If there is any feature that sets Spotlight apart from any other software, it is the ability to calculate footcandles, not just at a point, but also within a grid, which calculates overlapping sources. Bear in mind, this is only from plan view and only from hung sources, non-inclusive of bounce. You can set a single photometer or a grid with thresholds that will turn different colors based on an acceptable range defined by you. You can set a low threshold and a high threshold. Footcandle readings between the thresholds will exhibit tan, below will exhibit red, and above, green. You must use focus points and focus your fixtures (or focus them with the focus tool) in order for this to work, but you would be surprised what you can do with this feature along with photometers.
Beware, the photometer tool only reads values from the plane parallel to the floor. Most real-life readings are taken in relativity to the camera position. This tool should only be used to give you a general idea of how much level you are getting on a surface that is parallel to the ground plane. Now, if photometers were 3D objects that could be rotated toward a camera, or even if cameras had photometers in them, that would be stellar.
The program comes with the ability to generate its own paperwork such as instrument schedules, channel hookups, dimmer hookups, circuits, and color schedules. You can generate reports such as inventory, magic sheets, and color cut lists. The paperwork is not “hot-wired;” it will not change fixtures as you update the paperwork. It is, however, rather nifty in that it creates nice looking paperwork based on your plot. You can easily put this printable data on your plot.
You can also generate live reports, meaning they update bidirectionally similar to the Lightwright path. They do not look as good and do not have all the features of Lightwright 5, but, if you get crafty, you can crank out an adequate amount of hot-wired paperwork using Generate Report.
Refresh Instruments And Replace Instruments
This is an odd step, similar to the old days of redraws in AutoCAD. You use refresh instruments to refresh the data that has been added to them. If you change a label legend or data in your spreadsheets, the instruments must be refreshed in order to display the new data. Don’t forget to do this. Command+/ will refresh all instruments.
Replace instruments is a broad way to replace a whole selection of instruments with another type of instrument—handy when you need to change out all of your RGB LEDs for RGBWA ones, for example.
Manage Scenes is another small but powerful enhancement to Vectorworks. The ability to make scenes out of all of this and manage them in a simple window is splendid. To be able to refocus, change color and level, and store that into a scene that can be called up at any time is useful. The neat part is being able to animate your managed scenes, enabling one to create QuickTime movies out of the changes. You can put fade and wait times on the cues, which aid tremendously in visualization from one cue to the next.
File/Doc Settings/Spotlight Preferences
This is where you set up the Lightwright exchange functionality. Click on the Lightwright tab, and you will unleash the power of Lightwright, except for the program itself, which you need to purchase. There’s not much to it, as it is self-explanatory. Toggle on Automatic Lightwright Data Exchange, and a list of options becomes available, such as where to save the exchange XML file, fields available, and fields to export. You can also toggle on auto universe settings that enable auto-numbering of universe and dimmers upon the placement of a fixture on a position.
Renderings and visualizations in the program are pretty good. There are many render modes that aid in the presentation of your drawings, one of which is dashed hidden line, which I like very much for presenting simple drawings. The shaders are fairly simple in comparison to Maya shader networks or other pro-level rendering packages, but they are practical and offer plenty of flexibility. You can’t achieve true photorealistic results with this renderer, but for a world-class drafting and design package, it offers a nice balanced renderer to complement things.
You can set lights, even IES files, cast shadows, see transparency, and map textures quite nicely. You can use high dynamic range imaging (HDRI), which is an orbital image taken of an environment or room at several exposures, of which each pixel emits light, effectively recreating the environment lighting you wish to simulate in photo detail. You can even import your own textures and define the scale of each texture in reality. It’s fantastic what you can do with all of the available textures. Vectorworks is not watered down with too many options. It offers you practicality and utilitarian productivity. Cameras are all fine-tunable. I just wish that you could include a camera view from within a viewport.
You can cast gobos through all your lighting fixtures. Once your plot is hung, you can visualize your lighting in 3D through the lens of a camera. This is a powerful tool. As far as speed goes, well, it’s certainly not as fast as some of the renderers out there, but it’s getting there. Image props can be made out of 2D planes and even intersected to form pseudo 3D props of people or trees.
It’s just nice to have a quality renderer in such a comprehensive design package to illustrate your results. The human figure tool makes it simple to include people in your drawings, and you can even adjust their sitting position and what they are wearing. It’s always nice having crash test dummies that are wearing dresses.
Spotlight 2009 offers a balanced blend of form and function, making it pleasant to use when you’re under the gun on design projects. With a little time, you become used to how things are done and how they need be set up. You even become dependent on them. Once you delve into the extended feature set of Spotlight 2009 to help you with channel hookups or Lightwright data exchange, you might not ever go back. The application’s intuitive and scalable nature follows your pursuit for efficiency, offering many layers of detail in which to convey your ideas, with as much precision as necessary.
Personally, I love the way Spotlight 2009 flows toward my design goals. There are many drafting packages out there, but the trick to determining which one suits your needs is to find out how it helps your productivity. When your software inspires your next step, then you know it is for you.
What Other Users Have to Say
Jorge Dominguez, creative director/set designer
Univision Television Network
I have been using VectorWorks since it was known as MiniCAD. In the production process, the catalyst usually begins with the set, and from there, the team collaboration begins. We use workgroup references as way to reduce file size and to allow for immediate updates without impacting others.
Another added benefit is the sharing or exporting vector drawings that can be used in a CNC router by a scene shop. This ensures the reproduction of the set pieces is accurate and looks like what the designer intended. And without a question, it speeds up turnaround time in a shop. Using VectorWorks 3D modeling gives you the tools to better explain and sell a concept to the entire production team, but perhaps more importantly, it empowers you to execute an idea with much more ease and accuracy through the many facets of the production process.
For the full review, check out the May issue of Live Design.
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.