Part I: CAD and AutoCAD

Chapter Two: Drafting on Steriods

      1. Pen and Pencil to CAD
        1. putting on the show on time
        2. edit at blinding speed
        3. stop repeating the effort
      2. CAD speaks well
        1. polished drawings
        2. many from one
        3. international translation
      3. Computer Aided Design
        1. what ifs
        2. three-dimensional models
        3. rendering
      4. Efficiency
        1. electronic portability
        2. what if's
        3. precision
      5. The Down$ide
        1. overdoing a good thing
        2. CADvise: doing too much
        3. hardware intensive drafting
        4. expensive software
        5. the learning curve
      6. Would I, Should I, Could I Take the Plunge?
        1. "I already did."
        2. CADvise: Is it just a toy?
        3. drafting volume (automated drafting)
        4. easy electronic communication
        5. looking good in a hurry

last chapter. AutoCAD Backstage home. AutoCAD Backstage Index. next chapter.

chapter index.

Pen and Pencil to CAD:

Typically, theaters do not address technical problems until they loom large. That is how I first made the shift from hand drafting to CAD drafting. Working for an opera company that was producing up to seventeen shows per season, I found myself working more than full time. The story is not particularly new for any theater person. I was having difficulty in keeping up with the demands of the production schedule and was facing burn-out. I was convinced that CAD would greatly speed up my drafting. I talked my superiors into installing an AutoCAD drafting system. Those who bought and paid for the system purchased it with some understandable trepidation. The system was expensive and required special training.

I did catch up and in a short time was able to provide drawings for stage managers, house managers and others who had formerly been forced to do their own drafting or go without. I found that I was able to supply a wide variety of drawings easily and quickly. There is an immediate professional look to CAD, which does not require the same level of drawing skill. AutoCAD editing capabilities allowed me to do more "what if" analysis. In short, I was able to do more, in less time.

While pen and pencil in the hands of an experienced drafter create beautiful results, the time and skill required often is not in keeping with demands of the performing arts. The time requirements for producing hand drafting create a major impediment to theatrical production.

Many large architectural and engineering firms are producing ninety percent or more of their drawings on the computor. Hand drafting from the hand of an experienced hand drafter produces a sensitive portrait of a given project. These are companies that can afford to take the time to produce hand drawn drawing packages. Unfortunately, hand drafting is laborious, time consuming, requires a great deal of drawing skill and is difficult to change. Hand drafting can be more difficult to read and may look unprofessional. CAD drafting is usually faster to produce, produces clear unambiguous lines, and can be edited repeatedly in a fraction of the time. It is easy to share electronic drawings across the internet. Most large architectural and engineering concerns have decided that the gains outweigh the negatives. CAD, ("computor aided drafting" or "computor aided design" depending on who you ask), is the new tool for drafting and virtual modeling.

Good clear drafting that gets the art on stage is produced easier and faster with a computer. The process of putting a complex show on stage (or on several stages) may require hundreds of changes, which must be checked and double-checked by several different departments. The faster the drawings can be passed to the various departments, the faster they can be checked and approved or corrected. If the shop is already at work on the show, speed is absolutely crucial.

The original drafting process may or may not be faster than hand drafting. If you are able to reuse previous drawings, such as the groundplan of the theater, a scenic element from Act I, or stock table and chairs, then a lot of time can be saved. It is when you need to make changes that incredible savings in speed are accomplished. This process of editing is remarkably easy in CAD. Slide the door along the wall, rotate a scenic element or stretch a platform in a matter of seconds; then reprint and the job is done.

The speed of editing computer aided drafting means that all departments involved can have updated drawings when they need them, not when construction is finished. CAD actually encourages too many updates of drawings with only minor changes.

More important than drafting speed for large architectural or engineering firms is portability. Portability in CAD refers to the ability to electronically transfer a drawing from one CAD system to another. It not unusual for large projects to require drawings be submitted in AutoCAD or some other CAD format. The reason is simple. If the drawings are recieved in a format compatable with my own CAD system, I can import them directly into my CAD package. I can add my own elements, make necessary changes and send them back all without ever having to redraft the original drawings.

Portability saves an immense amounts of time and allows everyone to use the same set of drawings. In the past it was necessary to trace or copy drawings by hand, which often introduced errors or ommissions. With CAD the copies are exact duplicates of the original, the only speed limitation is the mail system or the speed of the internet transfer. Never re-draw someone else's drawing again.

chapter index.

CAD Speaks Well:

CAD drafting is very clean. There are no uneven lines or smudges and blobs. This provides a crisp and polished graphical look to a drawing which presents a professional look with very little effort. Lettering is neat and even and runs in a strait lines without any practice at penmanship. All the straight lines are straight and come together in crisp corners. Circles are perfectly round. All drawing elements are drawn with mathematical precision.

This mathematical cleanliness is especially desirable for construction drawings. This clean look is also ideal for those drawings whose content is more figurative or symbolic than representational. Light plots, furniture or seating charts and schematic diagrams typically are easier to read and look better drafted in CAD rather than drawn by hand. Dimensions and lettering with razor sharp lines and typeset fonts is so much easier to read than even the best hand lettering.

