Design Issues and Solutions Making my plots look more professional and just better in general.

TheTheaterGeek

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I am always looking at professional plots and they all seem cleaner, with better symbols and such. They look a whole lot better than the default Vectorworks stuff. For examples, the plots in A practical Guide to Stage Lighting are wonderful.

What should I be considering in my process of drafting? I am pretty advanced in VWX but I don't quite understand how to make these plots work correctly.

I draft in 1/4", but a lot that i see in in 1/2". is that something to consider?
If I change from 1/4" to 1/2" is there a way to convert the stuff i do want to keep(The building and such in 3D)?

Is soft symbols something I should invest in?

I had a "CAD for the entertainment industry" class, but it wasn't as informative as I had hoped.

Is there anything I am missing?

I have included a very Preliminary copy of my current project. I am happy to share the VWX file as well with anyone who would like a look. I will also include a final product in PDF when I get a bit of time today. I will gladly provide the VWX file for that one as well.

Thanks in advance for the help!

Clay
 

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BillConnerFASTC

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It's been many years since I drew production light plots but they were always 1/2" to the foot and I'd never seen one in portrait format - always landscape. Will have to leave to others to say what's more common today. But, I don't understand your drawing and scale. All of my cad work - quite a bit since I started in 1982 - has been drawn full size, and simply plotted to a scale. Whats to convert other than text? And can't you change all text with a single command in vector works? Purely an AutoCAD guy.
 

TheTheaterGeek

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It's been many years since I drew production light plots but they were always 1/2" to the foot and I'd never seen one in portrait format - always landscape. Will have to leave to others to say what's more common today. But, I don't understand your drawing and scale. All of my cad work - quite a bit since I started in 1982 - has been drawn full size, and simply plotted to a scale. Whats to convert other than text? And can't you change all text with a single command in vector works? Purely an AutoCAD guy.
Thats an interesting point. What do yo mean you drew in full scale and plotted in scale?
Does auto cad handle scale differently?

And the landscape vs Portrait thing makes sense for printing, but wouldn't it be hard to work in a plan view from the side?

I am very excited to impress with this project so every little bit of info is great.

Thanks.

BTW, Nice to hear from you Bill it's been a while.
 

soundman

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In AutoCad you draw in 1:1 scale then when it comes time to print you choose a scale. With VW you can pick the scale mush earlier. But you can also draft in 1:1 and then use viewports to set the scale for what you want to print.

Yes neater symbols can help class up a drawing. I have some I tweaked a few years ago. took some time but I liked how they look, but be careful of adding to much detail. It can make moving around the drawing slow and make text hard to read.

Look at the plots on http://www.cmlighting.com/ then look at yours. You could improve how you handle line weights and try and be more consistent across the drawing. Looking at the 3rd beam position, the fixtures line weight is the same as the hanging position, some symbols are below the hanging position and some are above, some snapped to the middle others seem to be hung from the lamp housing. Does that mean the
 

TheTheaterGeek

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In AutoCad you draw in 1:1 scale then when it comes time to print you choose a scale. With VW you can pick the scale mush earlier. But you can also draft in 1:1 and then use viewports to set the scale for what you want to print.

Yes neater symbols can help class up a drawing. I have some I tweaked a few years ago. took some time but I liked how they look, but be careful of adding to much detail. It can make moving around the drawing slow and make text hard to read.

Look at the plots on http://www.cmlighting.com/ then look at yours. You could improve how you handle line weights and try and be more consistent across the drawing. Looking at the 3rd beam position, the fixtures line weight is the same as the hanging position, some symbols are below the hanging position and some are above, some snapped to the middle others seem to be hung from the lamp housing. Does that mean the
Was there more to that post? Haha I submit early all the time.

But Those plots are awesome.
Are they made in VWX?
 

SteveB

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Brooklyn, NY
Echoing what soundman posted, as well there's no great solution to the landscape/portrait choice.

In olden dayes, we had to draft in landscape and would truncate where the FOH goes to get it on the paper, which might typically be 36" x 48", as that's what a printer could handle.

