A Look at the Art of Motorization
We talked to theater design wiz Donny Hackett about slick ways he adds motorization to his theater projects, and we look back at four of his coolest theaters.
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Donny Hackett stands below his Eiffel Tower replica used as a room divider. Credit: Joseph Hilliard
September 01, 2010 by Steven Castle

Donny Hackett calls what he does “adaptation-automation.” He likes motorizing things by using leftover motors and other parts. The results are slick and clever, and almost always have an underlying steampunk mentality.

Hackett’s home theater designs include wow factors like revolving floors that use electric hoists and automatic doors powered by Shiatsu massage motors. “The Shiatsu motors are from those handheld units you find at every yard sale,” he explains. “You can pick one up for under five bucks, and the reversible AC motors are thermally fused, safe, quiet and strong. I use them for small projector lifts, moving pocket doors, masking panels, opening secret hideaway doors, even pushing speakers on drawer slides to silently pop out of cabinets.”

Hackett has been involved in the home theater field for about 20 years, coming from his father’s drapery business. “Motorized curtains are where it all began for me,” he says. “I seriously believe I started designing home theaters just to feed my need for gadgets. It seemed like the one room in the home where anything goes.”

Hackett is still designing home theaters under Donny Hackett Design (www.donnyhackettdesign.com) in Hendersonville, Tenn., and is working on a reality TV show called Motorize This (www.motorizethis.com).

We caught up with him recently and quizzed him about motorization today, do-it-yourself versus commercially available products, and what keeps his own motor running. And click here for a refresher slideshow on four of Hackett’s most memorable home theater projects—a rotating floor theater, a Paris themed theater, a Titanic themed theater and a drummer’s delight theater. They don’t all showcase his motorization skills, but they do show his prolific innovation.

WHAT’S THE CRAZIEST MOTORIZATION PROJECT YOU’VE EVER DONE? That would be the revolving theater room. It was toured by thousands as part of the “Parade of Homes” competition in Nashville. The builder gave me $20,000 and said I could do whatever I wanted. I always wanted to make a floor spin. I wanted to create a seating arrangement that would morph from a round conversation pit into two rows of theater seats when a movie started. Commercially made automotive rotating display stands start at $20,000, so making one from scratch was my only option.

WHAT KINDS OF MOTORS DO YOU USE IN YOUR PROJECTS? I use all kinds of motors in my projects. AC or DC, with gears, pulleys, chains and belts, sprockets and aircraft cable, car power window or antennas, whatever I can find. Before the Internet, I would pull a nice gearhead motor out of a trashed photocopier and think, “what can I build with this today?” There are great products out there from all of the different companies offering lift units for TVs and projectors, as well as automatic doors and draperies. I’ve installed many of them. But they were always priced above my pay scale.

WHAT REQUESTS FOR MOTORIZATION HAVE YOU GOTTEN? A builder wanted a 65-inch plasma to drop through a hardwood floor in a living room and be viewable in the game room below. I employed Razor scooter wheels, counter weights and a recycled outdoor awning tube motor. It’s being enjoyed today by country music artist Kix Brooks and his family.

HAVE YOU EVER REFUSED TO MOTORIZE SOMETHING? I tend to say sure, without thinking things through. One customer wanted a weatherproof LCD TV to drop out of a beam in the ceiling of his back deck, rotate around, depending upon where he was sitting or grilling, and then pop back up and disappear. The inside height of the beam was 23 inches and the display was 21 inches. I should have refused, but we got it done, and I’m quite proud of it.

CAN MOTORIZATION ACTUALLY BE ENERGY-EFFICIENT AND GREEN? I don’t think we can add motorization to anything and save electricity. We can, however, be energy-efficient. The sun burns all day. It’s free. I have a 60-volt electric lawn mower that could charge itself for free if I just add a few solar panels to the top cover. I guess I could do the same to my two Robomowers that automatically cut my grass. If you’re going to automate something yourself, start with something that might otherwise be thrown out. Used building supply houses, thrift stores and yards sales are full of unwanted things that could be reborn. Reduce, re-use, recycle …

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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