Vectorworks Projects for Teaching CADD to Liberal Arts Undergrad Students

In 2008 I introduced a course that instructed Simpson College students in the use of Vectorworks (one of the small handful of standard computer aided drafting programs used by theatrical designers).  I created the course  as a May Term offering with the hopes that it could become a permanent catalog course. When the College introduced a new curriculum a couple of years ago, the faculty of Theatre Simpson rearranged our entire curriculum.  While the new curriculum had even less opportunity in it fo the introduction of a permanent CADD than the previous one,  I took the opportunity to introduce systematic instruction of Vectorworks to Theatre students by spreading the CADD instruction among all of the courses in the design/tech curriculum. This may not be as impressive as it sounds. There are a whole 4 courses in the Design/Tech curriculum.

THTR 121: Technical Production, calls upon students to undertake a survey of all aspects of technical production.  In the course, students learn the basics of tool use, theatrical construction, rigging, theatrical hardware, electrics, lighting,  sewing, scene painting, makeup and drafting.  My colleague, Rick Goetz, who became the instructor for this course teaches the drafting portion by introducing the students to hand-drawn drafting techniques, drawing an orthographic drawing of a simple platform.  Then students are introduced to the basics of CADD after a demonstration of the program by having them reproduce the drawing using Vectorworks.

THTR 123: Introduction to Design for the Stage requires students to spend three to four weeks working on a series of tutorials designed to give them a broad understanding of the many palates, tools and constraints that give Vectorworks such power and flexibility.  Following that, through a series of exercises, they create a floor plan, and from elevations extrude that plan producing a perspective view of the resultant white model using Renderworks.  They then refine an analogue printed version the white model perspective using standard graphic techniques to produce a colored rendering.

Example of Arts & Crafs Chair & Lamp with textures and lighting effects

Example of Arts & Craft Chair & Lamp with textures and lighting effects

THTR 223: Techniques for Set and Costume Designers, calls upon students to spend a quarter of the semester practicing with the Vectorworks/ Renderworks program, producing along the way, a floor plan, wall elevations, and a fully extruded and textured model of a chair  They learn to use and create Resources including Renderworks Textures and Image Shaders and to produce and render lighting effects .  The final CADD project consists of creating a fully extruded, textured and lighted model and perspective rendering of an Arts & Crafts inspired interior setting.


Fully Textured Arts & Crafts Set Rendering

Fully Textured Arts & Crafts Set Rendering from THTR 223

THTR 221: Lighting and Sound, (a course that has yet to be offered with the CADD augmented material will find the students exploring the power of Vectorworks by drawing light plots and to utilizing the visualization power of Spotlight in the lighting design process.

While I believe that many of the students are coming a lot further in their understanding and mastery of Vectorworks, Renderworks, and Spotlight with this method (where the basic skills are revisited several times over a couple of years and where the exercises and projects challenge the students to push themselves), we have encountered some difficulties.  Since that initial course offering in 2008 when I convinced the college to purchase 10 licenses of the software, Vectorworks  been updated 5 times.  Furthermore, instead of desktop computers in one of the regular teaching labs, we are using them on computers in a PC laptop lab which receives little direct supervision from the Information Services personnel.  Additionally, students have begun taking advantage of the publisher Nemetschek’s  liberal policy of free downloads of the Vectorworks software  for students.  Therefore, many of the students have downloaded 2012 and 2013 versions of the program onto their personal laptops while the lab is still equipped with the 2008 iteration.  This all leads to a bit of extra chaos as I run my Vectorworksprofessional copy on a Mac and as files saved in more recent formats are unreadable by the earlier editions.  Finally, as anyone who knows the software, Vectorworks has a rather steep learning curve once you begin to work with more than the most basic tools (and even the most basic operations can go horribly wrong when the wrong constraint is active or visibility set for the wrong class or layer of the drawing).

Meanwhile, that’s enough for now! Have fun!  But be safe!



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