickson and presenter Aaron Bollinger did a great job defining and explaining types of brakes, sizing, and control. One of the resources they pointed out was Accident-Prevention Regulation for Staging and Production Facilities for the Entertainment Industry.

As the Stepper Motor session was canceled, I instead went to "Period Style in the Smallest Detail" discussing period furniture, and the collaboration between the designer and director and the designer and prop master. The panel was chaired by Elizabeth Popiel and the presenters were Barbara Craig, Pam Lavarnway and Karen Rabe. They provided alot of production shots showing how they solved period related challanges, and talked about ways to achieve the effect without rebuilding the units historically accurately. They also talked alot about the process of communication. I think one of the best takeaways was that they stressed visual research and communication - not just terms or verbal discussions. They also had a variety of reference materials that they suggested, and I will try to post that once I get back to chicago and can sort through all of my notes better.

I managed to slip into the education poster session at the last minute and check out a little of that as well. I think the two things to note there was a project discussing the uses of facebook for production work, and a poster on using cad and the photocopier to make wallpaper for white models and model period furniture.

The next two sessions I went to was the Technical Production Leadership Meeting and the Managers Forum. I will admit I was a little disappointed in the managers forum. It seems like the only good question the can answer is where to look for a job. It was nice to think of some arts admin stuff though - I don't think in thos terms very often anymore. There were several questions dealing with staff that aren't up to par, but with hiring freezes, they can't be replaced, sexual harrasment as it relates to the costume shop and fittings and so forth. It was probbaly one of the few sessions I have attended in that commission, so it was interesting to see some new faces.

Last but not least was Ben Sammlers / Amanda Haley's "Bringing Order to the Chaos". It was a good session. I liked the first part best, because alot of the later part talked specifically about the Yale Budget Template, and I have been using that process for a number of years. What was more interesting to me was some of the ideas behind the template, and how he viewed his job as a Production Manager, and was he expected out of a Technical Manager. I actually have quite a few notes / comments to share with you regarding this session- but will probably be after the conference when I can get back to this.

For those of you reading this who are here in Cincinnati as well, what were your thoughts about the first day?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Welding Plastic

Delvies Plastics has a PDF about welding thermoplastic materials. They also have a variety of plastics and tools such as engraving equipment and vacuum forming machines. The welder sells for $240, and supplies are relatively inexpensive making the start up cost for experimenting possible.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What’s the difference between a project manager and technical director?

It depends. A few years ago, before choosing to go back to school to get my MFA I saw, or felt that there were two types of TDs, or at least one type on one end, another on the other end, and a lot that combine everything in the middle, but I felt the differences between the two types was diverging not getting closer.

Type 1 tended to work in a small shop, was very hands on and were truly jacks of all trades. Not that they dappled in everything – but were very skilled in a lot of areas. They were 1 man forces of nature. Sometimes they had a few people to help, but sometimes they didn’t. They don’t tend to “manage” they do.

Type 2 worked in a large enough shop where the scale of the show(s) demanded an crew, and management became necessary. The TD isn’t as much as a craftsman, but tend to still have most of those skills because they worked them self up to the TD position. At a LORT or regional theatre, this type of TD may do little hands on work in the shop. One TD I know once stated that if he was in the shop swinging a hammer he hasn’t done his job properly.

This is the nutshell of course – I could expound much more on the subject. And obviously it isn’t clear cut there is a lot of grey area.

I felt myself moving toward the later. More people around me means more ideas and new challenges. Also, I felt that the second type of technical direction was moving even more into a management realm because of the increasing amount of technology, materials, and complexity of stagecraft. We do a lot more things in a small scenery budget today than 15 years ago. But the draw back (or good thing for me as a TD) is that I get to research and develop and prototype and experiment with new things. But that changes my job as a TD from someone swinging a hammer and dealing with the things that need to happen right now for the show that opens in two weeks, to someone who is currently working on a show or even two in the future, while managing the show that is open, and managing and coordinating the current build.

So as I worked in this type 2 environment, and then even more so when I worked as a production manager, I found myself looking to develop my skill set, and the place that offered the most information was project management (see my earlier posts for why I thing a building a set qualifies as a project).