Today and with CAD you can do the drawing anyway you want, landscape or portrait, picking any sized paper you choose. The end user can then either do viewport of portions of the drawing, or can create a PDF and snapshot whatever section they need.

Typically though, the end purpose dictates the way you draft. If you need a landscape version, with all the plot on one sheet, you draft it that way, knowing you might need to print it into whatever the largest paper Kinkos or Staples can handle. If you have the option and have a really large and complicated FOH, that may well be on a 2nd page of the drawing and will print as such. We have a blackboard that is longer then wide, so everybody drafts and prints in portrait as that works best, so no hard and fast rules.

As to how to get the drawing looking professional ?, copy ideas you see and like from other plots. Go Googling for rental halls, look at whatever paperwork they put out and get ideas.
 

ScottT

Lighting Programmer
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Jul 30, 2008
Location
New York City
I don't do much drafting anymore, but:
  • Line weights. At a bare minimum you should have 3 different line weights: Light (scenery, leader lines, dimensions), medium (masking, drops, center/plaster line), heavy (positions, architecture, lights, drawing border). Start with these 3 then refine them as you draft more. So your accessories should be the same line weight as your instruments for example
  • Explore hatching for showing top down views - especially useful for booms. You should also have the box booms in your overhead view.
  • Create a title block that's more appropriate for theatre. The USITT lighting design graphics has info on what you should have
  • Border should just be a line. You don't need the architectural junk on there
  • Ditch the stock symbols that say the degrees - look at how the USITT lighting design graphics designate different degree types, those are a good place to start
  • Plots that make it to me (typically) don't have purpose, color, accessory, or dimmer information. They just have channel and unit number and 750/575.
  • Explore making defined position labels
  • Symbol key
  • Plot should be horizontal not portrait orientation
  • You should have a lineset schedule that displays LS #, description, and distance from 0,0
  • I typically see units drawn on 0, 3, 6, and 9. Makes it easy to put on the plot, and in the space
The plot is very much a piece of art - it should be drawn in a style that reflects you. All of my plots looked like engineering drawings, as that's my background. Font choice is important, but don't pick something too wild because other people might not have it installed on their computers.

Again, the plot is a piece of art. Take everything above with a grain of salt, but do take a look at the USITT guidelines.
 

soundman

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Was there more to that post? Haha I submit early all the time.

But Those plots are awesome.
Are they made in VWX?
That was supposed to read "Does that mean those fixtures should get roostered out?".

Not sure what he drafts in. My gut says VW but I'm not sure. The tool is less important than knowing how to use it. I know there are some tool packs to get AutoCad closer to what VW with Spotlight can do but I have never used those. It has a lot to do with practice and following the rules. I can draft a quick and dirty light plot in half an hour if I am given a decent drawing of the space and working with fixtures I have in my library. An ME would be able to hang the show but it might not be art. To get to the level like on the website would take hours. When you are getting paid a flat fee earning those style points can cut into your hourly wage and you have to make a call if it is worth it or not. A one off dance show that happens next week? Maybe not. Your senior undergrad lighting design? For sure.

The biggest thing that will help you draft neater faster is using classes and layers. Its really easy to draw everything in the default class and layer but then it because very difficult to clean things up. we used an earlier version of this guide when I was in college https://courses.cit.cornell.edu/pma3626/VWtutorial2014/titlepage.html
 

MNicolai

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Scale is a personal choice. It used to matter more if it was 1/2" or 1/4" because you had to plot it to paper and maintain legibility for the text. The ubiquity of iPads and tablets has made it so fewer people plot their drawings. I only ever PDF my drawings now and import them into Fieldwire. I can pull the plot up on my phone, my iPad, my desktop, my laptop, or share it with anyone with an iOS or Android device. I can drop task markers into the plans for things that still need to be done and assign someone to do them. For annual events I can mark up the lessons we learned this year as "as-built data" to keep in mind for next year. Everyone can mark up the drawings as they need to adjust and it automatically updates on everyone's devices. No more last minute patch changes that one person scribbled onto a piece of paper, and then everyone had to go on a scavenger hunt to find the paper before they could patch the show.

