Nemetschek North America’s Vectorworks® Designer 2009 is an intuitive design and drafting package that doesn’t require you to build a large infrastructure of resources, standards, or blocks prior to using it. Over the years, this dual platform CAD package has evolved into an attractive option that’s affordable enough for any serious designer. What started out as a mere Mac-based, 2D CAD package in the mid-80s, with some early 3D experimentation, has flourished into a suite of productive design software, including modules for architecture, lighting, landscaping, and machine design. There are heaps of CAD packages out there that do amazing things, but I’ve not yet had such a streamlined experience as I’ve had with Vectorworks. It offers layers upon layers of different ways to do things, which stimulates inventiveness and enhances design. It makes it fun to design.

Designer 2009 uses Parasolid 3D technology, the same solid modeling engine used in SolidWorks and Mastercam. This technology yields a broadened and more versatile 3D toolset, as well as improves 2D tools in ’09. For Vectorworks software engineers, it provides a stable and robust platform on which to continue to build in the future.

Vectorworks’ complexity is entirely scalable. You can simply jot down a quick plot, almost napkin style, slap some numbers on it, and print it right from your screen. Or draft a professional plot complete with positions, data, and model views; build a sheet layer with section, iso, and plan viewports, title blocks, and instrument schedules, all across several sheets, and in 3D. You do not have to do everything at the highest level, although the application makes it fairly simple to do this. With a bit of noodling around, most anyone can figure out the consistently structured engine.

Spotlight has elegantly evolved the approach to building an informative light plot. Software is meant to make life easier, not more complicated. Some CAD packages tend to forget this. I used to be skeptical about the seemingly convoluted method of interfacing data with a plot. It was always simple getting the symbols on the plot, but everything you had to do to number them, and deploy data exchange with a fixture, made it arduous. Spotlight is now more robust and intuitive in its data exchange feature set, and it’s easier to learn because it flows better. Be forewarned: It takes some time to learn the method, but once you do, it’s pretty simple to use. Nemetschek is positioning itself to be the designer’s CAD package of choice.

There are a few light-savvy packages out there that complement Spotlight. Lightwright™, ESP Vision, and Cinema 4D offer either direct connectivity or a plug-in. This really opens up the package to solution-specific expansion. For instance, the tight integration with John McKernon’s Lightwright 5 is nothing short of genius, making life simple for those who need such a level of data exchange.

Any piece of software is not much more than a set of systems that work together to make one grand whole. One mark of intuition of those systems is how similar in flow each is to the other. The more commonalities, the easier it is to learn each system as a whole software package. Spotlight understands this concept. Everything is broken down logically. This approach to software design is reflected in our ability to learn it, as well as in our ability to produce greater results with finesse.

What’s New

Let’s start with a breakdown of new features in Spotlight.
Pre-selection highlight changes an item’s color when you hover your cursor over it to indicate what is about to be selected.
Tool highlighting visually indicates that the tool will work with that object. When selecting editable objects, such as edges for curve extraction, or items to be reshaped, they highlight in a color that indicates the tool will apply to it prior to your selection. You can also customize the colors.
Snap/selection box customization allows you to change the sizes of the selection box and the snap box size—useful so you don’t end up snapping on everything in tight spaces.
Snap loupe, using the z key, opens a zoom window above your cursor. It is extremely useful and zooms continuously when repeated.
In resource browser thumbnail view, symbols can now be configured in any view or render mode, so you can see 3D lighting objects in 3D thumbnails, rendered or not.
Locate resource is useful in complex drawing structures with several folders of objects, where it can be difficult to find a particular resource. You can now right-click on the resource in the plot, click “locate resource,” and the particular resource is displayed in the resource browser.
Creating similar light object: Have you ever wanted to make a Martin Professional MAC 2000 Profile with a regular dimmer but discover you have some with wheel dimmers too? Well, instead of going through the steps to import another fixture and rename it, you can do it all from the cursor on an existing symbol. Simply right-click on it, and click “create similar light object.”
The visibility tool adjusts layer visibility—very useful for turning on and off objects from an imported AutoCAD file. It also keeps track of an item’s layer or class prior to turning it off.
PDF snapping: Have you ever wished you could snap to a PDF for which you don’t have the CAD file? Now you can, with this unique-to-Vectorworks feature that allows snapping to PDF format, as long as it was created digitally. Disappointingly, a scan will not work.
Drag-and-drop media files directly onto your plot instead of importing them , including images, DWGs, and all sorts of media.
Libraries: New audio libraries include Atlas Sound, d&b audiotechnik, EAW, and Meyer Sound. Other new libraries include Philips/Color Kinetics, James Thomas Engineering, banquet furniture, and an extensive update to all existing libraries.
Create Plot and Model View allows 3D representations of a plot, making it possible to rotate hybrid lighting objects about any plane.
Lightwright 5 realtime bidirectional compatibility is a super feature if you use or wish to use Lightwright.
Number instruments field increments allows you to increment based on a predetermined value instead of just by one. You can also number based on number of channels.
Automatic universe assignment, under doc preferences, automatically assigns universes to instruments as they are hung as default universes—one less thing to have to label.

Christian Choi is an entertainment visual designer who leverages 3D technologies to conceive and engineer his designs. He has been designing lighting since the early 1990s and video since 2003. His latest foray into scenic design has been powered by Vectorworks' Parasolid technology. Christian is a tango enthusiast, and an avid writer/musician. You can follow him on www.twitter.com/ChristianChoi.

For the full review, check out the May issue of Live Design.

View the Nemetschek Vectorworks Spotlight Review - Part 2
View the Nemetschek Vectorworks Spotlight Review - Part 3
View the Nemetschek Vectorworks Spotlight Review - Part 4