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Computer Aided LX Design Vs Pen & Paper?


CAD or Pen and Paper  

86 members have voted

  1. 1. Which do you prefer to use/see?

    • Computer Aided Designs with visualisation (WYSIWYG etc)
    • Cad programme without visualisation (Autocad, etc)
    • Pen and Paper
    • Pen and Paper at first, then Computer with visualisation
    • Pen and Paper at first, then Computer without visualisation
    • It's all in my head.

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Hi Guys,


As part of a research project I am undertaking, I need to find out people opinions on lighting designs. As the poll states, I would like to find out why designers prefer pen and paper, or why they prefer to use CAD?


More importantly than that answer, I would also like to know why these people prefer their chosen answer.


My project relies greatly on industry professionals opinions, so where better to start than the Blue-Room. I don't want to start any arguments between people because people don't agree with each other. There is not a correct answer for this, as everyone has different opinions so therefore the need for this thread to become an argument isn't there! :(


If anyone has a spare 5 minutes to write their opinion and leave a short explanation that would be much appreciated.


Thank you.

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I think you need to add an option to the poll for both- I see the need for computer-aided plots for very large shows, and also they allow other people to easily read the plans with little or no confusion...


However I think better with a pencil and paper, at least in the design stages of a project. And for smaller rigs, I often just stop after I have it on paper- no need to transpose to the PC.





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I am not going to go either way here - because my opinion is not "One or the other". I think there are situations where CAD is the way to go, and there are situations where P&P is better. Size of the show is a big thing - as is who is going to be putting up the rig.


Note that CAD does not necessarily mean using a package with visualisation. I often build my designs on a CAD program without vis for the sole reason that I want it to be neat and legible for others to read.


Shows with lots of movers and music is really where visualisers come into their element.


For theatre... I don't think visualisation is needed really.

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I think it's fair to say that I have not done any design work using real paper based drawing for years. In fact, the last stencil I think I owned was a Strand one, bought about 20 years ago!. I'm a firm believer in using computers for as much as possible. Two reasons really. The obvious one being the fact that revisions and small changes can be carried out very quickly. Copy and paste functions speed up the production of plans no end. Scale measurements and beam width angles are a cinch to do, without getting out scale rulers and protractors. Cicuit numbering and colour can be done quickly too. Although I do have some 'proper' drawing software, I've been using a cheapish drawing package from Serif, for years - moving from version to version each time a new one comes out. It does everything I need. The main problem with software is learning to use is capably and quickly, and to be honest, I haven't got time to learn something new. I bought turboCad a couple of years ago - never used it for a single plan. Probably very good - I just haven't got the inclination to start to learn to use it. I'm certain that what I'm using is best for me.


What I don't need is visualisation software. I know how good it is, but it doesn't fit in with what I do. A few movers and loads of generics are my lot - I don't need to see a computer version of what I've got. Maybe if I worked on lots of very busy shows, I'd go for it. It just isn't what I want to do.


The second reason for doing plans on computers is simple. My writing sucks - badly! If I want anyone to read the annotations - even circuit numbers, then my writing is dreadful - I can just get by in capitals, but it takes so long. I even tried writing along a ruler - looked a bit better, but still so hard to read.



One small problem I have found with computer plans is that as version numbers increase, it's worth importing and re-saving files as version 5 may well be able to load version 3 files, but can it do version 2 files? Maybe not. I have lots of old files for venues I've been at in the past that I can't load any more. Maybe one day I'll find the old software and re-install it, then save and update.



I think there is a big difference between CAD and visualisation software - so I can't vote. I don't do paper and and don't do wysiwyg!

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My writing sucks - badly!

Same problem. Thus whereas my "design" element is P&P based, once I've got a design it then makes it's way to an excel spreadsheet. Sort it by supplier and print to order the stuff, sorted by dimmer channel and printed to go on the wall by the dimmers, and sorted by location and printed again so I can rig the thing, or when I'm really lucky, give it to the rigging crew. I usually print on A3.


I layout using P&P (along with generous use of The Eraser), but the paper is a CAD layout of the venue, with the bars etc and the set and fixed scenic elements in the place they'll really be.


So I'm another in the category of can't vote. Voted for "Pen and Paper at first, then Computer without visualisation", even though the computer part isn't graphic, merely Excel.


For the benefit of the OP I should note I am not a named theatre designer with a years of West End credits to my CV, but an amateur who has been doing this for a few shows a year for a very long time :(

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Moderation: I've edited the Poll to add some more options.


CAD with and without visualisation are quite different animals, so I've split them up. I've also allowed the "Pen and Paper first" type options, as well as never actually committing it to record until you do it. If anyone that has voted already wants to change their vote, PM me.


For me, I've gone with Pen and Paper first (no stencils!) for my own usage, and then Autocad for plans that other people need to be able to read.

