Do you remember the good old days of lighting design, large chunks of paper, pencils, reasers and a set of stencils of the most common theatre lights. You sat slaving under a desk lamp putting your ideas down in pencil only to rub them out when you realised that light cannot shine through a solid object. Once you had finalised the design you inked it in ready to be copied. You then sat down and did all of the associated paperwork, hook up charts, cut colour lists. You then realised that you did not have enough lanterns or dimmers – late nights taking their toll.
Well things have now changed for the modern lighting designer. Many moons ago the personnel computer came out and since that day theatre techies have being finding ways to use them to make their life easier. The have basically gone down the same path that architects have gone down. The road is called CAD. Now this might seem like old hat to you, but still it is a good idea to remind people of where things have come from. We now have software dedicated to the lighting designer. A lot of this software is not cheap but it does speed up the process of getting your design down on paper. A lot of the software also will generate the required paperwork in any form that you require, all you need to do is click a button. No more of this tedious collating of info by hand. You are less likely to produce errors.
The beauty of the software solutions is that you can input the set design elements and venue information into the program and then you position the lights, sounds good. But the program can also render in 3d what it could look like. You can check your lighting before you get to the venue. You can with some software build lighting states and rehearse cues to see how it all gels. So a lot of the tasks of the lighting designer have been made easier therefore allowing them to spend more time on the creative elements. Also if changes are needed to be made it becomes a lot easier to update all of the paperwork with a click of the mouse key.
Some of the software that is available is as follows:
AutoCad available from autodesk
This is a heavy weight program originally for industrial designers. This is one of the originals in the area of CAD. It has a fairly steep learning curve, but there are plenty of tools available for the theatre professional. you can download a trial version. I would suggest doing a course in using this software, but there are some good resources for help with this software.
Vectorworks available from nemetschek
This is another comprehensive software package. It comes in several different flavours, Designer, Architectural, Landmark and Spotlight. Spotlight is the theatrical version of this very powerful package. This version comes complete with a reasonable fixture library. You also have access to truss libraries, and scenic elements. This software seems to have a reasonable learning curve. Once you know the basics it is not that hard to come up with a 2D lighting plot. You can also work in 3D and also render the scenes to get a visualizsation of what your lighting is going to look like. It is one program I would recommend.
Cast Lighting WYSIWYG available from Cast Software
WYSIWYG is a 3D CAD, paperwork, rendering, and pre-visualisation software package. This piece of source is extremely sophisticated. not only can you use it to design the lighting but you can plan your cues and basicly have the show rehearsed before a light is actually rigged.
SoftPlot available from Stage Research
SoftPlot 9 is a CAD application specifically for lighting. Plot lighting, manage paperwork for all levels of theatre. This is a pretty good piece of software. I own an early version of this software and it works quite well. It again comes with a decent library of lanterns and lighting bars etc. It generates the paperwork which is also customisable. This company also makes the lighting control software LightFactory.
Stardraw Lighting 2D 2007 available from Stardraw
Another interesting product. It is another piece of software that has an extensive symbol library. It is quite an easy piece of software to use. It does have the feel of an Microsoft Office piece of software, which can either be good or bad depending on your point of view.
Microlux Light available from Luxart
This is a 2D piece of software availa from Microlux. The reason it is free is that it does have adds in it. It does an adequate job of doing 2D lighting designs. I have had trouble getting it to work well, but that could be me and my system.
TurboCad available from Turbocad
This is the first CAD program that I started playing with. I found it a very good program. It did not have lighting symbols, but I created my own. I am sure you can import Autocad symbol files etc into this program and use them. You just need to keep an eye on the scaling or you might end up with symbols that are rather large. I think the new versions of this software are going to be much better than the one I first started using. You can often get a free older version of this software on PC magazines and also online. It is quite a good program that is fairly easy to use.
As you can see there is a variety of CAD software available to the lighting designer and I am sure there is some open source software also that will do a great job as well. The trick is to find the one that you are comfortable with. The more comfortable that you are with the software the better the result you are going to produce. You will also be more efficient.
so I suggest thsat you download demos and try before you buy. most of this software is expensive, so try before you buy.