Welcome to Part II of the “Learning Curve.” Both of the products mentioned in this month's installment are feature-packed, so I want to reiterate the importance of trying out the demos yourself if you are deciding on a lighting CAD package. It is inevitable that the aspects most important to some of you will not be covered at all in this sort of brief introduction.


Nemetschek of North America's VectorWorks Version 11 is a multi-feature 3D CAD package. SpotLight is a part of Nemetschek's VectorWorks Industry Series, which also includes Architect, Landmark, and Mechanical. Each package is designed to enhance the basic feature set of the underlying VectorWorks CAD engine for a specific industry.

VectorWorks is a dual platform product, running on both Windows and Macintosh (OSX). SpotLight, of course, is for lighting design, and provides a unique “workspace” with tools for both the design and final documentation phases of a project. I had both an advantage and a disadvantage with respect to learning VectorWorks: an advantage in that I recently completed a design using VectorWorks SpotLight 9.5 and a disadvantage in that many years of working exclusively in AutoCAD have conditioned me to expect a slightly different interface. The differences are not enormous, but they did have me reaching for the manual and help file fairly often. The good news is that, apparently, even crabby old former TDs can still learn a thing or two when the opportunity arises!

Version 11 of VectorWorks introduces important additions, including Sheet Layers that function much like AutoCAD's Paperspace, allowing multiple “viewports” into the drawing to be set up and accessed quickly. Import/export from DXF/DWG has been enhanced, and support for Lightwright 4 is improved. I found that imports from previously drawn AutoCAD 2000 theatre plans in .DWG format worked without problems. Exports from Vector-Works to DWG were also easily accomplished. VectorWorks makes good use of the Windows “tool-tips,” popping up not only an identification of an icon under the mouse cursor, but a brief description of what the tool does as well. The expanded description can be toggled off once you are familiar with the layout but can be convenient to toggle back on when you are learning new “tricks.”

SpotLight comes as a pre-defined workspace within VectorWorks. By opening the SpotLight workspace, you define the layout of the screen and the tools available. Workspaces are editable: as you rearrange things on the screen during your working session, you are redefining the workspace for the drawing. You can also edit the workspace definitions and save your own modified workspaces to allow you to quickly set up the desktop most appropriate to the current project. As I mentioned in Part I [LD, August 2004, p. 36], I'm a big fan of dual monitors as a way to de-clutter the primary screen with CAD. VectorWorks lends itself well to this approach and allows configuring “palettes” of icons as either floating or docked. I wound up with my most frequently used palettes lined up across the bottom of the screen on the primary monitor, with the Object Information, Resource Browser, Attributes, and some palettes laid out on the second monitor to my right. There are times, however, when I need to work with other applications at the same time — for instance, when I'm writing an article like this one and need to have a word processor and other software accessible. By saving workspaces set up for single screen and dual screen environments, it's a snap to quickly switch between the two.

The basic layout of VectorWorks and SpotLight centers around a drawing area surrounded by palettes and resources. The Object Information palette is blank when you first open a project but displays everything you need to know about an object that you have selected on screen. Once you have lighting instruments present in a plot, selecting an instrument in the drawing area displays (and allows modification of) information such as position, angle, height, color, and circuit in the Object Info palette. The Resource Browser provides access to all the resources available to you in VectorWorks — instrument symbols, lighting pipe or truss objects, accessories, or objects that you have defined and saved earlier. In Figure 1, the Object Info palette and Resource Browser are shown in their default position on a single screen display. Figure 2 shows just the drawing area. Here, the Object Info palette and Resource Browser are on a second screen not shown in the figure. If you have only one monitor, the Browser and Info palette can be minimized when you don't need them giving you more open space for drawing.

VectorWorks uses a “hybrid environment,” maintaining two versions of each object — one in 2D and one in 3D — and automatically selecting which representation of an object to display, depending on the view. That sounds complicated, but it works particularly well for lighting design. Instruments and pipes and trusses are stored as “symbols,” with data about the individual instrument stored in an internal database. Each symbol has a 2D component that can include graphic representation of things like circuit, dimmer, instrument number, focus, color, etc., and a 3D component that appears when an isometric or perspective view is selected. Hybrid 2D/3D symbols, such as lighting pipes, can retain trim height information and “automagically” pass on that information to any instruments placed on the pipe. Pipes can be set for auto-numbering, with direction specified, so that as you place instruments on a pipe, they are automatically numbered according to the convention you establish.