CAD speaks in many shapes and sizes. The same drawing is beautifully printed in a wide variety of sizes. The groundplan of a show can be printed in notebook size for blocking notes, tabloid size for quick reference, and large scale blueline prints for detail reference by technicians and stage managers. To do this by hand, would require three different drawings drafted in different scales.

CAD speaks other languages. No it won't translate Japanese, but a CAD drawing can be automatically scaled from metric to imperial measure and back. This is very useful for international co-productions. As someone who has had to rescale large numbers of metric drawings, I can testify: this is a dream come true.

chapter index.

Computor Aided Design:

For the designer, CAD can be an miracle tool. The speed of editing allows the designer to analys a wide variety of "what if"s. It is very easy to create drawing blocks and push them around to create a wide variety of layouts in a matter of minutes.

You can draw a three dimensional virtual model in AutoCAD. These 3D models are the ultimate visualization tool. It is possible to create simple 3D models in AutoCAD fairly quickly. These models can easily be manipulated to view from any angle, including underneath, and in perspective. Several complex isometric or perspective views can be produced quickly from a single 3D model. Several industries use the program's mathematical abilities to test models, or port the drawing to machines that cut a prototype or model out of paper or plastic.

Use the AutoCAD model to produce a picture or 'rendering' of the scene. A simple rendering package is included in AutoCAD release 12 and 13. This package is enough to wet your appetite for a bigger and better package. AutoCAD release 14 and AutoCAD 2000 have a much improved rendering engine. Autodesk sells a rendering package 3D Studio VIZ for architects which provides animated walkthroughs, lighting transformation and other animation. There are several other excellent rendering packages available some of which work inside of AutoCAD and others render from finished AutoCAD models. These rendering packages paint textures on surfaces, and allow the designer to select lights. Complex images with reflections, shadows, colored lights and even pasted in photographs produce photo-realistic images from AutoCAD models. Some packages are designed for easy animated output.

AutoCAD rendered images can be exported to most drawing packages as well. The drafter takes a "snapshot" (or several) of the 3D model and exports it as a TIFF, JPEG or other type of image file. The finished rendering can be painted over the top of the exported image either in a paint package, on a printout or on a plot.

Creating detailed 3D models is difficult, time consuming and requires a great deal of computer horsepower. Rendering complex 3D models is also time consuming (for the computer) and will require more resources from the computer. Computer generated renderings can be used in video slide presentations or printed out on color printers and large scale color plotters. There are services available to do this for you.

An alternative to computer generated renderings is to plot the AutoCAD 3D drawings as perspective wire-frame drawings and use them as the basis for hand rendering. Lay the plot on a light table. Laying sketch paper or watercolor paper over the top, sketch or paint the image using the outline below as a guide. The mechanical layout is produced precisely. Several viewpoints can be tried, until the just the right one is found. The final rendering is as beautifully rendered as you can produce, with the underlying benefit of mechanical precision, and less effort.

AutoCAD provides an excellent layout and visualization tool for designers. AutoCAD models provide the basis for accurate final renderings. As 3D drafting becomes easier and more affordable, it will become the preferred design medium.

chapter index.

Efficient CAD drafting:

Ignoring the cost factor, there are myriad ways to subvert the computer's advantages with poor planning and poor use of the drafting tools offered by AutoCAD. I continually change and improve my methods of CAD drafting. At first, changes often meant going back and editing drawings that I had already finished. Given the number of commands available, some of which were not even documented in the manual, it took me a long time to feel that I was getting full efficiency from AutoCAD.

It takes time to learn AutoCAD. AutoCAD requires expensive hardware, and the software itself is expensive. No theater should consider setting up an AutoCAD drafting station unless their drafting requirements justify the time and expense. AutoCAD does not speed up basic drafting in all cases. Sketching and shading are not handled well in AutoCAD. As I mentioned above, well-done hand drafting can actually look better than standard CAD images.

AutoCAD does edit and re-draw at blinding speed. It is easy to rough out several alternate versions of a ground plan in minutes, or plot out scenery moves. Schematic drawings, diagrams, light plots and furnature plots can be produced in CAD at a fraction of the time spent hand drafting them. Drawings can be plotted or printed out in any scale, including metric, without re-drawing. It is also easy to transfer the groundplan of a show from one theater to another without any redrawing. Custom menus can be set up for the insertion of lighting instruments, prop furniture or other standard drawing items.

AutoCAD drafting is as precise as the drafter wants it to be, from microsopic to macroscopic all in the same drawing. Dimensions are tied to the drawing model, so the dimension displayed is accurate to the model's actual dimensions. Angles and lines can be drawn at an accuracy greater than the final construction and in the exact same units (inches, meters, feet). AutoCAD does all the calculation for compound angles, the area of a complex shapes, and derived lengths.

chapter index.

