I am big proponent of paperwork. Even for simple systems, some kind of plot and hookup is critical for me to have as a reference for what is connected where.
When I started out in the lighting business, Microsoft Excel did not exist, so all of the schedules were created and updated by hand. It was a challenge to remember to update all the changes on each schedule.
If the color changed in a fixture, you may have had to change that information on several schedules, as well as the large plot and the detail plots. Now that we have computers, you just have to enter your information once, and the change is reflected everywhere.
The creation of a lighting design is in the mind. The transference of that design requires paperwork, and to create paperwork, you require a drafting program. That being said, I would like to introduce you to the latest version of LD Assistant.
At its heart, LD Assistant is a CAD (Computer-Aided Design) program that is built using AutoCAD programming languages developed for third-party partner code writers.
As a lighting designer it is important to provide your crew with a graphic plot that shows them where to hang the lighting fixtures. This simple light plot becomes the start of the design, and the next step is a report based on the light plot containing detailed information about each fixture. Such data includes the type of fixture, location, circuit, dimmer, channel, color, gobo, wattage, etc. All of this data needs to be sortable so that it can be viewed in different ways. Some of the standard reports are Channel Hookup, Dimmer Hookup, Instrument Schedule, Color Count, Instrument Count, etc. LD Assistant has all of this functionality at its core so that you can easily create and disseminate the information about your design.
All of the basic elements for creating the plot and paperwork are only the beginning. Now we want more from a design program. We may need to see what the show will look like with pictures, (renderings). These days 2D isn’t enough, I have to be able to draw my lighting design in all three dimensions, turn on the lights realistically, and capture that cue as a picture, and be able to do this in the same amount of time it used to take to produce the light plot. I need a program that is fast and easy to use, which will allow me to create the room and add the lighting. Here are some of the components of LD Assistant.
First is the suite of drafting tools that are common to all CAD, 2D and 3D. Second, the program works in the standard .dwg format so any building drawings you can get from the architect will open right up. The program has all of the tools required for any complex drafting project, and you don’t need to be a wizard with CAD to produce results. This program has some built in features to make lighting design easy. They have provided two extra drop-down menus not found in other programs just for lighting designers; Lighting, and Production. In these menus you will find tools to help create professional looking drawings with minimal training.
Now let’s talk about blocks. If you have not heard about these gems, you will find them invaluable in your process of designing. LD Assistant comes with an extensive library of ready to use blocks, from lighting fixtures to chairs and tables. A block is “A generic term for one or more objects that are combined to create a single object”. In a simple design you can drag a truss block onto the page and set the height, then drag fixtures and snap them to the truss. You can then add a stage, either as one whole piece or as individual platforms, then add curtains, and you are ready to turn on the lights.
Each block you bring in has attributes that allow you to fill in all of the information used in reports. When you pick a fixture certain attributes are all ready filled in, such as “Type”, “Frame Size”, “Candle Power”, etc. Other attributes are customizable, such as “Filter Color”, and “Channel”. Not only are you adding information for your reports, things like color will show up in your renderings.
Once you have the plot in 3D you can start to use the really fun features that differentiate this program from any standard CAD program. The first thing to do is focus your fixtures and put in color, and possibly gobos. Once you have the show focused, you can use the program to pre-visualize your cues. In order to use the “LD Control window” you will have to hook up your fixtures to DMX in the attributes window. With LD control you have a built-in fader console that will allow you to create scenes and record cues so that you can play back the show as if you were in the space.
You are not limited to dimmers only- you can also control moving lights and see the gobos rotating. Beyond that, if you have a DMX interface you can connect your lighting console to the program and record the cues directly to the console. The program supports eight standard interface devices found in the market.
Another really cool feature is the ability to add a projector to your design and play back full motion video. If you need to show the Pastor what the new stage configuration will look like, you can put everything in the image. If the rendering doesn’t really show the video well, you can go to the next level and walk through the space.
After you have created a series of cues, you can add an audio file and then capture the cue sequence as you walk through the space and save it for playback as an animation file. To make the image as real as possible, you can also add images to surfaces, so if you have stained glass windows, you can take pictures of them and place those images on the drawing.
As you can imagine, taking advantage of the full potential of this product will take some time, but in comparison to the way things used to be done, the learning curve is well worth it. This product takes all of the current tools any LD will need and provides a very manageable user interface to pull it all together.