Educating The Growing Designer, Part II


One of the major advantages with utilizing Vectorworks as an instructor is that our students are able to use the program at no cost. In our Undergraduate Lighting I class, we spend four class periods teaching the basics of Vectorworks to our students. Within that very limited amount of time, and with student skill levels ranging from actors and costume designers to scenic and lighting design undergraduates, all of our students have been able to develop basic, and yet very high quality drafting of our school’s lighting lab. The basic tools are easy to teach and our students are able to grasp the concept quickly. However unless you devote significantly more time to the software or unless the students are truly invested in the material, we are only able to scratch the surface of the complexities of the program.

Wysiwyg is taught in our Undergraduate Lighting II class, where the students seem to be a little more focused on lighting design or even some into scenic design. One of the major advantages of wysiwyg is that the students are able to experiment with expensive lighting equipment and facilities that most educators could only dream of providing for them. Students’ faces seem to light up when they are able to experiment with almost any equipment out on the market today. With the realistic real-time shaded view, we are able to demonstrate in the virtual world the purpose of lens tube selection, and how instrumentation choice is important in achieving a quality design; demonstrating in reality would be time-consuming and expensive. It has also allowed students who might not always get a chance to design on a main stage production the opportunity to get larger scale experience. As a final project in the class the students produce a concert style lighting show that they can be very proud of. One of the difficulties with this project is that you need a fairly advanced or new computer to run the shows, the computer we have been using to run wysiwygis a few years old and has crashed under the advanced calculations the program produces.


With all the advancements and the incredible abilities that these programs offer lighting designers, what do we actually apply in a practical setting? Or, even have time to implement? We would love to tell you that we take full advantage of every tool we have at our disposal, that we use pre-visualizations, full 3D models, and bring directors in to see all of the hard work we do before our designs ever hit the stage. While we occasionally have done this on specific projects, including pre-programming base cues for an entire musical in wyg before tech began, this is often the exception, not the rule. This is largely due to the fact that pre-visualizaiton in our designs is a luxury that our constraints don’t often allow us to leverage.

Vectorworks is however used on every single design we do. While the depth of features utilized varies, every design requires at least a basic paperwork package—the unanimous decision amongst us and our colleagues is to produce the material in Vectorworks. However, when a director would like to see a visualization to a concept or idea, we have found it much faster to produce a cue and collaborate with a director in wysiwyg. We are able to make adjustments on the fly without waiting on a render to complete. The directors and other individuals who might not always be familiar with the specific language of lighting designers have found that being able to explore ideas in the laboratory environment very effective and this has allowed the production team to get on the same page quickly.


While we can never predict where the future is going to head, if we look into the past we can learn that both of these programs have been around for a long time and from the looks of things, they are not going away any time soon. The most important question we must ask ourselves is where you want to end up. When we have both assisted working professional lighting designers, the importance of being an expert in Vectorworks spotlight has become exceedingly clear to us. As a designer who is serious about their future, to further your knowledge of Vectorworks while you have an educational license at your disposal is crucial in your development.

However, if you are planning on moving to Europe or have a passion for concert lighting or maybe want to design the Olympics, wysiwyg can be an enormous benefit to your skill set. The ability to practice your craft, create and explore with practically zero limitations is an amazing ability that no other product on the market can match what wysiwyg does. With a limited amount of investment, it is our belief that if you can afford it, you should consider investing the time to use this incredible program to your advantage.

From our perspective as graduate students it has become very clear to us that obtaining a working knowledge in both Vectorworks and wysiwyg is paramount to being competitive in the very constrained times we find ourselves in. Both applications have afforded us many opportunities throughout our educational journey, in teaching our undergrad classes, in working with professional designers, and in our own realized designs. Without these programs we both fear that we would be woefully unprepared for our upcoming transition from academia into the professional world. Fortunately the barriers to obtaining this knowledge are almost non-existent, Vectorworks is free to current students, and wysiwyg is available at a nominal fee (less than the cost of many textbooks). After obtaining the programs there are a multitude of resources available to help a novice dive in and start creating works of art.

Part I : Educating The Growing Designer

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