Review: Vectorworks 2009 / Spotlight 2009

Vectorworks 2009, Nemetschek's most recent upgrade of its design, visualization, and rendering program might look a lot like last year's version, but under the hood are some substantial upgrades as well as helpful additions and bug fixes. While many of those additions work in all the Vectorworks’ products (Fundamentals, Designer, Architect, Landmark, Machine Design and Spotlight), tools have been added to Spotlight that will significantly impact the lighting design process.

Automatic Data Exchange
The big news in Spotlight is Automatic Data Exchange with soon-to-be-released Lightwright 5. Data exchange between the two programs is set up when you start a new light plot. As you work on the plot, updates made in Spotlight are automatically exported to Lightwright 5. Changes in Lightwright are automatically returned to Spotlight, although it requires running the Refresh Instruments command to complete the process. Add lights or delete them, change colors, channels, or accessories in either file and see the changes appear in both.

Parasolid 3D
The biggest and probably most important change in Vectorworks 2009 is not immediately visible. Whichever Vectorworks’ product you are drafting in, if you're working in 3D, Vectorworks 2009 modeling operations are four to five times faster. Nemetschek has incorporated the Parasolid 3D modeling kernel built by Siemens PLM. It promises substantial speed increases for Boolean operations, surface addition, subtraction and intersection, as well as improvements in the stability and accuracy of all modeling operations. It is able to handle larger and more complex models and supports higher levels of modeling automation.

Create Plot and Model View
This new command enables Spotlight users to create and maintain an editable 2D light plot while keeping 3D model views with unique rotation angles oriented correctly. The command specifically allows lighting positions, trusses, lights, and associated geometry to be placed and oriented in 3D in the model layer and to display a vertical lighting position in both plot and model view.

Expanded Fixture Libraries
Yes, the fixture libraries have expanded. Over 30 manufacturers of lighting, truss, audio, and stage equipment are represented in the stock library files that come with Spotlight. There are new libraries for Philips/Color Kinetics, James Thomas, Atlas Sound, Meyer Sound Laboratories, EAW, and d&b audiotechnik.

Number Instrument Command
The Number Instrument Command has expanded capabilities. Any one of a dozen selectable fields in the lighting device can be automatically modified and incremented. Multiple fields can be modified simultaneously. The increment used can be based on the channel number. Really useful is the fact that when you reopen the command it retains the next number in the sequence you were working on. Not so useful is resetting the numbering direction each time you invoke the command, but this is already on the list and will be fixed in the next update.

Automatic Universe Assignment
At the beginning of a project or at any other time, Spotlight can be set to automatically handle the assignment of DMX universes and dimmer combinations.

Create Similar Object
The Create Similar Object command allows you to copy the parameters of an existing object to create a similar object with the same parameters. Clicking on an object activates the tool that drew it, the mode that was used, and sets the parameters, attributes, and class to match. It works with extruded objects as well, popping open a dialogue box that asks for the extrusion height.

Better Snapping, Selecting and Importing
Snapping and selecting indicators have both been improved. They are easier to see and feel more precise. A snap loupe feature has been added which instantly magnifies the area around the cursor at the touch of a key for more precise control. All SmartCursor settings are now accessible from one window. Pre-Selection Indication is a great new feature. Objects highlight as the mouse passes over them, indicating which object would be selected if you click.

Cursor settings and Highlighting are controlled from a new pane in Vectorworks Preferences, the Interactive pane. Among other controls, you can set the highlighting response sensitivity and customize the colors of over two dozen of the interactive indicators.

PDFs are now snappable. They can be re-sized with greater precision becoming more usable as the basis of a design. PDFs, DWGs, JPEGs, and other files can be imported by dragging them onto an open Vectorworks file.

Preserve Folder Hierarchy
As you import symbols, worksheets, or other resources from other files into a live document, you are given the option of selecting a destination folder for the incoming resources or of importing the folder hierarchy of the source library along with the resources from that document.

In the US, Nemetschek offers licenses to students and faculty for their personal use at no charge. Outside of the US, it varies; check with your distributor. Some charge, others don’t. When printed from a personal license, academic files are watermarked in capital letters across the top and bottom of the document: VECTORWORKS EDUCATIONAL VERSION. Files printed with the additional academic lab license do so without the watermark, a provision thankfully made for creating portfolio drawings.

If you teach and consequently create and review files under an academic license and you also work with files created professionally, a word of caution. Don't mix the two of them. If you forgetfully import or copy an item from an academically produced file into a professional document, oops, you've watermarked it.

Learning and Continuing to Learn Vectorworks
If you are upgrading, changing platforms, switching to Vectorworks as your primary CAD app, or just starting out, there are many training and support materials available from Nemetschek and third parties that can get you started, introduce new techniques, and keep you up to date. There is also an active and long-running Vectorworks listserv populated by working professionals who can and do offer support to the pro who's stuck or the beginner who has questions. A second, equally helpful listserv is more narrowly focused on the theatrical community. Links for many of these resources can be found at the Nemetschek website.

Look for a more in depth review coming in the April issue of Live Design.

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