Gettin' Wyggie With It

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

One of the most difficult aspects of stage lighting design is that without a tremendous amount stage lighting knowledge and experience, it’s very difficult to know exactly how your design will look until you actually hang and test it, let alone, the difficulties of trying to pre-cue your show. Experienced designers have most likely developed the ability to design with a real good idea of what the finished product will look like, but what about those of us that are either new to lighting design or have very little experience? That’s where WYSIWYG comes in.

WYSIWYG is a lighting design software package produced by Cast Software Ltd.. WYSIWYG is an acronym that has been around the computer industry since the advent of the Windows operating system. It stands for “What you see is what you get”, indicating that what you see on the screen is exactly what you will get with the finished product. Word processors from the pre-Windows era were not “WYSIWYG” in that in a text-only display you would see embedded or “special” characters along with the real text. These special characters would indicate such attributes and properties as bolding, underlining, and italics to name a few. That’s because the text-based word processors could not display on the screen what those attributes and properties of the text would look like. Once Microsoft Windows and the new windows-based word processors came on the scene, we no longer had to use our imagination as to what the finished text would look like it was immediately visible on the screen. Thus, what you saw (on the screen) is what you got (when you printed it out).

In much the same way, WYSIWYG (the lighting design package) does the exact same thing for lighting designers. You now have the ability to design in virtual reality and to not only see the results, but to modify and enhance your design, pre-cue your entire show, print out all supporting documents (such as your light plot, hang plot, instrument and gel inventory, etc.), and to actually render out photo-realistic high-resolution images as well! With advanced versions of WYSIWYG you can actually run your show real-time in virtual reality, thereby giving you the ability to actually walk through your entire cue-list seeing the simulated results on the screen.

From my own personal experience with WYG (short for WYSIWYG), I can tell you that a person with limited or no stage lighting experience can use this tool to design and run even the most complicated of shows.

Our church produces an annual Christmas Pageant at our local Civic Center each year during the weekend before Christmas. It is one of the most amazing ministries I’ve ever been a part of. Many lives are impacted by this visual portrayal of not only the birth, but the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Countless numbers of our cast and crew have changed their lives and dedicated themselves to Christ because of witnessing or being a part of this incredible production (see for information about our pageant and to see images of past presentations).

I have been a part of this Pageant Ministry for over11 years serving as a choir member, actor, producer, co-writer and technical director. Writing a fresh script each year with our incredibly talented Music Minister and close personal friend, Regi Fowler, I felt my overall knowledge of our production was complete, that is until last year when we unexpectedly found ourselves without a Lighting Designer.

From my years of experience with the Pageant, I had always been aware of the stage lighting and its complexities, but I had absolutely no technical knowledge of it at all. I immediately begin praying and researching basic lighting design concepts and then came across (by divine guidance, I believe) WYSIWYG.

After extensive research and seeing a first-hand demo of WYG, I made the purchase of the “Design” module. WYG is sold at varying degrees of functionality with the “design” level giving all capabilities with the exception of the real-time 3D viewing.

Beginning in August of last year, I basically had 4 months to not only learn and use this software, but also to learn as much as I could about stage lighting in general. It was a daunting task, but with a leap of faith, I jumped in. I took a one-day “crash” course in learning WYG from Cameron Yeary of Portal Design Services in Dallas, Texas ( Cameron is an AWT (Authorized WYG Trainer) and is very experienced in not only WYG, but overall lighting design as well. This crash course was invaluable for me and I would wholeheartedly recommend anyone new to WYG to seek out an AWT for training.

Having 20 plus years of experience in business application development as a software developer, I felt with confidence that I could learn to use the software, but I was very nervous about whether I would know enough about lighting fundamentals to be able to use the software effectively. I began by using the CAD portion of WYG to draw to the venue to scale.

The Amarillo Civic Center Auditorium is a typical proscenium-type theatre with orchestra pit and full fly-tower. With documentation from the staff at the Civic Center, I was able to replicate in virtual 3D space, the auditorium in its entirety.

Depending on your venue and show requirements, drawing the venue in CAD may or may not be necessary. If you are designing a show with a free-standing stage, then drawing the venue is not necessary, however, if you are working with a typical proscenium-type theatrical stage, then in order to get accurate representations and renderings, you really do need to draw the venue.

WYG has numerous drawing tools and options to assist you in your drawing. Everything is drawn to scale and is based upon three dimensions; X, Y and Z. In each of the many views offered of your drawing, the X and Y coordinates refer to the horizontal and vertical axes, respectively and the Z axis is your depth. With the ability to work in the three dimensions, drawing to scale virtually any venue is quite possible.

Once you have your venue drawn, you can then begin to add set pieces. WYG has an extensive library of typical set pieces ranging from stage platforms to stairs. It is also relatively easy to custom-build your own set pieces using the same CAD tools that you use to draw your venue.

For our Christmas Pageant, we have quite an extensive set that spans virtually the entire stage floor and has numerous levels, steps and ramps. With the desire for as authentic renderings as possible, I spent quite a bit of time building our set to exact dimensions. This exercise was well worth it in the end as we can now look at an exact duplicate of our set in virtual space as well as in the renderings.

To build a complex set, I basically broke it down into smaller components. For example, in real life, our set is comprised of mostly rectangular sections which are 2×4 wooden frames with reinforcing cross-beams and with a _ inch plywood surfaces. I created these sections separately in WYG and then used the X, Y, and Z coordinates to exactly place them together and on top of one another just as we do the real thing.

