technical theatre

Drafty Interview – part 2

Welcome back to the second installation of my interview with Lucas Krech, one of the creators of Drafty, a new online CAD application. If you haven’t read Part One, you can do so by clicking here.


 

4. I notice that the program is delivered as a web app through your web browser. Why did you take that route?

Ease of deployment.

Our first paid customer was the Technical Design program at Bath-Spa University in the UK. We were still in Beta and had a ton of bugs. Being web-based we could see errors appear on our server logs and analyze the problem in real time. Fix the problem in real time. Deploy a software patch to our servers that the browser picks up automatically in real time. And then watch the errors disappear from the logs as each work station grabbed the new code. All in real time. 20 plus users every Tuesday working hard with Drafty for like two hours. It was amazing.

There are also a ton of ancillary benefits. Imagine your fancy computer crashes the day before you are about to go on tour with a ballet company (happened to me once). Or worse you are on tour and have no time to get to a store. Currently you are out at least a $1000 on hardware and better hope your software works with the current OS or you may be out thousands there too. With Drafty you just grab any old laptop, open an Incognito window in Chrome to keep all your info private, and keep drafting. Also, because it leverages the web you don’t need to pay for those top end graphics cards to support the 3D engine you are never going to use anyhow. So Drafty works as well on a $400 laptop from Best Buy as it does on a fully tricked out MacPro Tower. Just another way we can save our users a few dollars.

Also cloud sharing. All the Google Drive file sharing tools work for Drafty. Make a pre-plot and share with your assistant to finish off the data entry. Share the plot with your electricians and let them enter all the dimming and circuit information. No more “Passing the football.” You just work.

dancingLights

5. Is there a mobile app for Drafty?

It is on our development list but currently you need a laptop or desktop. That computer can work on or off-line and Drafty syncs to the cloud as soon as it has an internet connection again.

6. I know that the program is still quite new. Do you have any ”big names” using it yet?

Richard Pilbrow. I met him at USITT this year. He’s a real advocate for new technology which is wonderful to have in a field so reliant on technological advancements. When we met, he seemed almost more excited to meet me than I was to meet him. “You’re Lucas who made Drafty? Brilliant!” His enthusiasm is so infectious I forgot to be nervous.

He really put us to the test. The largest file I had tested with Drafty before he got on board was in the 400-450 unit range. He was putting out a plot well over 600 units. We added a bunch of symbols for him too. The Robert Juliat 700 Series? You can thank Richard for wanting those.
7. How does the program deal with generating paperwork? I know it creates lighting paperwork, but are there other applications for sound or video?

Our Signal Flow tool is getting a fair bit of attention. Simple drag and drop interface for doing all your signal routing diagrams. We have a rack builder on deck but it may be a couple months yet to really get it right.

We just partnered with Sam Kusnetz of Team Sound NYC, makers of Go Box for QLab, to deliver high-quality real-world accurate speaker symbols available as an in-app purchase in Drafty. Those ought to go live very soon.

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A few examples of the Team Sound-generated speaker symbols

We will be deploying a Screen tool for Projector calculations with our next revision at the end of May. Again, simple drag and drop to resize your screen and move the screen and Projector independently with a real time readout of the minimum lens necessary.

We have a one-click Hook-Up generator for lighting that outputs a pre-formatted Channel Hookup and Instrument Schedule. On our development list is a similar set of paperwork for Audio. I hope to see it live some time this summer. We have a long list and a small team.

The application is in very active development. We are on a monthly revision cycle and try to provide a solid combination of performance enhancements and feature additions with each release. Sound and video design paperwork tools in general are not as sophisticated as what lighting designers have available to them. We are actively closing that gap.

8. What is process like to transfer work from another CAD program?
You can import PDF currently. Most CAD programs have some kind of ‘viewer’ tool that will let you format the native file into a proper PDF to draft a plot.
DXF I/O is on the list. But honestly redrawing a plot is probably your best bet because it really is that fast. Chances are you would spend more time on cleanup of an old file than just drafting it new. There’s a learning curve as with any piece of software but it’s a shorter curve with Drafty than most other graphics programs, and once you get the swing of it, making a lightplot is at least 3-6 times as fast as other CAD programs.