The tough thing about the question is that the answer to the question depends on your definition of a TD and project management. Even when you have two people that can stand there and agree on the definitions, watch them work. I’m sure that they manage and work differently. Plus, I am sure that my duties here as a PM differ from what they could be if I worked in another shop.

So for sake of brevity (what’s that?) I will leave it to you to define what a TD does. I’ll tell you what I do, in my current job, as a project manager.
-I estimate a project (set, exhibit, trade show or whatever). I do this on my own, or with others, including shop personnel depending on the scale of the project and the amount of time available. We price materials and labor, and use a variety of techniques to arrive at the estimates.
-I get price quotes / work with subcontractors / talk to the client about information and ideas, research materials and alternative solutions and have a good idea of how we can build the project for the price quoted.
-I write a proposal that tells our client what we can offer to them for what price. It will also often include onsite supervisor or labor and shipping – additional services as required.
-Then I work with the client to answer questions and may revisions based on value engineering.
-Once we get the job I order materials (or coordinate all of the following) get the drafting started, talk to the job lead and go over the job in depth, and get the calendar planned out.
-I then continue to check in, monitor, make corrections, and keep everyone in communication with each other making sure that the guys building it have all the info they need, and anything I need from or communicated to the client is done. If we have outside contractors I monitor that as well.
-The build gets moved into assemble, then down to paints and finally ready to be loaded on to the truck. I have maintained communication, schedule, scope of project, and costs, if I have done my job well.
-I plan the truck pack and load in (often with the lead supervisor who will be onsite)
-I facilitate the transition between the transfer from shop to onsite.
-I make sure everyone one has what they need when they need it.
-I remove roadblocks.
-Sometimes it feels like when I do my job the best I am not doing anything because everything goes smoothly!

The difference can be in the details. I can draft something myself, or have the drafting department do it. I can purchase materials, or the shop lead will do it –or our purchasing person will do it. I can be very particular about how I want something to be built, or I can use the resources in the personal working on my team to find options and determine the method of construction.

Beyond having more of a management point of view and the ability to use fun materials, I think the biggest difference is having a client who has chosen to use your services. While I think the idea that maintaining a good client relationship could transfer to interactions between a TD and designer / it is a very different relationship when the client can walk away from the job.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Hardware Resource

While looking today for brass hardware I came across LookInTheAttic & Company. They have a wide variety of modern and classic hardware. Take a look!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cable Assembly Measurements

I am planning on ordering a few stainless steel cable assemblies, and I wanted to make sure that I was specifying the lengths correctly. I found that Loos & Co had a handy reference picture. They also have a stretch calculator.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Document Sharing

I have been browsing online document storage and sharing websites and saw two that I wanted to note.

The first is docstoc. This site has a variety of "professional" documents that you can view and download. These are are both useful for the variety of content, but can also offer a template for your own use. Case in point - while browsing the keywords "technical theatre" there were a variety of theatre specifications that came up.

The second is Scribd. You can find a variety of documents/papers on different subjects that can be downloaded, shared, or commented on. There doesn't seem to be as much relevant to theatre here - but there was some interesting project management documents.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Matte Clear Coat

One of the clear protective products we use is Modern Masters Dead Flat Varnish. The floor for "Don't Dress for Dinner" was done with 1/2" MDF cut on the CNC, covered with a little texture, painted and then finished with the dead flat. The show opened about three months ago, and the floor still looks great. The other perk is that it cleans up with water. I would definitely recommend it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

AutoCad Randomness

I learned a couple things today about AutoCAD (2007). First, if you have an ole object, for it to print you need to have the plot set to wire frame or as displayed. While that is fine for what I am working on - I could see where this could be a problem if I had a 3-D file.

This same variable also effects your text. I am printing something that has large text for the Cover the Walls diplay at USITT. When printed full size (3/4" tall), if the "hidden" option is toggled in shade plot, the text prints as outlines. Along with the ole objects, to get the text to fill, it must be set to wire frame or as displayed.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Rivets Take 2

While looking through images to send as part of our past project portfolio for the job I am currently bidding, I saw a piece we recently build (handled by a different PM) which used rivets as well.

