What I'm Using Now: John McKernon Software Lightwright 5

Gone are the days when money was no object and a lighting designer wouldn’t have to think about designing something within constraints of lower budgets. We just did it because it was cool or amazing, and as long as it scraped the ceiling of what hadn’t been done before, budget was acceptable. For many of us, it has been a long time since those days, and since necessity is often the mother of invention, new and improved methods are becoming a byproduct of the financial crunch. After all, what is design, if not the ability to mold beauty within the constraints of time, money, and imagination?

A friend of mine, Dave Best, who holds multiple degrees in structural engineering and is a CAD software distributor, puts things right into perspective when he talks to clients about maximizing productivity. He eloquently questions his prospects about how much a productivity problem costs in lost revenues, until they recognize they actually have a problem. It’s just human nature that many of us are more prone to recognizing our successes than our deficiencies. As a lighting designer, I’ve dealt with this very issue, and carefully examined my own business model, then asked myself, “What, really, are my weak spots, and how can I strengthen them?” The answer is simple: improving the efficiency of my productivity by conveying my designs more clearly. How can I use software to help maximize my design dollar while cutting down on revenues lost by being disorganized?

I work mostly in television lighting, where load-in seems to be one of the big hurdles of the design, with little margin for error, especially with one-off productions. It’s no secret that prep is the key. An integral part of the prep is how well you have done your paperwork, not only including power and data but also documenting accurate pull lists, color stock, and power/data lists. Enter Lightwright 5 (LW5).

Lightwright 5 has made some remarkable advances that can maximize output at a pretty reasonable initial cost. Its tools are targeted to organizing the volatile fluidity of lighting data management on a lighting plot, with clean-cut precision and ease. It cuts through channeling and every other aspect of lighting paperwork like a Masamoto KA knife through Otoro, and it can keep up with the swings of even the most drastic changes. Using cool tools like plus editing channel columns and paste brushing dimmers, one can make quick work of numbering.

Apart from its effective toolset, LW5’s tight integration into Nemetschek Vectorworks Spotlight 2010 has simplified production lighting paperwork for Vectorworks users. It’s clear that this is a program that has been continually refined to one end: making the huge amount of data associated with lighting paperwork easy to manage. It will extrapolate all the meaning from a lighting plot and tie it up in a neat package with a bow, delivered to staff and vendors, at the push of a few buttons (with some practice, that is).

VW Data Exchange
Vectorworks Data Exchange is perhaps the most useful addition to this version. McKernon notes that it was a process to get implemented. “I’ve been using VW since it was MiniCad 5 or so, and I always appreciated that it supported theatrical lighting, but moving data between LW and VW was always so incredibly picky and byzantine that I rarely bothered doing it,” he says. “A few years ago, I went down to Nemetschek’s offices and met with some of the product development people and explained that I wanted data sharing between LW and VW to be both simple and immediate—almost invisible. I wasn’t sure they thought much of the idea until the summer of 2008, when they gave the idea a ‘go.’ It’s not quite as seamless as I had originally envisioned, but Data Exchange as it stands now does 90% of it, and hopefully we’ll see improvements with each new release of Vectorworks and Lightwright.”

Lightwright 5 provides a simple and elegant interface to linking Vectorworks lighting plot data to the paperwork that goes with it. The data exchange pipeline is a two-way hotlink, so any changes made in either program will sync across both platforms. Since both platforms lend loads of output to constructing a hypersonic data model, this is an exceptional feature that has taken the design process to an exciting new level and has advanced charting speed exponentially. It will change the way we do things.

LW5 will not only process the huge array of instrument data from a VW plot and produce stunning paperwork, but it will also assist in filling in much of that paperwork. Since it is a hotlink, all updates made in LW5 will update the actual VW plot live and vice versa. You can even add or delete new fixtures in LW5, and the same will happen in VW. Using LW’s dynamic renumbering features, you can renumber en masse in LW and instantly reflect the changes on the VW plot by refreshing it.

Changes made to the paperwork from VW appear in brown, so anyone can distinguish where they were made. It takes very little time to set up the exchange file, yet the amount of time it saves might pay for the software in a single project. With this feature, and a few general guidelines to system design, any designer, gaffer, or electrician can quickly generate patch sheets, channel hookups, and an abundance of other paperwork, literally in minutes.

Lightwright is available worldwide from City Theatrical dealers.

For the full review, check out the September issue of Live Design.

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