Tools of the Trade: Drafty (part 1)

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Drafting has always been one of those important catch all skills that is important to people in a wide range of design / tech jobs in the entertainment industry. Lighting designers, scenic designers, technical directors, props artists, even sound guys will all have to generate some type of mechanical draftings at some point in their careers. Traditionally speaking, this meant hours spent hunched over a drafting table with a T-square, triangles, pencils, and high threshold for pain and frustration. With computers becoming a ubiquitous tool in every design studio, most designers these days have left behind their drafting boards and traded them in for some type of a CAD (computer aided drafting) solution. While there have been dozens of programs over the years to offer a digital replacement for hand drafting, in the entertainment industry the two most commonly used programs are AutoCAD by Autodesk and Vectorworks made by Nemetschek. Both of these programs are robust, powerful CAD solutions that offer 3D rendering capabilities and a wide range of add-ons for just about every use one could imagine. Not surprisingly, both of these applications are as expensive – in the thousands of dollars – as their options are extensive .

Recently, a newcomer to the field called Drafty is challenging the notion that a CAD solution has to be either bulky or costly. The Drafty model is to offer a computerized drafting solution that feels like as much like the old pencil and paper model as possible. I recently sat down for a chat with Lucas Krech, one of the creators of the software, to chat a bit about their program and what makes it unique. The following questions are the first half of that interview.


1. If you had to sum up Drafty in an elevator pitch, what would you say?

 Drafty brings the ease of hand-drafting and the precision of CAD to the 21st century mobile designer living in the cloud… Is this your floor?

layers

2. What are the origins of the program?

I used MiniCAD and then its rebranded Vectorworks incarnation, becoming a power user up to and including having my 3D drafting featured in several getting started guides. I remember the excitement when they came out with their ‘Spotlight’ module as it appeared they were giving real attention to theatrical designers. Sadly, it turned out that despite the additional cost of those tools you still needed to spend hundreds of dollars on 3rd party plug-ins just to make it mostly work. And it was still slower than drafting by hand a lot of the time. Certainly for beam sections and layouts.

Plus the cost of the software is just unreasonable for a theatrical designer. It is priced for their core market of architects who make hefty 6-figure salaries. And I can respect that. But, I’ll tell you a secret, I’ve never made 6 figures with my design work. I know people regularly working on Broadway who don’t. So how can I justify paying for software aimed at that market? I can’t. We did it because there were no other viable options. But I wanted to see a good, dependable tool for the hardworking artists out there who may be taking gigs for $500 or $1,000 dollars. Or less! You shouldn’t have to work hard for two months creating art to barely afford a tool that you then need to rebuy in a year or two because they don’t do patches for OS upgrades.

I’ve also done some teaching and seen really bright, intelligent students with an affinity for light become blocked when presented with traditional CAD programs. I wanted to remove that barrier. I wanted it to be easier to draw a light and a pipe and have them intuitively relate to each other in a way a novice could understand.

Further, in a real world scenario I would use, as a power user, maybe 10% of the tools. If I only need 10% of the tools why not make a program that has the 10% I actually need, is built from the ground up to make a plot, and costs 1/10th the price? And that’s the seed of Drafty.

I know a lot of people in the software industry. My wife is a lifelong tech veteran having worked for OSC, Apple, and others. She also develops independent apps for iPad. Watching her work on her iPad App, The Recipe Box, got me thinking about an easier interface for drafting. I knew what should be possible, I just didn’t have the skills to do it.

I stewed on the idea for about three years and then chatted up my friend Max, who I knew had a keen interest in graphics programming, while we were out camping last summer. I pitched him the idea and he told me to send him a functional spec. I dutifully went home, researched “What is a functional spec?” and “How do you write a functional spec?”, wrote one up and sent it off. He took a look, thought it could be a fun project, and we began prototyping.
3. There are a lot of solid, time-tested drafting applications on the market. What sets Drafty apart from those?
I would actually flip this question around and ask what makes every other graphics program on the market the same? Vectorworks, AutoCAD, CorelDraw, Photoshop, SketchUp, Illustrator, you name it, all do more or less the same thing. Sure, the tool sets are slightly different and they are optimized for different versions of precision (pixels, inches, percentages) but they are all essentially a big box of pencils, pens, drawing templates, and paper.
devices