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At work, I use AutoCAD without visualization. Doing theatre, mostly I make it up as I go, and do a post-plot if I need one. Lately I have been doing actual plots more for my theatre stuff, and that is also done with AutoCAD (at work :( ).



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I went for "Pen and Paper at first, then Computer without visualisation". I once used LightJockey from Martin, and programmed up a whole load of chases, only to find that my exact plan of the room on the screen, didn't match what happened to the light, and nothing hit the intended marks. That put me off. Having said that, my training on the Wholehog II uesd a visuliser to simulate the output, and I though that looked much better. I don't have a WYSIWYG budget, so am stuck with my AutoCAD Lt, which I bought whilst at college, for engineering drawings.


Now I do a CAD plan of the building with LX/Scaff bars located correctly. Using pencil and stencil, I draw the rough plan, then when I am happy, I move back to CAD. All lanterns are blocks, pointing towards 0 so that the rotate function points them in the right direction and away I go.

Any side elevations are done in CAD too. Here is the twist, I hate plans with too much info on them, so each lantern gets one unique number, nothing else, and the focus sheet is done in Excel to tell me exactly what I was thinking of. These numbers are put on by hand, as it takes too long to add in CAD. As I often only have my gels to hand, each lantern is coloured in on the plan in the rough colour I want it to be, and I have a look when I see set and things.

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Exactly how I approach things depends on what the project is, but what follows is my general working style. I'll draw the set up on the computer from the working drawings / groundplans supplied by the designer (on a few, rare, occassions they'll supply a CAD file which makes this bit a lot less time consuming). As well as being a great diversion from actually putting lights on a plan, I find this also gives my a good feel for how the set works as a 3D object, and gives me a good idea of fixture positions and angles.


I'll then often sketch out some rough ideas on paper, not in terms of actual fixtures, but colours, angles and textures. Finally, I'll use CAD to add fixtures, then colours, to the plan. On large shows, I'll often bounce from CAD to paper, and back into CAD a few times - as I sometimes find it easier to get an overview of what the whole rig is doing on paper, and I'd rather be in rehearsals with a sheet of paper in front of me, rather than a laptop. Some of this is due to my current software - I use Wysiwyg, which isn't great at giving you an overview of the rig which you can then edit, making it easier to do so with pen and paper, then update the computer.


As I said, I do currently use Wysiwyg, but I rarely use its visualisation functions - in most cases I'm familiar enough with the venue, the position and the fixture to tell what effect a given unit will have - and its just not accurate enough to get into simulating multiple light sources for theatre.


Hope that helps!



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I personally use a CAD package all the way through, It's just a free version of TurboCAD, but I find it so easy to cut and paste fixtures. If I dont like an angle, it's easy to change, and as Paul says, My writing is terrible!!!!


However, a friend of mine is happy with pen, paper and stencils from beginning to end... But his writing is even worse then mine!



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I tend not to be working on anything large, usually nothing bigger than 30 Lanterns for a show. to start, I usually have a paper copy of the rough stage plan for each of the scenes from the script or any lighting cues that are obvious. (or if its an orginaised director I might even have notes from a meeting) From that I usually draw arrows on the stageplan to represent key lights and specials etc. that I want for each scenenoting mood/colours etc, after I have each lighting state built up as a collection of key, fill and specials I would like, the next bit is to rationise all of these arrows into a finite number of lanterns, using different colours to comprimise, finding where I can use the same lantern for a few different scenes etc. usually after a few rounds of wittling down I have a plan that covers most of what I want, that comes within the budget of lantern and channel count, I then Cad this up as the draft LX plan for presentation to the production team, if there is one. I can then refer to the scene plots to explain which effect I can achieve within budget. This also allows me to approach the director with 'if you give me a bit more money I can give you effects X,Y and Z as well'


As a draughtsman in my 'real' job I have always used 2D AutoCAD to create the plans, I am now however playing around with MS Visio for smaller jobs.

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Now what about "CAD first, then paper" option? That would be my vote currently. It sounds backwards (and probably is), but I always seem to make nice plans on the computer (TurboCAD again, if anybody cares), then scribble all over it with changes and new ideas once I've printed it out. Not often do I get time to go back to the computer and re-do it to match the changes. Having said that, I don't remember the last time I used actual stencils and a drawing board, so I guess I'll vote for CAD.
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The basic technique used by the majority of designers in pretty much every engineering discipline is Paper first, then CAD.


Sketch out the basic concepts on paper, then use CAD to refine it, check everything will actually do what you think it will, and produce drawings that the people building it can understand.


Small shows may not even need to get as far as CAD, unless your writing is as bad as mine and it's the only way that other people can understand your idea!


On the other hand - theatre is often rather fluid, leading to a large number of last-minute changes that may never get back into the CAD.

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