Product Of The Month: VectorWorks Spotlight 2008

In 2000, Diehl Graphsoft merged with Nemetschek AG of Munich, Germany to become Nemetschek North America. Recently, Nemetschek launched VectorWorks 2008, including VectorWorks Spotlight 2008, the 2D and 3D design software for the entertainment industry.

What It Does

Kevin Linzey, product manager, VectorWorks Spotlight for Nemetschek NA, gives an overview of the program. “It delivers a complete package of 2D drafting, 3D modeling, reporting, and rendering,” he says. “It allows a designer to create a 2D plan, a complete rendered 3D model, or both. One of Spotlight’s biggest benefits is that it is comprehensive 2D and 3D design software. Spotlight not only gives you tools that are designed specifically for the entertainment industry, it also provides the flexibility to draft what you envision.”

Linzey notes there are improvements in the latest version, especially new features for 3D modeling. “One of the first things we did was give the user more control over rendered light,” he says. “The user now has the ability to specify the lighting distribution file (.ies) for a lighting instrument. So, if the lighting instrument does not have a simple falloff and circular beam, you can utilize the manufacturer-supplied distribution file to achieve the proper look of the rendered light.”

Another improvement is that you can now apply shutter cuts to the lights in the rendered 3D view and the 2D plan view. “We added an additional feature for those that like to see an approximation of coverage of the light in a 2D plan view,” says Linzey. “You can now choose to view the coverage of the lights at the height of the focus and see where the light is going to fall beyond the focus without having to render the scene.”

Another improvement in Spotlight that has caught the attention of designers is the addition of two-way worksheets. “The worksheets now allow the user to edit instrument data in a worksheet and have the information on the drawing immediately updated,” explains Linzey. “This gives another method of revising or entering data, allowing the users to view and edit the data in a spreadsheet format. With every release, we update our existing manufacture symbol libraries and add new libraries. In addition, we add many high quality scenic elements and furnishings commonly used in the entertainment industry.”

The list of new features is impressive and would take too much space to detail here, but for a comprehensive look at the new features in Spotlight 2008.

How It Came To Be

Spotlight was officially introduced in 2001 as an industry-specific product built on VectorWorks 9. “We found that users were searching for a comprehensive solution to use in their entertainment design work that other products and add-ons in the market could not deliver,” says Linzey.

What’s Next

The team at Nemetschek NA continues to monitor and address technology trends in the entertainment industry. “As part of the development process, we will continue to listen and act upon the valuable feedback of the professionals that it serves,” says Linzey.

What End-Users Have To Say

For lighting designer Diana Kesselschmidt seeing was believing in VW 2008. She says she “realized that not only was it more beautiful but also more efficient. It is far more intuitive and more logically organized. It has greatly improved space organization, including the ability to rotate your page like a paper drafting without throwing off any of the contents of the drawing. Because the program can reference outside drawings, a file size can be incrementally smaller. Once this one master drawing is gathered with the reference drawings, it can assemble to one massive and unportable monstrous creation. In other words, your files can perform like Voltron, so if all you need is the red robot, then that is all you have to carry with you.” Kesselschmidt also notes that rendering options have improved, and users can place backgrounds into OpenGL to show context. She also likes the ability to mix render styles to have a final-quality background and a foreground that looks sketched. “It is possible to create a beautiful rendering even in 2D for a map of a grand space,” she adds. “The new colors and textures are wonderfully overwhelming.”

Gregg Hillmar, scenic and lighting designer via HillmarDesign and associate professor, Randolph-Macon College, says he likes the “smarter” lighting devices, such as the automatic updating of the instrument position name when it’s moved (a feature that was not in the initial release). “Lights do follow along when you move the lighting position or change the height,” he says. “In addition, the draw beam function will now display in the gel color and will display shutters as well. The beam also now extends past the focus point to a user-definable falloff distance.”