Drag and drop one or more lighting fixtures at the click of a button

Drafty is an HB Pencil, Drafting Table with Drafting Machine, and a Lighting Template. You can’t really do much with Drafty other than make light and sound plots really really fast. This is by design. A lightplot, with very few exceptions, is actually an incredibly simple document. Broadway, Grand Opera, touring Ballet all happened with a pencil and paper until very recently. My favorite plot I ever got from a designer was literally sketched on a napkin with a Papermate Flair pen. We offer a napkin to sketch on at our landing page too. 🙂

Dimensions

Dimensions are a snap, literally.

We don’t have arcane graphics relating to myriad versions of the same tool for slightly different purposes. We have a button called ‘Pipe’ which you press and get a rectangle whose length can be scaled and whose depth is fixed at 2.5”. We have a button called ‘Light’ which you press and get a realistic looking outline of a Source-4. Grab the light, move it on to the pipe. It snaps into place and gets numbered ‘1’. Duplicate the light and the copy is numbered ‘2’ and duplicates along the pipe by default.  Drag the pipe, its lights follow.  Students can begin learning the basics of graphic layout for Lighting Design by using the program because we intentionally made it hard to do your paperwork wrong. We have a ton of overrides, and more coming, for users who want more control or to cover edge cases but 90% of the time the tool just does what you want it to do and saves you a bunch of time on data entry.

SymbolKey

The symbol key updates seamlessly when you add fixtures

4. I notice that the program is delivered as a web app through your web browser. Why did you take that route?

Ease of deployment.

Our first paid customer was the Technical Design program at Bath-Spa University in the UK. We were still in Beta and had a ton of bugs. Being web-based we could see errors appear on our server logs and analyze the problem in real time. Fix the problem in real time. Deploy a software patch to our servers that the browser picks up automatically in real time. And then watch the errors disappear from the logs as each work station grabbed the new code. All in real time. 20 plus users every Tuesday working hard with Drafty for like two hours. It was amazing.

There are also a ton of ancillary benefits. Imagine your fancy computer crashes the day before you are about to go on tour with a ballet company (happened to me once). Or worse you are on tour and have no time to get to a store. Currently you are out at least a $1000 on hardware and better hope your software works with the current OS or you may be out thousands there too. With Drafty you just grab any old laptop, open an Incognito window in Chrome to keep all your info private, and keep drafting. Also, because it leverages the web you don’t need to pay for those top end graphics cards to support the 3D engine you are never going to use anyhow. So Drafty works as well on a $400 laptop from Best Buy as it does on a fully tricked out MacPro Tower. Just another way we can save our users a few dollars.

Also cloud sharing. All the Google Drive file sharing tools work for Drafty. Make a pre-plot and share with your assistant to finish off the data entry. Share the plot with your electricians and let them enter all the dimming and circuit information. No more “Passing the football.” You just work.


Thanks for reading. If you like what you’re reading, please share it with a friend and follow my blog. In part 2, we will be talking with Lucas about paperwork, signal flow, and importing from other CAD programs. There’s also news about Drafty’s new partnership with Team Sound and Field Template for high quality CAD symbols available through Drafty as in-app purchases. See you then.

 

 

Making an Audio Playlist in QLab

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One of the questions I often get asked is if QLab can be used for making a playlist. The answer is yes, and it’s a simple process. Just follow the link below to watch my newest YouTube tutorial video. I hope you enjoy it and, as always, I would love to hear your feedback. Feel free to send your thoughts, comments, or requests for future videos to me in the comments feed below or on YouTube. Happy cueing!

Dance Production companion website

Just a quick note to let my readers know that the companion website for my newest book Dance Production: Design & Technology is live. There are a number of wonderful components to the site, such as free downloadable web-chapters. These two chapters feature information on non-traditional performances and touring your show. Like the print chapters, they feature examples of contemporary work in the field as well as easy-to-follow commentary on the process of producing a live performance. In addition to web-chapters, you will also find videos, a great web resource directory for finding dance and design/tech information online, and instructional projects. These projects are a favorite for teachers looking for supplemental assignments to assist in the classroom. One great benefit of the website is that all of the content is FREE, so this is an excellent opportunity to share some information without the obligation of buying the book (of course, I would be thrilled if you decided to pick up a copy, as well)!