I began by importing the theatre plan from AutoCAD and rearranging the resulting layer/class structure. Next, I created the lighting grid using the existing 2D geometry for each pipe from my imported drawing and adding 3D pipes created in VectorWorks. Lighting pipe symbols are created by selecting both the 2D and 3D representations and combining them as a symbol, then converting the symbol into a lighting pipe object. Again, this sounds complicated, but you typically have to do it only once for each pipe size. If you have 20 backstage electrics, and all are 60' in length, you create one 60' pipe lighting object and place 20 instances of it on your drawing. Each instance gets a unique name, trim height, and numbering convention. Once the architecture and the basic lighting infrastructure is established for a theatre, you can save a template file before you start adding lighting instruments, so that you can come back to a “clean slate” for the next show in that space.

Next, I added the instruments for the plot, by using the “Insert Instrument” tool to select an active instrument from the Resource Browser, and then click on a position to insert the instrument. The second click will determine the direction the instrument faces.

Once instruments are placed, they can be aligned easily, with options for standard spacing, even distribution along a distance, or just lining them up along the pipe. Instruments automatically take on the height of the pipe and, if auto-numbering is engaged, number themselves along the pipe. Multi-cell instruments, such as cyc lights, can be quickly assembled (or selected from the browser) and set to behave as single instruments for placement but retain their multi-cell information for circuit and color. A “Focus Point” tool allows definition and labeling of target points on the plot and assigning of an instrument to that focus point. Selecting “Draw Beam” enables the beam and field pattern to be shown on the plot. It helps that the pattern is shown at the specified height of the focus point, with 5' as the default value.

A gobo projector can be added to an instrument, enabling photo-realistic rendering of the beam, color, and pattern (if the RenderWorks package has been purchased). Quicktime movies of transitions from one look to another can also be created. I didn't have time to explore this feature, but the rendered files that I have seen are very effective in communicating the look and feel of the lighting.

A photometer tool can indicate the lighting level in footcandles or lux, and it can be set to show levels contributed either by all instruments focused on an area or only the ones with beam display switched on.

Extensive libraries of instrument symbols, gobos, and accessories from all major manufacturers are included, and it is easy to create new symbols and attach lighting instrument properties to them. Also included is a wide range of symbols for inserting scenic elements, curtains, audience elements, structural shapes, and hardware such as bolts, gears, chains, etc.

VectorWorks SpotLight has the ability to fully support the designer with various instrument schedules, color cut lists, hook-up sheets, etc. In addition, it can create “magic sheet” views, showing the colors and angles of instruments focused on each area. Export to and import from Light-wright is fully supported, allowing update of the plot from the Lightwright file.

Figure 3 is the simple light plot output from VectorWorks SpotLight. Note that all the plots presented in this article have been produced after the briefest working time in the software, and each package provides tools to greatly enhance and personalize plots with more design time.


WYSIWYG from Cast Software Ltd. is available in a number of different versions. WYSIWYG Report, the basic package, provides 2D plotting of set and lighting design (plans, sections, and elevations), 3D fixtures and accessories for lighting design, fully integrated paperwork, and the ability to load DXF or DWG files along with BMP and JPG graphic files and Excel spreadsheets. Moving up to WYSIWYG Design adds the 3D CAD engine and plotting ability, multiple working views, rendering of realistic lighting effects, and improved beam simulation with OpenGL. WYSIWYG Perform adds the ability to pre-cue shows in real time and connect to a lighting console so that the software will simulate the console's output.

WYSIWYG Design is organized around four basic working modes: CAD, DATA, DESIGN, and PRESentation. CAD mode is used for drawing the theatre, building the lighting infrastructure, and placing and focusing the lighting instruments. There are four “layout tabs” in the CAD mode: Figure 4 shows the Wireframe layout, which is very similar to most other CAD programs; Figure 5 shows the Quad layout, which gives you four different views simultaneously. The other two layouts are Flight Case layout, which provides a tree structure list of drawing resources on one side and a drawing area on the other; and Shaded layout, which, as the name suggests, presents a shaded 3D view.

The DATA mode provides a spreadsheet view of all of the instruments in a plot or of a specific subset of those instruments by selection. Changes made in the spreadsheet are reflected on the plot. For instance, changing from one focus position to another will rotate the instrument to reflect the change. Layout tabs allow you to view the spreadsheet in a split screen along with a drawing view. A Patch layout allows you to graphically patch instruments to DMX addresses, and an Errors layout reports problems noted by the error checking engine. Errors like “Instruments assigned to a single circuit but two different dimmers or channels” will show up listed in this display.