Special benefits of CAD:

Cost analysis benefits by the ability of AutoCAD to generate a bill of materials or compute square footage. Export information from AutoCAD directly into a spreadsheet, or link the data in a spreadsheet such as lengths or the bill of materials to the drawing. By using the same date, not a copy, there are many fewer chances for discrepancies to creep into the process of cost analysis.

Automatic dimensions simplify the creation of construction drawings. AutoCAD is capable of very minute precision and can divide or measure lengths. AutoCAD can copy, mirror or array complex drawings in seconds. AutoCAD makes short work of geometry and trigonometry. There are machines that use CAD drawings to cut out flat parts in sheet metal, cardboard, or other materials. Data contained in a spreadsheet can be used to control the size and shape of a CAD model such as a flat or platform.

AutoCAD drawings can be inserted into other drawings multiple times. This cuts down greatly on drafting time. As of AutoCAD Release 11, the inserted drawing can remain a separate entity so there is only one copy of the drawing. That copy is referenced by all drawings in which it is placed. What this means is that a change in the referenced drawing is reflected immediately in all drawings into which it is inserted. This reduces the risk that a change in one drawing will fail to be added to drawings that copy the same material. It means that a change that effects several drawings only needs to be made one time.

As AutoCAD and other CAD packages grow and develope they are presenting new tools for designers to model, analyse and render virtual models.

chapter index.

The Down$ide

To return to the problem of doing too much. For instance, hanging scenery placement changes rapidly. During load-in it is not unusual to have a complex hang change several times a day. This information is essential to the fly rail crew, the master electrician and the head carpenter, to mention but a few. Rather than publish a new groundplan several times a day, the technical director usually issues a separate hanging schedule. Hanging schedules change often enough that I typically add the time of day to the date of each new schedule.

With AutoCAD it would be very easy to change the groundplan each time. Aside from the incredible waste of paper and the time spent copying and delivering drawings, updating the groundplans daily would very likely cause the crew to ignore all but the hanging schedule. Important changes could be ignored. The CAD drafter must have the patience to publish updated drawings, not when there are changes, but when there is important information to convey.

Just because you can do something really well with CAD, doesn't mean you should.
chapter index.

Would I, Should I, Could I Take the Plunge?

AutoCAD is most ideally suited for intensive drafting applications where repeated editing is a necessity. New shows that go through several design changes or complex shows which play in several houses benefit greatly from the editing capabilities of the computer. Shops that produce large numbers of shop drawings, particularly with many units that are similar (flats and platforms...) and can be copied and resized, will gain from the speed of editing in AutoCAD. Structural engineering and cost analysis are more accurate and complete using of AutoCAD's internal analysis abilities. AutoCAD's export capabilities ensure a more accurate transmission of data to spreadsheets for further analysis and for creating the bill of materials.

As the number of AutoCAD systems increases in the arts and entertainment, the benefits increase. By sharing electronic files, less time will be spent redrafting the same thing and more time will be spent making real changes. Electronic files can be shared across the internet or by mailing diskettes. The designer, stage manager, lighting designer, and technical director can all be working off the same drawing file. Updates are as close as a phone call. Problems will emerge. How does the designer protect the integrity of the original drawing if anyone can edit it? If there are 12 copies of a drawing in use, how does the producer insure that all the copies are the same and up-to-date? Can the drafter of a theater groundplan protect the copyright to it if there are 12 or more exact copies of it being sent out with a show?

Computers are an essential tool for business, including the arts. Learning to use AutoCAD is one way that designers and technical planners are staying ahead in a fast-paced and competitive world. Arts organizations struggle to create more with less. Entertainment industries must compete for every dollar earned. Spending several thousand dollars on an AutoCAD drafting system may not be possible for you or your organization right now. On the other hand, soon AutoCAD may be essential.

If you or someone in your organization does not spend a great deal of time drafting, AutoCAD is probably an expensive toy for you.

AutoCAD is an expensive tool, requiring special knowledge to use it. CAD drafting requires an investment both in materials and time learning the skills of drafting with the computer. No theater wants to become hostage to the whimsy of a computer system or the specialized operators of it. As AutoCAD and other CAD programs become more pervasive in the industry, the latter problem will recede. Still, if the system will not pay for itself several times over, do not get it.

Careful planning can save thousands of dollars in design changes, shop time and crew costs. For many technical planners or designers, AutoCAD will be an indispensable tool. Computer aided drafting is becoming increasingly affordable. In the right application, AutoCAD can save an enormous amount of time and money. Using AutoCAD, the drafter can stay on top of a schedule of torturous design changes. The technical planner has more information delivered more accurately. Passing electronic files by modem is much faster, less costly and more efficient than rushing tubes of drawings across the country, or the world. Metric/English conversions are painless. A good CAD drafter can quickly produce presentation paperwork that is polished and professional looking. Even designers who produce all hand drawn paperwork can profit by working out their drawings in AutoCAD ahead of time. For a large number of people in the theater, AutoCAD will pay for itself in short order.

chapter index.

last chapter. AutoCAD Backstage home. AutoCAD Backstage Index. next chapter.

Copyright © 1999 Wm W Wells. All rights reserved.