Part I: CAD and AutoCAD

Chapter One: Introducing the Blueprint

      1. The Approuch
        1. design vision
        2. the vision on paper
        3. CAD is the tool
      2. Communicating the Design
        1. design drawing is an art
        2. communicating the design
        3. CADvise: the purpose of drafting
        4. embellishments
      3. Drawings to Explain Drawings
        1. get it exact
        2. clarity rules
      4. The Heat is On
        1. do it again different
        2. don't stop the shop

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The Approuch

When a scenographic designer sets out to convey a design concept to producers, fellow artists and technical staff' the designer produces a model or a set of design sketches, drawings and renderings. Design drawings are intended to make the design vision clear. The designer and/or the technical director must produce a clear set of construction drawings for the shop(s) to build from. Producing a complete set of construction drawings and then keeping up with all of the changes is time consuming and takes a great deal of skill and knowlege. Construction drawings must be clear, readable and complete. They should not confuse or distract the shop.

This is a book about producing design and construction drawings, or drafting, for the theater, and about drafting using the newest drafting tool: the computor. I will not be covering specific techniques of hand drafting. Hand drafting is a specialized craft which takes years to perfect. I will concentrate on tips and techniques for drafting in AutoCAD, the current most popular computer aided drafting software. Occasionally I may sneak in a reference to hand drafting technique as a comparison for those familiar with hand drafting.

CAD is a powerful tool for the theatrical drafter. In this book, I will discuss techniques and applications specific to the theater that will allow you to start quickly and minimize the downstream re-organization that can be difficult and time consuming. I will teach you a great deal of AutoCAD drafting, but that is not my real purpose. There are already several good books published which will teach you to draft in AutoCAD. What I wish to do is help you to set up your drawings efficiently for the way theaters create and use drawings.

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Communicating the Design:

Instead of describing a project with words occasionally illustrated with drawings, the drafter is describing a project with drawings occasionally illustrated with margin notes. For the purposes of design and construction, any other approuch would not work. Before a project is decided and the monies are made available, producers, directors and contractors must all agree to produce some specific thing. It is hoped that all parties are imagining the same specific thing. The designer's obligation is to produce design drawings and/or models, which are unambiguous enough in visual content that all the concerned artists and technitions have roughly the same picture in their heads of what the final product will look like, and how the various artists and crew will be able to work with it. This holds true if the item is multi-million dollar scenery or a simple hand prop. While models can be very helpful for the purposes of visualization, they will not explain the project as fully as a good set of drawings. Designers often produce both a model and a set of design drawings to illustrate the design intent.

Design drawing is art. Some designers produce elevations that are unequivocally fine art. The design elevations of Leonardo Da Vinci, Palladio or Inego Jones are prized museum pieces. These design elevations convey far more than size and shape. The success of a beautifully produced design elevation depends on how well the "feel" of a design is conveyed, as well as accurate portrayal of size and shape. The feel of a design is described by textures, shading and sometimes color. The delicate touch of an artist can breath life into an otherwise dull design drawing. Most respected designers are able, by necessity, to draw or sketch beautifully.

A well drafted design elevation places the viewer in the presence of the object and communicates that design's intended charisma. A certain level of artistic license is tolerated, if not actually necessary, in conveying a design. The designer's embellishments often improve the realistic appraisal of the design. No design drawing can fully replace standing in front of a stage full of scenery, but the designer must do their best. The designer must also contend with producers or directors who will not really comprehend the design until they see the real thing. The designer's only defense are drawings which reasonably represent the show when it arrives.

advise owlCADvise:
The purpose of drafting is to communicate. Anything else the drafter does is secondary.

Be careful with embellishments. Beautiful drafting is worse than useless if it misleads those making important decisions based on the visual information conveyed. If the designer's drawings give the producers and directors the wrong visual picture through embellishment, clumsiness, exaggeration or whatever, the producers and directors are going to be upset with the designer when the real thing arrives.

Many designers rely on hand drafting to produce the special artistic touch of a well drawn design drawing. Adding shadow and texture to design drawings is far easier to produce by hand finishing than by CAD (computer aided drafting). The hand drafter must develop excellent mechanical drafting skills and be good at freehand sketching. Such drafting skill takes time to develop. The drafting itself takes time and patience to produce and is not conducive to quick changes.

Good drafting is always clear, readable and communicates all of the information to visually describe and guide the acurate production of the desired product.

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Drawings to Explain Drawings:

Once the design concept is in place, the technical details must be decided. The designer provides a groundplan and section of the show. The groundplan and section of a show must be readable at a glance. Producers and directors should be able to get an immediate feel for the dramatic space. Stage managers will use these drawings to tape out the space on the rehearsal room floor. The production crew must be able to visualize the size, layout and something of the nature and texture of the show. They want to know if the show will fit on stage and how difficult it will be to set up and take down.

While many designers produce very complete drawings, others leave the technical details up to the producer. European designers commonly rely on shop artisans to fill in final design details. Construction drawings break the scenery down into construction units and fill in all the technical details, such as where to break scenery apart, what kind of frame to build, where to place escape stairs, etc.

A construction drawing should convey the general shape and structure of the scenic element at a glance. While embellishments help communicate a "sense" of the intended design, embellishments in construction drawings can confuse the technical staff. Construction drawings must be exact. The carpenter has little concern for the sense of the design, but is very concerned with exactly what to build, with what materials, and for what purpose.

Construction drawings must be clean, direct and to the point. The construction crew or contractors should never be confused by the drawings, or be forced to search the drawing for relevant information. When the construction crew needs to know the details of construction, the drawings should be telling them the information that they need to know. Ambiguity or dissagreements within the drawing package can cause disasterous results.

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The Heat is On:

It is not uncommon for the designer or the producer to augment, revise or possibly redraft the entire drawing package before it is sent out to bid. The technical director might request changes to meet technical or budgetary constraints. Construction drawings must be produced. Time is almost always a factor looming over the re-drafting process.

The process of redrafting has only just begun when the drawing package is sent to shops for cost analysis. The shop's asking price or "bid" will often radically affect the design. Large and painful changes are often made when the shop's bid prices are received. Changes will be asked for by the director as rehearsals progress. The shop may have technical concerns. A new theater may be added to a tour that requires further alterations to the scenery. By this time the need for accurate and up-to-date drawings may be desperate.

Once the design concept is in place, the need or desire for beautifully finished hand drawn design drawings is replaced by the need and desire for clear, readible and up-to-date construction drawings, that must be done yesturday. If those responcible for the construction drawings are not keeping up with the changes, a gap opens between the current design intent and the actual work being done. To cover this gap, shops are given many changes in the form of notes and phone conversations. Or the shop may be forced to wait for drawings with time running out. Messages that are miscommunicated or fail to make their way down the chain of command can cause egregious errors. Rushing the shop results in sloppy work. If the shop does not have time for a proper fit up, or trial assemble the show, serious construction errors may not be caught until the scenery is assembled on stage.

Hand drafting is time consuming and tedious. Very few people can do really good hand drafting. Relatively minor changes can require that a drawing be scrapped and the process started over on a fresh sheet of paper. This is where CAD becomes a life-saver. Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) allows for incredible savings in time and provides new ways to check for errors or eliminate the possibility altogether.

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Copyright © 1999 Wm W Wells. All rights reserved.