Magic Mike Live's Automated Piano
Because of our hard work and dedication on Frankie Moreno's Hero Piano when a design team of familiar faces was assembled for Magic Mike Live they came directly to Sin City Scenic to have their automated piano created. We already had a very significant part in many other elements of the show's creation so we were not able to have the whole SCS creative team focusing their entire effort on this piano like normal. Instead, because this was the piece requiring the most automation work I was chosen to manage the engineering and construction of the entire piano project.
The design team wanted a very compact element that started off looking like a grand piano built into the landing between two staircases. When the piano player and his guest from the audience were ready to get up to the piano a staircase would extend from the front face of the platform. Once up on the platform the stairs would retract and then later the platform itself would extend away from the landing revealing a stand up piano that rotates around 360 degrees. After the stand up piano completes its rotation the platform would retract and the stairs would extend again allowing the piano player and his guest to get off the platform. Finally, the stairs retract and the piano again looks like a grand piano built into the landing as if nothing had ever happened. The platform was to fill the space as much as possible and there wasn't a whole lot of room in the surrounding area for supporting equipment.
The venue was in the middle of the required renovations to accommodate the show and most of the show's design team did not live in state. Because of this constant, quality communication was necessary to ensure that the design's goals could be met in a way that would be physically possible, reliable, and consistent. We talked through many iterations of the design and sought out feedback from a variety of people on the show that could be affected by different design choices and the final product was something that everyone was pleased with.
I modeled the whole structure up in Solidworks to allow us to get a more concrete vision of the design we had described in words, but also to help me plan how to attack the construction of such a complex element. The planning and documenting of the design intention was by far the most important part for me because in order to complete the build in a reasonable amount of time I had to hand the construction of the physical platform off to our metal fabrication team to work somewhat independently while I focused on assembling the electrical components of the piece. Our fabricators took the time necessary to ask questions and fully understand the intricacies of the design and in the end they were able to work their own way through the few unclear points in my drawings which allowed construction to proceed at a pretty reasonable pace. Soon we had a platform assembled and ready to be tested.
While the platform was being fabricated I was able to jump into the electrical part of the project. We had previously used Progressive Automations linear actuators with success so we went to them again for this project (This time in a higher speed, lower capacity form). I also specified a DC motor system from Oriental Motors to control the rotate. Because I knew the choreography of rotate would not be settled until well after installation, I wanted to make sure we had more precise control of the rotate. This lead me to chose a complete motor system with a variable speed controller to allow for some positioning control as well as tightly regulated speed control. I also built in a category 0 emergency stop because the area around the piano was open to the public and the potential existed for a, likely intoxicated, patron to walk into the path to the platform or its stairs. Lastly I installed speed controllers for all of the linear actuators to allow for their speed to be adjusted as needed to go along with the director's creative vision.
Installation started while the venue was still an active construction site so while we were getting all of the elements in place and we had to be very flexible and work closely with the general contractor as well as the other trade workers so that everyone could work safely and efficiently. From the creation of access doors, to concrete work on the freshly poured pads for the piano, to the permanent electrical runs to our equipment there were lots of construction details that had to be managed and communicated before we could even begin to finalize the installation of the piano. As time went on and the beginning of rehearsals got closer the Sin City Scenic automation team spent several long nights in hard hats and hi-vis vests working to ensure that the piano would be installed, tested, and waiting ready for the performers. There were certainly bumps along the way and small changes had to be made to ensure reliability, but when the time came for rehearsals to start the piano was ready to go.
The piano platform sits a mere inch narrower than the space it's made to fit in and for the stand up piano to clear the hand railing the platform needs every bit of it's full extension. This meant that reliability and repeatability had to be pretty much perfect or the piano would not be able to rotate and the effect would be hampered. The piano platform used v-groove wheels to maintain alignment so lots and lots of test runs of the platform extension were done before the track was secured to the floor. We soon found out that the new concrete was not completely level to the existing floor and as a result many more cycles of shiming and testing were done, but when we were finally done the piano ran smoothly and quietly with the precision required for a long run of the show. Sin City Scenic is very proud of this effect and Magic Mike Live's creative team was also very pleased with it. I can't wait for the next crazy idea they bring us.