They used these "rivets":

These came from and were about $4. for a dozen.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Board Foot Calculator

For no good reason other than being a little lazy, I have been using this calculator to do the job for me. There are, of course, tons of versions out there. And frankly, the conversion is pretty easy, so I probably should just do the math...
or you could refer to a chart:
1” x 4” x 1’ = 0.33 bd. ft.
1” x 6” x 1’ = 0.50 bd. ft.
1” x 8” x 1’ = 0.67 bd. ft.
1” x 10” x 1’ = 0.83 bd. ft.
1” x 12” x 1’ = 1.0 bd. ft.
2” x 4” x 1’ = 0.67 bd. ft.
2” x 6” x 1’ = 1.0 bd. ft.
2” x 8” x 1’ = 1.33 bd. ft.
2” x 10” x 1’ = 1.67 bd. ft.
2” x 12” x 1’ = 2.0 bd. ft.

Check here for a more inclusive reference list. And here for a version available for excel.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Fake Rivets

It seems as though it is always the weird things that take the most time to hunt out. This time I am searching for alternatives for fake rivets. I believe the last time I did this the rivets were on the smallish size, and I think we made them by sculpting them around a bolt head. They looked nice, but were time consuming if I remember correctly.

One option I am looking at is upholstery tacks. The size I am looking for current is around an 1 1/2" and there are a few that come close, and look good. DIY Upholstery Supply has a number of decorative nail options larger than an 1". Such as:

The other option is mushroom plugs or buttons. I can get these in hardwoods that will match the rest of the construction, but do not come in the current size I am looking for. While these are pretty common, Bear Woods has a variety of wood parts and pieces. They also have a variety of wooden game parts. Cherry Tree Toys has a similar stock of merchandise, which I have used before.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Molding References

Looking through molding resources for a current historical project I am bidding I found a few resources I thought would be useful to post here.

First, Hyde Park Moldings, has a variety of useful moldings. They also have an article describing the different materials molding is made from.

Balmer also has a variety of moldings available, as well as custom and made to order pieces. They also have pricing available online and cad drawings.

Focal Point also has some pieces available online, but I think the most interesting thing about Focal Point is their Quick Clips. This item is a faster system where brackets are installed to the walls, and then the cornice snaps into the previously installed brackets. They are also reusable if adhesive is not used, which means that they could be used for theatre work.

Since we are on the topic of molding anyway, Lee Valley has a tool that is also useful for mounting molding. In this case its a jig that helps you keep the cornice at teh correct height / angle, and then slipps out from behind the piece so you can move on to the next piece.

Monday, March 2, 2009


Freeman Manufacturing Supply has a video library that is a free how-to regarding mold making, casting and laminating. They also sell a variety of sample kits and other supplies. Their video collect has over 2 hours of content, plus their technical library has some useful resources as well. These resources include a glossary of plastic tooling terms, shore hardness guidelines, viscosity guidelines, and conversion tables. Another section of their site has a variety of users guides, such as one on selecting the right adhesive.

One line of their products is called Renshape and is polyurethane foamboard for machining. This line seems intriguing for machining via the CNC machine.

Last but not least they have some alternative lumber products like a pre-primed white Masonite sheet and "armorboard" an exterior grade plywood with hardboard faces.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


So taking a breather from Pojects I was thinking about the post I did regarding the mirror command (using mirror and rotate at the same time). The more I think about it I wonder which is faster - the mirror copy/rotate or a simple polar array. Granted, the array will create 4 lines instead of 2- but they would be the correct size and orientation. I think bits like this is what makes AutoCAD so interesting yet challanging - there are lots of ways to do things, and each person may accomplish the same thing in different ways. So once you get to a certain skill level, and are accustomed to a certain way that they are comfortable, it is hard to pick up new ideas since the tricks are often in the subtle details of easy commands.

One of these days I am going to challange myself to see how many commands I use on a simple drafting package. I think there would be more dimensioning / text / and layout commands used than most of teh rest of the drafting.