The general rule of thumb is your text size should never be smaller than 1/8". The smallest you should go is 3/32". As far as your paper size goes and the scale of your geometry to fit the paper, that has more to do with how much text data and annotations you have to fit on your drawing. Again -- if you're plotting only to PDF and not paper, you could make it lifesize 1:1 if you wanted to and someone could zoom in on it. In a digital workflow, the most important thing is that your text size is legible without being so large it gets in the way of your other text or symbols.

Devil's advocate for conventional scaling is that 1/4" and 1/2" scales are easy math for someone to convert paper inches to decimal feet. But with an app like Fieldwire or Plangrid, you can also just as easily measure exactly directly off of the PDF.

Even on a paper plot, my rule of thumb is that if someone has to reach for a scale rule to read the drawing, you've drafted your documents poorly. Dimensions that need to be exact should be shown. Dimensions that need to be +/- 6" should be discernible by approximation off of some reference grid. For paper sizes I like 30"x42", because if I need to plot, I can plot it at full-size if I have a gun to my head, or I can plot it half-size at 18"x24" with the text still legible and the scale is adjusted half of whatever is shown on the hard copy.

--

I'd argue against the conventional wisdom of using different symbols for fixtures like USITT has laid out. I've seen too many "standards" on that with contradictions, and then you need to keep a legend on your plots for every type of fixture in use. With all of the standard size ellipsoidals, all of the intermediary sizes, all of the extremes (10's, 5's, 70's, 90's), and zooms -- the symbol method breaks down. Especially if you do something like LED's or PAR's with interchangable lenses and so forth -- it's easier just to show the information in clear text on the plot than it is to come up with a 26-symbol legend everyone needs to reference against. Keeping in mind that everyone comes from different backgrounds and one designer's "X" fixture could get screwed up by a stagehand who just got off a show where that was the designer's "/" symbol. There's also something to be said for seeing visually on your drawing just how long the lens tube is on 10° or a 15°/30°.

--

You could line a dozen designers up who would adamantly disagree with everything I've just said and I wouldn't lose a single night's rest over it. It works awesome for me -- my load-ins have never gone smoother because I stick my digital PDF's in anyone's hands in clear text and they can readily discern every salient detail. For others, their plot gets distributed to a bunch of union guys who have no idea how an iPad works and this whole process would break down for them. The most important thing is that your process works for you, highly enables your crews to install your plots at whatever skill level they may be at, isn't overly drafted for something that's stupid simple, and isn't severely under-drafted for something that would've saved you 6 man-hours if you had taken the 20 minutes to put some dimensions and accessory information directly on your drawings.

By the way -- best part of a digital workflow is being able to have someone walk down an electric and highlight fixtures in green if they're completed or red if they need some attention later. Then if your head electrician gets hit by a bus, catches the flu, or leaves for the day you can pick up exactly where they left off without needing 20-minutes with them to have them talk you through how far they did or didn't get. Likewise, if they show up at the theater the next morning at 8AM and you're not in until 11AM, they can pick right back up wherever you left off. Added bonus is never having to pay for a blueprint shop to plot your drawings or pay for your own plotter you have to keep fed with pricey toner and bond paper.
 
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danTt

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NY
I think the approach to making a plot needs to be: How can I convey the needed information in the quickest in cleanest fashion, and do it in a timely manner. Plots that look great when you print them will still end up with coffee stains, wrinkles, and tears 30 minutes after the hang starts, so other than making your design professor (or portfolio) happy, I'm much happier when designers get me the plot a day earlier than I am when they spend an extra day making every like sit exactly perfect. That's not to say you shouldn't make quality plots, it's just to say that you can spend a whole lot of time drafting details on your plot that don't really matter to anyone.