The most difficult set pieces to emulate were the curved stairs, however, with the ability to draw arcs in the CAD portion of WYG, I was able to emulate those as well. One trick I learned from Cameron was to draw those complicated pieces in a separate project and then group all of the individual lines together into one object and then copy/import that object into my main project. Grouping allows you to manipulate and move objects all in one piece. So in a real sense, I was able to replicate our exact set piece by piece in virtual reality.

In order for WYG to emulate how the lighting will reflect and cast shadows, a surface needs to be added to each of these types of objects. As with most of the steps in WYG, adding a surface to an object is quite easy. You simply select the surface tool and identify each end point and node that make up the side of the object you want to add a surface to.

Working with 3D “stick-figure” type objects on a complicated drawing can be difficult, as you can see through each object and any other objects that are positioned behind it. The lines all tend to run together and identifying which line goes with which object can be difficult. Fortunately, there are several functions within WYG to assist you with this; you can color-code each object so that all of the individual lines that make up that object appear in the same color, you can put objects on different layers and then hide/unhide appropriate layers as needed, you can zoom in and out to varying degrees to enable you to see in very large or small detail, or you can change your view from top-down, left, right, front, rear, and/or in 3D view.

Having finished the venue and set, I was then ready to tackle the actual lighting design. To begin with, I drew in the electrics (the pipes on which the lights are hung). To hang any instrument in WYG, you must hang them on a pipe or a truss. Typically, concert-type shows will us a truss-system for rigging lights whereas in a theatre setting, you will most likely use pipes that are flown above the stage in the fly-tower.

WYG has an extensive library of truss types and sections. You build your entire rig by literally piecing together the various segments of the truss and then hang it at the exact trim height you need.

In our theatre application, I drew in all of the pipes with exact measurements and positions. Once all of the pipes were drawn and positioned, I was then able to “hang” the lights. This is where you truly begin the lighting design process.

In WYG, you literally hang all of your varied instruments on the pipes in the exact locations as you need for your design. You select the type of each instrument from WYG’s vast library. Manufacturers are constantly creating new instruments, so in order to make them available in WYG, you can go to most all manufacturers web sites and download a library profile for that instrument and add it to WYG’s instrument library. Each major upgrade to WYG, will contain the newest instruments as well.

With each instrument that you hang, you have numerous properties and attributes ranging from it’s position on the pipe, it’s tilt, pan, and rotation, the exact type of lamp it contains, all of the photometric information about each lamp, the gel and gobo numbers (if any), and the dimmer and channel numbers just to name a few. You can even see a view of the stage from the instrument’s hang position and can set shutters to frame the light around objects. The properties and attributes available at this level are staggering. I haven’t even mentioned intelligent/moving lights. WYG gives you complete control over them as well. You can actually focus and manipulate all instruments in real time 3D views by either setting their properties and attributes or by clicking and dragging the mouse to the desired location. You can even create focus points all over the stage and set any number of instruments to those focus points. You can also move a focus point and all instruments that use that focus point will move their focus accordingly. The software allows you to adjust and account for virtually everything that you would need to in real life.

There are numerous tools to assist you as you hang instruments. For example, if you are hanging a lot of similar instruments on a pipe, WYG gives you several shortcuts to duplicate them. The simplest approach is to simply select the instrument you want and click on the pipe at each location you desire that type of instrument. It couldn’t be simpler.

Underneath all of the visual interfaces of WYG lies a spreadsheet-like database. It is in this database that all properties and attributes of every instrument in your design reside. As you literally draw and hang your instruments in the 3D views, this database is being updated. You can actually add and/or changes instruments in this database and see the results in the 3D views. Although I wouldn’t recommend this approach, it is very useful to know about as you can quickly change a mass amount of properties easily, such as gels for a particular instrument type for example.

Once you are through with your design and hang, you can create and view scenes. Scenes are snapshots of lighting looks that you can save and then recall at any point in time. You can also render out these scenes or any other look you desire through WYG’s rendering engine which also gives you total control on the type and resolution of rendering you desire. You can control aspects of the rendering such as the atmospheric conditions by adding various amounts of haze, smoke, and/or fog as well as controlling ambient lighting and setting the camera angles (the angle of the view of the scene) as well.

Pre-cueing your show is very easy in WYG at this point. You can set up a pop-up window that emulates the exact lighting console screen you will be using and once you have your scene looking as desired, you simply record the cue as you would live sitting at that type of a console.

WYG also contains a very powerful reporting system by which you can use standard plot layouts or custom-create your own. You can printout numerous reports including the instrument count, gel count, 3D drawings from various angles, and the hang plot just to name a few.

An in-depth look at the numerous features of WYG is far beyond the scope of an article such as this. Suffice it to say that WYG has left no stone unturned. I don’t believe I have ever run across a software package that is more complex, yet easy to use and as powerful as I have with WYSIWYG.

While learning this incredible software package, an amazing thing happened to me; I suddenly became aware that without realizing it, I had become somewhat knowledgeable in stage lighting design and technology. Although still a “rookie”, I believe WYSIWYG taught me more through this design experience than I could have learned otherwise in such a short period of time. It truly was a God-send.

As of the writing of this article, we have purchased ETC’s new Emphasis system, which combines WYSIWYG with a pre-configured PC server that will allow you to attach an actual console and design/run a show live while viewing and modifying it live in virtual reality on the computer screens. There’s no doubt in my mind that this new combination will take lighting design and operation to a whole new level.