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Automating a Jazz Band

This was a super fun project that challenged me on so many fronts.

Brief: Automate a Jazz Band (in less than three weeks!).

As with most film industry jobs the luxury of ample time to work on the project was unfortunately just not part of the equation. The producers wanted to feature a jazz band in one of the scenes. The twist… NO musicians! Only the instruments basically playing themselves.

To keep things simple(r) I decided to not use any electronics in the build, but instead have all the instruments be moved by off stage operators via a series of cables and levers. Sounds simple enough right?! In the end I used something like a 120m of bicycle brake cable! Luckily they only wanted the movement and didn’t require the instruments to actually make make a sound. The drums did sound pretty funky though!

In total there were a trombone, a double base and a FULL drum set.

The Trombone was a fairly simple a simple back and forth type lever.


The mechanics of the individual pieces of the drum set was fairly simple. The challenge came in to control the WHOLE drum set by a single person. The operator ended up having to deal with only 5 hand levers and two foot pedals which worked very well. Unfortunately I was so pressed for time I didn’t take any photos of the setup. The working mechanics can be seen in the short video at the bottom.


The Double Base was by far the most difficult piece to design and build. The ‘arm’ that moved the bow had 3 joint… a shoulder, an elbow and a wrist. It also had 4 ‘fingers’ that could be moved up and down individually and the whole hand could slide along the strings. That’s 8 parts/joints that each had to move in two directions! Again the whole shebang could be controlled by a single person. To ad to the complexity all the instruments were rentals and could not be modified or damaged at all.


Below is a some videos taken during construction, on set and a short clip of the final product. Enjoy!!

Automation: Jazz Band – Renault Koleos TV advert

Something I built for a Renault TV ad a while ago.They wanted a Jazz band playing without any musicians present. (Only the movement was needed.) I designed and fabricated all the controls in about 10 days. Everything was mechanically controlled with cables by off-stage operators. If I remember correctly there was over a 100m of cables in total.The double bass/chello was by far the most challenging. The bow had a 'shoulder' and 'elbow' movement as well as 4 fret fingers that could move and slide up and down the neck. All controlled by a single operator.The drums had 5 hand and 2 foot controls also manned by a single operator.(I didn't do the piano)Although there wasn't much time, I did managed to take a couple of clips during the build and also on set. Part of the advert is at the end of the video.

Posted by HardeKwas Houtwerke on Friday, 3 November 2017