As a projection designer, I find that while there is a rich history of projection design, there is not a lot of documentation on documentation itself. We have to borrow our methods of paperwork from the other disciplines: lighting, scenic, and sound. Personally, I've been trying to get more and more specific with my projection designs and trying to plan as much as possible in advance so I can share that information with the other designers. This way, I also have a clearer plan for load-in. That's why I was thrilled to receive a review copy of Vectorworks 2011 from Nemetschek.
About two years ago, when Vectorworks Spotlight 2010 came out, I was excited to see the new event planning suite included, and obviously, I was glad to see the new video screen objects because it meant I would save a huge amount of time in drafting. For those of you who haven't used them, video screen objects are a combination of televisions, monitors, screens, and projectors each with customizable properties that can drop right in to a light plot or ground plan. Specifically, the projector objects are a big help because they contain options for lensing, placement, and projector orientation. Vectorworks lets you choose the ratio of your lens and automatically places the projector at the correct distance from the screen, and in the isometric or section views, you can choose where the beam is aligned, which is useful for when you configure your real-life projector for ceiling or floor modes.
In Vectorworks 2011, I saw that Nemetschek has moved around the Spotlight commands, more conveniently grouping the Light Plot commands in the new Spotlight menu. The developers have also added many Spotlight-based keyboard shortcuts, which are a big time-saver, though I was a little dismayed to see that several keyboard shortcuts that I use all the time have changed. That is partially relieved by the fact that there are more commands in the right-click context menus. There are also some big improvements for the lighting-only designers; the focus points work better now, and you can now disable the Automatic Positioning option when placing lighting devices and specify a custom pick radius. I've also been told by some of my lighting friends that the integration between John McKernon's Lightwright and Vectorworks has been greatly improved.
Vectorworks is essential software. It's amazing at what it does, and it's impossible to imagine a theatre world without it. There is still room for improvement, however, and there are a few key things that I am surprised haven't been addressed yet, although they are rather specific and possibly esoteric, so maybe I shouldn't be so surprised. The choice of default projectors is convenient, but by no means complete. There are only five sizes of projector objects, and of those five, only three are really ever used. I'm sure that the cross-section of people who are both using Vectorworks to add projections to their drafting and also using the "briefcase" size projectors is a very small one. There is an arduous method of creating custom projector models, ensuring they have correct records and values associated with them, and then placing them in the correct Vectorworks file, but it is not convenient. I'm glad that the function is there, because I've had to use it to figure out precise projector placement in tight spaces, but there could also be an option to change the dimensions of the included projectors. Another solution that I've seen is adding the Landru Design plugins which contains many more objects that are great for using in a theatrical rendering.
For those of you who'd like to get started on the basics of using Vectorworks for theatre, I suggest you check out these collection of tutorials posted by designer Ken Goetz for his class at Cornell.