Educating The Growing Designer, Part I

In the ever-evolving world of entertainment lighting design, which has software and gear coming to the market on almost a daily basis, how do students develop the skills necessary to be competitive in a professional world while working within the restraints of academia, and funding constraints facing the arts throughout the country?

As graduate students (at the University of Florida) we are constantly faced with the challenge of learning in the educational system, teaching undergraduates, designing ourselves, and assisting professional designers. While preparing for upcoming commencements, and leaving for our next steps with the faith that our education has given us the ability to be competitive in the professional environment.

In our experience in education, teaching, designing, and preparing for our future, we have found ourselves using two major programs that have overlapped all four of these areas. Wysiwyg and Vectorworks are both professional grade software that have varying levels of licensing ranging from student to professional versions. This allows students to use and learn skills in the software that will greatly enhance their future. While everyone’s experiences are different, the following is what we have found and learned about these programs in each of these settings.


In the pursuit of our own education, Vectorworks and wysiwyg have allowed us to advance our skills and deepen our understanding of lighting design. As students who never received formal instruction while learning Vectorworks, we have found that with a working knowledge of typical drafting conventions, the transition to the software was relatively painless. There are many useful tutorials available online and in print to aid in developing the fundamentals of the program. Within a few hours of using the program the navigation became very natural to use. The tools are set up in a way that is intuitive for even novice users to quickly orient themselves and begin drafting. The databases available are easy to manage and navigate. The spotlight features are very impressive in creating quick, accurate and professional looking paperwork. The 3D modeling features were, surprisingly, easy to pick up and manipulate to create basic set layouts and structures. After spending a little bit of time focused on the modeling aspects we were able to create advanced looking models complete with textures to enhance the models.

Learning the wysiwyg software presented us in a slightly different circumstance. By the time we began learning this program, we already have had significant experience working within drafting programs. Wysiwyg excels with the speed in which you can have a venue set up and lights hung and focused. It was impressive to use the shaded and CAD views at the same time, allowing you to create in both views without having to wait for a render. Another thing that we found impressive was how quickly you can set up lighting positions and drop in lights, controlling intensities and creating looks just as you would in a real life environment. The largest frustration in learning the program was the paperwork aspect. While the program is set up to be all-inclusive, it feels as if the paperwork is an afterthought. While everything we had placed was able to quickly be placed directly onto a plan drawing, the work needed to bring the plot up to the quality of drafting we had grown accustomed to, seemed to take just as much time as it would have to build it from scratch.

A huge advantage of wysiwyg is its ability to test equipment and lighting fixtures that we can only dream of one day affording, and being able to incorporate into our realized designs. You are also able to program cues and looks very quickly to see what a transition might look like in real time. Being an all-inclusive program, from your original model, the program allows you to produce paperwork and drafting all from the same file, however the adjustments to the 2D drafting can be a little tricky to look clean and ready to hand into a master electrician or a crew.

Click here for Part II

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