DESIGN mode is the place to experiment with different looks and combinations of instruments. It offers three layouts — Wireframe, Quad, and Shaded — which are identical to those in the CAD mode. You can organize sets of instruments into “concepts,” and then adjust their intensities as a group. The resulting stage picture can then be saved as a “look,” essentially a cue, to prepare for photorealistic rendering of images.

The PRESentation mode includes layouts for Reports, Plots, Images, and Worksheet. There are a slew of pre-defined reports, such as instrument schedules, hook-up sheets, color cut lists, and all can be revised to your heart's content. Plots, as you would expect, is where you build the presentation plot, section, and so on. You input the size of the paper and then place “windows” into the plot, paperwork, or other objects on the page. You can also draw borders or add annotations.

The Images layout is used to store rendered images, logos, or other graphics that you might want to place on a plot. The Worksheet layout allows you to create spreadsheets for items such as crew contact lists, schedules, budgets, or anything that would be useful to organize and place on one of the pages of your plot.

You can open multiple windows of the same WYSIWYG project, so that with dual monitors, you can have the CAD mode active on one and the DATA mode active on another. This can really speed up many operations. If you don't have multiple monitors, you can switch from one open window to the other or tile or cascade them on your screen. WYSIWYG also allows additional flexibility in layering with the addition of “Scenes,” which are a group of layers. Scenes can contain different combinations of layers, so by selecting the appropriate scene, you can quickly control what is visible and what is hidden.

WYSIWYG is designed to be a lighting tool — there are a host of useful CAD features available, including an extensive library of furniture, musical instruments, people, and stage equipment, but the central purpose of the software is to help the lighting designer at every step of the process, from initial design through hang and focus.

It is very quick to set up a basic space and “install” the hanging infrastructure. I began by opening a DWG file of the theatre (WYSIWYG allows directly opening DWG files) and then saved a new WYSIWYG file. If I hadn't already had the geometry of the space available in a CAD file, I could have used the “Draw Venue” option, selecting from Proscenium, Black Box, or Arena, entering dimensions in a dialogue, and allowing the software to draw the venue for me. I could also use the various functions in the Draw menu to draw a venue from individual components.

To add a lighting pipe, one selects Draw/Pipe, clicks on the drawing to locate the start of the pipe, and drags the end out to indicate the length. Another click indicates orientation, and the pipe is in place. Next, right clicking on the new pipe and opening the properties box, one selects the “Hang Structure” tab and assigns a unique name to the pipe (i.e. First Electric). At this point, trim height can also be entered. If you already have lines indicating pipe positions in the imported CAD file, you can take a shortcut and use the Tools/Convert/Lines into Pipes option to quickly set up your infrastructure.

Using the Library Browser, you can directly select instruments for placement on the hanging structures, or you can first build a set of fixture shortcuts to the instrument types you will be using in your inventory. These shortcuts appear in a palette to the left of the drawing area, where you can also build shortcuts to accessories, gobos, colors, hang structures, and so on. WYSIWYG includes an extensive list of instruments and accessories in its library, and it is possible to change symbols for specific instruments, if desired.

Once you have selected an instrument type, you can very quickly place it on a pipe. First click locates the instrument; second click locates the focus target. While selecting focus, you will see the field angle pattern, and you'll also note that it correctly indicates shadowing by 3D walls and risers in its path. At any time, you can re-select the instrument and drag its focus to a new position.

Alternatively, you can create specific focus positions as objects in the drawing. Using the Focus Position Tool, you name and place a focus position on the drawing, then you select that focus position, either by right-clicking on an instrument and opening the properties dialogue or by going to the Data display and entering the focus in the Focus column. Focus can also be adjusted by directly entering degrees of Pan and Tilt in the properties dialogue for a selected instrument. Finally, the “Quick Focus” tool allows you to click on an existing focus position, then click on existing instruments to instantly refocus them to the selected position.

An interesting feature in WYSIWYG that helps with focus and developing rendered output is the ability to view the set from the point-of-view of the selected instrument. You can adjust the pan and tilt to align the instrument with the correct focus, and then you can go to the “Shutters” tab and actually adjust the shutters, which will be reflected in the rendered and shaded views. (Fresnels, of course, do not have shutters. Instead there is a “Lens” tab to adjust focus from spot to flood.) Figure 6 is an example of a rendered output for this plot. Note that this example represents the lowest end of the spectrum of results that can be achieved using the software, as it was created by accepting defaults for every choice in the rendering process. Figure 7 is a simple light plot output from WYSIWYG.