That being said, a lot of what you should put on a plot depends on the way your venue works. If your venue assigns dimmers/patches in advance, it probably makes sense to put the dimmer number on the plot so that you aren't trying to look at LW and the plot simultaneously... Counting instruments on the pipe will make your hang take much longer. If you use hangtapes, or dimmer as you go, the plot can be much lighter (sorry). When I'm hanging a rig these days, half the time I don't even open the plot until I'm troubleshooting, I have all of the information on hangtapes and everything patched before I start. In these instances I want the plot to be as clean as possible, all I really need to know is the direction to point the light, what kind of light it is, and how the designer wants to identify it on the console.

I think one thing that would make your plot look more featured and "fancy" is adding detail to the architecure of your space. Where is the fly rail? What linesets are these lights on? Where are the booms going? Also, what about a section? You should always include one with your light plot.
 

BillConnerFASTC

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I agree with Dan - drawings like these - and the ones I do for buildings and installation - are tools of communication. (Warning - long, often given, speech on the evils of cad.) Tom Skelton, my lighting professor, was of course entirely in the hand drawn era, and made the communication aspect along with the care and feeding of the ME high priorities. He even talked about - showed - pressing the pencil harder in areas of a drawing that varied from standard -whether notes or spacing or whatever. This might include an artful "smudge" to de-emphasize an area that was pretty standard. I have yet to figure out how to smudge a cad drawing but I keep working on it. Hard enough to insert a little section detail in midst of a plan as use to be common. It communicates so much better and efficiently to have that detail right there rather than many sheets later. And talk about many sheets - one or maybe two for a major plot. How many today? And for buildings, a high school in the hand drawn era was maybe 50 sheets. I've worked on some recently over 1000 sheets. ("Green" buildings with acres of paper - oh my!) and how does one person begin to coordinate the work on 1000 sheets? The "master" architect on a project use to look at every sheet and make notes. Today it's not possible, especially since the owner thinks cad should make you more efficient, so start today and finish in a month, rather than a year as a typical project design use to take. And the people with experience can't drive the computer so it's the young ones just out of school with no experience who actually do the drawings. Talk to any old time superintendent on a job site and they ALL agree. I do appreciate as much as anyone that if your not so great at hand drafting, cad is helpful in neutralizing that problem, especially for lighting designers who unlike costume and set designers seem to come from a technical background rather than a fine arts background.

OK - I'm done. I would like to hear what experienced ME's have to say about cad - experienced enough to have been an ME or at least a show electrician in the hand drawn plots era.
 

MikeJ

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I agree with Dan - drawings like these - and the ones I do for buildings and installation - are tools of communication. (Warning - long, often given, speech on the evils of cad.) Tom Skelton, my lighting professor, was of course entirely in the hand drawn era, and made the communication aspect along with the care and feeding of the ME high priorities. He even talked about - showed - pressing the pencil harder in areas of a drawing that varied from standard -whether notes or spacing or whatever. This might include an artful "smudge" to de-emphasize an area that was pretty standard. I have yet to figure out how to smudge a cad drawing but I keep working on it. Hard enough to insert a little section detail in midst of a plan as use to be common. It communicates so much better and efficiently to have that detail right there rather than many sheets later. And talk about many sheets - one or maybe two for a major plot. How many today? And for buildings, a high school in the hand drawn era was maybe 50 sheets. I've worked on some recently over 1000 sheets. ("Green" buildings with acres of paper - oh my!) and how does one person begin to coordinate the work on 1000 sheets? The "master" architect on a project use to look at every sheet and make notes. Today it's not possible, especially since the owner thinks cad should make you more efficient, so start today and finish in a month, rather than a year as a typical project design use to take. And the people with experience can't drive the computer so it's the young ones just out of school with no experience who actually do the drawings. Talk to any old time superintendent on a job site and they ALL agree. I do appreciate as much as anyone that if your not so great at hand drafting, cad is helpful in neutralizing that problem, especially for lighting designers who unlike costume and set designers seem to come from a technical background rather than a fine arts background.