Friday, February 20, 2009

What is a Project?

To continue yesterday's post I want to refer to Project Management 101:

So just what exactly is a project? Here are two excellent, and complimentary, definitions for us to review. The first is from the Project Management Institute's widely disseminated A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, which we will refer to throughout this course as the PMBOK (pronounced PEM-BOK):

A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service.
And the second, from writer and Project Manager James P. Lewis, whose excellent book The Project Manager's Desk Reference we will also rely on heavily throughout this course:

A project is a one-time, multitask job that has clearly defined starting and ending dates, a specific scope of work to be performed, a budget, and a specified level of performance to be achieved.
As we can begin to sense, three key pop of these definitions:
A project is temporary.

A project is unique.

A project is the result of a multi-task job that performs something specific (i.e. a goal). It is thus progressively elaborated.

From the above descriptions perhaps you can see where I am headed - A show is a one time (perhaps excluding the Blue Man Group and other never ending commercial endeavors) job that coordinates a wide variety of tasks. It is a project for the TD, but also in directing, lighting, sound and all other elements.
It is temporary (again with the obvious exceptions). The show eventually opens, and eventually closes.

And it is certainly unique.
I think it is sometimes easier to view it as a project if you consider it from the point of view of a freelancer - a designer / actor / director who approaches each show as its own distinct operation. I think TD's and others who work for the full season or year can get lulled into a different perspective. I would still maintain that it was just a series of projects - much like a good designer will work on many productions concurrently.

My life as a project manager is much like a TD's in terms of multiple projects. Some projects are in the estimating phase, some are being drafted, some being built, some could be on site either installing or striking. Except that I am not coordinating one venue or several theatres - I may be coordinating venues like a convention center, theatre, hotel, TV studio, or a host of other locations. My projects usually have different clients, and no interrelationship except how they flow across my desk and through the shop.

A TD who is well acquainted with their theatre can predict periods in the calendar that will be smooth or sections that are tight based on the overall schedule and past experience. Adding entirely new productions to the season doesn't happen too often. They know that a show won't be canceled (well we hope considering today's economy). In this situation each project becomes linked as a whole. This is helpful for season planning (a project as well - a theatrical production and season can be discussed as a project on many levels), but can distort the idea that each piece is a separate project.

In a commercial shop you may bid something that you aren't awarded, and new packages show up. It can be hard to plan on what will hit the shop in a month, let alone a year from now. On the other hand some larger projects can take that long to go thought the process, and those can be planning at a different level.

However, I am digressing - because my point of setting up the show as a project is to be able to dissect the project into phases and methods of managing the process without comparing on TD job description to another.

The link above has alot of good project management explanations - so after you have woke up from my ramblings you should head over and take a look.

A Show = A Project

It's been a little longer since my last post than I would like, but it's been hectic lately.

Since USITT is quickly approaching and I will be doing a session that relates Project Management to Technical Direction, I have been doing alot of thinking about that. And of course the best thinking usually happens someplace where its impossible to type or write. But I thought that as I pull ideas together that I would talk some of them out here so that any of you can add comments or point out anything I might be missing from your perspective.

I think I will start out at the concept of a show as a project. When I was in grad school I took about a third of my classes from the Bloch School of Business, and one of the reasons I did so was that I felt an identification of a show as a project - and a season (planning of which is a project) as a series of connected projects. For me framing a show as a project allows you to teach TD related skills in an approach that allows you to talk about the phases and processes. Since every TD job is different if you try to define a TD by type of TD, most of the time is spent defining TD types instead of dealing with management issues a TD deals with. I will admit - I enjoy the management side of technical direction - and have leaned towards those jobs - and even towards production management - but I don't want to blur the lines too much - so I will leave "production management" out of the scope.

So back to show=project. A project has a discreet beginning, end, a desired result. A show is planned, a design is developed, a schedule is created, there is particular goal in mind, and then opening comes, strike (usually) and then the project is closed out. There may be differences in terms of when some people enter the project from others, and how some people close out a project, and even how build and project achievement is accomplished - but the phases of a project are the same. When I interviewed for the position here I was asked about how I felt about "projects". It was a question that was ready for - sine I had already started thinking in Grad school and studying aspects of project management to apply the knowledge to a theatrical framework.