So, there you go — a whirlwind spin through four different CAD approaches to lighting design. In each case, I found it entirely possible to output basic usable paperwork and plots in quite short order. There are differences between each approach, and I expect that each individual will find one or the other more “friendly,” but again, you can only discover that by jumping in and working with them. Fortunately, all make it possible to work with usable demos of the products so that you can try them out. And if you are already using one of these programs or any other CAD product, I strongly advise looking into the various tutorials available from CAD vendors or taking one of the classes offered by most of them. Even with AutoCAD, which I have been using for nearly 20 years, I frequently discover something new when I look at how someone else works. Just like lighting design itself, working with CAD is an adventure in learning that never really ends.

The Entertainment Technology Show-LDI2004 offers LDInstitute courses and tutorials on WYSIWYG, VectorWorks Spotlight 11, and LD Assistant 04. Visit http://ets-ldi.com for more information and to register.

Dave Tosti-Lane is a professor and chair of the Performance Production Department at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. A lighting and sound designer, he is a member of the Audio Engineering Society, a Vice Commissioner for the Sound Commission of USITT, and the associate sound editor for TD&T, the journal of USITT. He can be reached at dtostilane@cornish.edu.



Release 9 by Cast Lighting Limited is one of several versions of WYSIWYG (which stands for “What You See Is What You Get”). Discounts are available for educational institutions, faculty, and students. Multiple station licenses are also available. (www.cast-soft.com)

Vectorworks Spotlight

Release 11 is produced by Nemetschek North America (formerly Diehl Graphsoft). Add RenderWorks to the package for realistic rendering of lighting looks. Discounts and multiple license agreements are available for educational institutions, as are discounts for full-time faculty and students. (www.nemetschek.net)

Discussed in detail in Part I [LD, Aug. 2004]:

LD Assistant 04 by Design & Drafting is available in a number of versions. Plug-ins and hardware interconnects are offered on the Design & Drafting website to expand the functionality of the software. Academic pricing options include multiple license installs for university learning labs. (www.design-drafting.com)

SoftPlot 3D is the latest release by Crescit Software, distributed by Stage Research, the makers of SFX theatrical sound playback software. There is academic pricing available for multiple licenses. You can find information on the software and links to download a fully functioning demo (limited in that it will only print the first 12 lighting fixtures in a plot) on the website. (www.stageresearch.com)

Learning Curve: About Layers and Classes:

In the discussion of layers in last month's article, we defined layers as containers for objects and as classification structures for objects. VectorWorks takes the structure a step further and separates those two functions. You can take almost everything about layers in Part I and apply it to Classes in VectorWorks. In fact, when you import an AutoCAD drawing into VectorWorks, the default process converts all AutoCAD layers to VectorWorks classes. So, what does that leave for the Layer to do in VectorWorks? Plenty!

There are two types of layers: Design Layers and Sheet Layers. Design Layers are “containers” for objects; they can be thought of almost like a separate drawing on vellum. You can stack them together and look at them as a whole image, but if you take one page out, you can no longer access anything drawn on it in the combined stack. Layers have physical locations within the drawing — for instance, Layer 1 could be located at the ground level — at a height of zero. Layer 2 could then be defined at 8' above the ground. Anything drawn on Layer 2 would be located 8' above anything drawn on Layer 1. So, if you were drawing a two story house, you could put the walls and doors and windows on the first floor on Layer 1 and the floor, walls, windows, and doors for the second floor on Layer 2. This level of organization is very helpful, but now you have doors on Layer 1 and Layer 2 and also windows on both layers. What if you want to group all doors and all windows?

That's where Classes come into the picture. A class is an attribute of an object. It is not really a container like a layer; it's a classification. So, in a lighting design, you might typically have a layer for your lighting rig, with a class for your onstage electrics, and another for your FOH pipes, possibly another for extensions, and so on. You would define a layer for instruments, but you might choose to have multiple classes to define different instrument groups. Labels for lighting instruments are placed on unique classes for each label type. That allows you to specify which label will be visible and which will not, among other things.

Okay, not so fast, you say. What about those Sheet Layers you mentioned? Sheet Layers are a new feature in VectorWorks Version 11 that behave somewhat like AutoCAD's Paperspace view. A Sheet Layer is like a holder for windows (viewports) into a drawing universe. You can create multiple viewports on a Sheet Layer that can be defined to show different views of the drawing and can have different scales from each other even on the same sheet.

Finally, as you work in a drawing, you can save Views to be able to recall them later. Information that saves (and can be edited) with a view are layer and class visibility, and display orientation.