In addition to his design work, Hillmar also provides VectorWorks training and notes that, for scenic design, there are two issues he would like improved, both in creating a 3D model of scenery and rendering it with lighting. “I find placing and controlling lighting for renderings to be a lot of trial and error,” he says. “RenderWorks falls behind in ease of use and speed here. That said, the fact that Spotlight Lighting Devices now work as light objects in rendering is a huge step forward. Secondly, the way that textures are handled needs improvement. RenderWorks in VW works best with a repeating pattern, but we rarely want a repeating pattern in the theatre.” Overall, Hillmar concludes, “From my point of view, it is a must-have upgrade, and it is still the only real choice for those of us who work on Macs.”

Freelance lighting and scenic designer Cris Dopher returned to Spotlight when version 11.5 came out. “I was using other lighting tools exclusively, because the original toolkit in VW for lighting designers wasn’t working for me,” he admits. “But I took a second look at how—what they renamed Spotlight—functioned a couple of years ago and decided to switch back. These days, I just keep upgrading.”

Dopher likes that “beam previews work! The problem of angles too shallow to calculate in VW12 has been solved. Sidelight beams, even uplight beams, can be previewed in wireframe and as an OpenGL solid. Also, I can take the wireframe to the floor now and think a little bit more about spill or take a sidelight beam preview to the far wall and realize how much of the auditorium I’m going to be lighting in addition to the dancer, without ever having to render the scene. This informs my position placement and prevents a waste of onsite time. In fact, I got an entire dance plot focused in six hours with a minimal crew partly due to doing this homework better and faster than my old arcs-and-extension-lines method. Two-way worksheets are also great and will eventually save me a lot of time.”

Dopher does have a few wishes for improvements, including an auto-hybridized lighting position tool, based on line or path. “Draw a line in ground plan with the Lighting Position Tool activated, and it should give you the hybrid position one needs, with only the step of assigning its trim left to do,” he says. “I’d also like a good solution to vertical positions. I’ve got a pretty good workaround that allows me to plot boom units and have them show up properly in space, useful for rendering, and also on a 2D boom layout, but it is, after all, a workaround.”

Dopher notes that Nemetschek has incorporated improvements from user feedback. “Kevin Linzey keeps moving this product along a bit at a time. In the meantime, VectorWorks Spotlight causes me far less stress than anything else in the production process, taking less time to use than before and producing better results. At the end of the day, that’s all that’s important.”

Tyler E. Littman, president and principal designer of Sholight Entertainment Design has been a VectorWorks user for more than six years and upgraded to VectorWorks Designer 2008. “Of all the new features in the software, the most obvious is that of the interface,” he notes. “The addition of the Visualization window allows me to turn off and on render lights in a scene very quickly. Also, they made a wonderful new improvement to the Object Browser, a home button from which you are able to quickly return to the file you are working on in the Browser without having to scroll through a long list of favorite files.”

Littman also appreciates the two-way worksheets. “After a few hours of playing with the sheets, I started creating all the normal things you would find in a lighting designers workbook—Instrument Schedule, Circuit Hookup, Moving Light Patch, and Purpose Sheet,” he says. “I find that I use the two-way worksheets religiously. They have not only increased my productivity but also allowed me to provide my crews with more information.”

There were a few areas of disappointment for Littman, however, including the lack of DMX address and mode information in the Lighting Device. “In an industry that uses more multi-channel fixtures, this information becomes essential,” he says. He was also hoping for a tool to channel, circuit, and number instruments by entering a starting number and then clicking on a series of instruments to update. “I would also like to see the ability to export an instrument’s coordinates for inclusion in paperwork,” he adds. “Let’s say I wanted to assign the X coordinate to the offset field on my hanging sheets. Right now, I have to enter that in manually.” Overall, Littman feels that VectorWorks 2008 is “the most comprehensive upgrade to date. From its vastly improved user interface, to its improved ability to import and export DWG and DXF, to its capacity to handle multi-core processors while rendering, VectorWorks 2008 should be considered one of the most important tools a lighting designer has in his kit.”

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Michael S. Eddy writes about design and technology. He can be reached at [email protected].

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