I plan on continuing to dive into each phase in more detail in the upcoming weeks. Please feel free to leave feedback / opinions / thoughts /comments below (or by email).

*By the way, thanks to those who have made comments. I had thought I had enabled the comments section long, long ago and thought you were all a very quiet group till someone emailed me and said they couldn't leave a comment. So now that everything is fixed up I hope to be able to enter into more conversations with you as opposed to just spewing out random thoughts and information.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I have been thinking lately about what I think may be the greatest barrier to learning: defensiveness. I have often worked with individuals where they have alot of great things to contribute (experience, knowledge, technique...), but are very defensive to feedback and alternative suggestions. Instead of considering something new, they tend to protect and reinforce their own idea of the process.

I think there are a variety of contributing factors, some of which the theatrical environment probably inadvertently reinforce. Yet, for everything we do - every paint technique, every construction technique there are often multiple ways to accomplish the jobs. Some might be more right than others, some may fit the particular situation or design parameters better, but most alternatives are not outright wrong. This of course doesn't include technical designs where the idea isn't safe.

Parameters include budget, aesthetics, time, availability, staging, run-crew, talent available, among many other variables. To think that one solution will work every time is unreasonable.

I like options - and as part of the estimating process sometimes i will play out 2 different scenarios - like which would be better - legging platforms during install (or in the shop) or building stud walls. Sometimes 1 works better than the other (there are rules of thumb that can get you to the same place that I tend to use when i am busy). But people who tend to be defensive also don't seem to think as much about options. It seems that they are more often doers than planners.

A real life example... A few years back I was doing a small job which involved cleaning alot of steel. I was using the shop facilities from school, though I was paying for all materials and labor. Using simple green to clean the steel undiluted takes about a third less time than the water mix that the school tends to use. Assuming $10 a bottle (generous) and a labor rate at the time of $15-20 an hour, it doesn't take much math to see how much money you can save on the job by not diluting the simple green. Yet one member of the crew couldn't see it (and unfortunately didn't approach me), he could only see that we were wasting Simple Green.

I guess its a point that really hits home currently. When you don't pay for labor out of the scenery budget, extra labor hours don't seem to matter. But they do. The materials for a show are very rarely the major expense - its the labor cost. And with today's economy you have to think a little more about how you spend your dollars. It takes a TD a little time to look outside the box and come up with alternative solutions. Saving money by using a stronger mix of simple green is counter intuitive but can allow more of the design budget to go to aesthetics.

It also effects the work I do in a commercial shop. Our clients aren't obligated to come to us. And if we choose methods that increase the cost without increasing value, we aren't competitive.

I think that defensiveness makes it hard to open yourself up to new ideas, options and opportunities. I know it can be difficult in the environments that we work in, but the risk is worth it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Hatch Boudries

Lynn Allens Blog has an entry about a few new things coming in 2010. Since I just recently started with 2009, I suspect it will be a while before I can check this out first hand. However I will be eagerly anticipating the change.

I particularly thought that the hatch boundaries gap help was useful. I wonder if it will also work with Bpoly (boundary polyline) - a command I use when creating cnc files to create a closed polyline within a defined space. Gaps create problems with the cnc machine - so hopefully this will help spot errors prior to opening the file in the cnc software.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Mirroring in AutoCAD

The Daily AutoCAD blog routinely offers tips for drafting that are useful for starting and intermediate drafters. While there are often lisp programs, there are entries about drawing inclined lines and filleting corners as well.

Todays blog talked about using mirror to create a centerline mark. I think mirror is a command that is often under used because people don't think about how to fully utilize it.

When I used to teach drafting one of the challenges I would set forth was to draft an object (say a flat) using the fewest number of commands. While using mirror to copy and rotate the 2nd center line may not make you a 100% faster, thinking about how you use basic commands more efficiently on a global scale can make your drafting quicker and more accurate.