OK - I'm done. I would like to hear what experienced ME's have to say about cad - experienced enough to have been an ME or at least a show electrician in the hand drawn plots era.
This is the same as the Analog v. Digital audio argument from a few years ago. Vellum and pencil lose.
 

SteveB

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Brooklyn, NY
revision cloud.jpg
Some very good points Bill.

I'm an ME and Lighting Director, been at this for 41 years, so came from the day of hand drafting and all paperwork by hand.

I converted to Lightwright when it was Assistant Lighting Designer way back in about '84 or so. Then to Vectorworks in 2003.

There is NO POSSIBILITY I would want to go back to hand drafting and paperwork. CAD and LW as well as the interface and the transfer of data to the ETC console saves me hours on each event. I haven't manually patched an Ion since, well I cannot recall when.

I do commiserate with the "1000" pages of drawings, been there on our new building, but also know that the level of coordination and sharing of information is far greater and easier in today's CAD era.

CAD and the associated programs that do the paperwork and allow transfer of data to the console, just is so much more error free, if done correctly and you understand the process. It also makes it so much easier (and this is pertinent to the OP) to tailor elements of the documents to the user, so less useless stuff to read. And that's really important, being able to get the correct information to the right people. I know the electricians reading the hang sheet don't need color information at that step in the process. In ye olden dayes, we cut up the plot and hoped they understood to read it backwards and Oh, by the way, ignore color, we're not doing that yet. Now-a-days it's a dedicated piece of paper that gives them what they need for the moment and is a snap to create in CAD.

Is it better to learn hand drafting before CAD ?. I'd rather see the CAD skills develop, as per the OP's questions and if learning hand drawing means they can't spend time tweaking a CAD drawing then skip the hand drawing skills which they will never, ever use anyway.

Still important to learn what to put on a drawing and to not take for granted that the person reading the drawing will understand. The attached photo as example.

My $.02
 

BillConnerFASTC

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No smudge on that detail - all lightweights the same - common in cad. Just didn't make those goofy errors anywhere near as much pre-cad. The fact is, there are a lot more changes today - ripping out new work and doing it over. Ask any experienced construction superintendent. More and more contractor bid at cost and know they are likely to make profit on the changes from poor coordination.
 

RickR

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Sep 18, 2009
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Spokane, WA the great "Inland Northwest"
Ever hear of Squiggle? http://www.signaturecad.com/products/squiggle/ Vectorworks has a similar function built in. If you really want it there is a way. For a smudge I'd probably lay a gray area on top of the line, or duplicate the line and make it very wide and light gray. It all depends on what you are really looking for. My main point is that there is always more than one way to communicate and unfortunately, more than one way to interpret.

Whoever cut the cloud hole probably had never seen a revision cloud and they predate CAD. That's a training issue not a drawing issue. What will someone think of a smudge? (coffee so ignore it?) I've never seen a deliberate smudge on a plan so who knows what someone else will get from it. I know how to put details where I want them and I'm sure you do too. Too often I see errors from pure laziness/overwork. A recent project had an issue when the architect dotted lined some fixtures, but never stated on that page, that it meant demo. Then again I had an electrician tell me some circuits weren't on his drawings, till I pointed to them on the page and the notes that linked back to my drawings. Was it the drawing or his lack of vision? There is just so much to do and so little funding to get it right. I agree with @soundman more focus on better drawings is needed.

I believe nothing is foolproof as I have great faith in the ingenuity of fools!
 

BillConnerFASTC

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I bought AutoCAD in 1982, tried Squiggle in 1989.

But the fact remains that a sheet from a building designed fifty years ago communicated more and better than any sheet I've seen in the last 15 or so, and all the information for an entire building on 50 sheets communicates better than spreading it out over 1000. I won't go back to pen and mylar, but I won't forget the lessens of drawing economy and preciseness. Just lazy and sloppy and poor communication to simply spread information out over more sheets andcrely on notes. Drawings are the epitomy of communicating graphically. A picture is probably worth more than a 1000 words. Experience tells me the electrician wouldn't have missed the circuits if they'd been drawn rather than noted.