I hope you find this website useful and enjoyable. Feel free to share it with some friends.

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Indispensable Products – Go Box

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A few years back, I posted the first of what I planned on being an ongoing series called “Indispensable – Great Products We Can’t Live Without.” Fast forward in time and I still haven’t added a second installation to this series (if you can call one item a series)… Well, I’ve got good excuses for how long it has taken me (dozens of shows, a new family member, a new book) but I won’t bore you with the details. The bottom line is, I recently had the pleasure of working with a new toy that made me think, “everyone needs to know about this!”

Team Sound has recently released the Go Box, a wonderful MIDI interface to work with QLab and your other MIDI-capable programs. For those of you who use programs like QLab or SFX, this is a wonderful solution to automating control of your system at the touch of a button. Instead of pressing the space bar hundreds of times for every show, you can simply plug in one of these interfaces and save the stress on your keyboard.

There are currently two different boxes, the Go Box 4 and Go Box 6. Each one is a designed using the highest quality parts to make the Go Box a road-worthy addition to any rig. The buttons are made from arcade-style switches rated for half a million cycles. The boxes are made from powder-coated aluminum, so they are light weight and durable. The USB jacks are equipped with Neutrik locking connectors that, when used in conjunction with a locking USB cable, really stay put so there are no worries of accidentally pulling the cable out (I’m told that they hope to offer 5 meter locking cables very soon through their website). This week, Team Sound released a second edition of the Go Box 6 featuring a new die cast enclosure with fewer seams, two Neutrik USB connectors, and a low-light LED connection / power power indicator on the back of the unit. These addition make an already strong tool even more appealing. A few more details about each unit is included below:

The Go Box 4 features four buttons, and the Go Box 6 has six. Each model works in a similar fashion, with the buttons serving as MIDI remote triggers. There is no driver software required, either, so it is a remarkably simple setup. Each button sends a MIDI signal through the USB on channel 16. The signal is a Note On message with a velocity of 127 when the button is pressed (notes 1-4 on the Go Box 4, and notes 1-6 on the Go Box 6) and a velocity of 0 when the button is released.

go+box+4+instructions

If you are using QLab, you can even download pre-configured QLab 3 workspaces from the Team Sound website here. In the basic workspace for the Go Box 4, Note 1 is “Go,” Note 2 is “Panic All” which stops all cues over a duration determined by the user, Note 3 is “Select previous cue,” and Note 4 is “Select next cue.”

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The Go Box 6 is ideally suited for a redundancy rig. A redundancy rig is a collection of two show control computers running their workspaces simultaneously. Both are connected to output to your system, typically including a manual switch to change output from one unit to another should the need arise. The Go Box 6 features two USB connectors, meaning that each button sends MIDI signals to both computers simultaneously. By using this unit, there is no need for a separate go button for each show control computer.

This summer, I got to help my wife Kate Hopgood set up a new QLab rig for The Michigan Shakespeare Festival, where we are both Artistic Associates. Kate’s preferred setup is to have a tech table in the auditorium networked to the show sound computer running QLab. By using screen sharing, she can sit with the Stage Manager at the remote computer. This gives her the opportunity to make changes as necessary while the SM gets used to calling the show and running QLab, but from the relative comfort of the auditorium. This year, we integrated a Go Box 4 into the system and the Stage Manager loved it. No more accidental bumping of the space bar or worrying about the double click. The best part was the setup, though. The only aspect that had to be changed was making sure the remote computer was running a QLab workspace (pro version) with OSC commands pre-programmed into it. The Go Box was plugged into the USB port of this computer, which then triggered OSC cues to be sent through the Ethernet cable to trigger cues in the show computer’s QLab workspace. Once tech was done, striking the tech table was basically coiling up the network cable and plugging the Go Box into the show computer in the booth!

For those of you looking to simplify your sound or show control setup, I would highly recommend the Go Box.

Full disclaimer – having written a book on QLab 3 show control, I have gotten to know a lot of the Figure 53 gang pretty well. Team Sound is the work of Brooklyn, NY based sound and projections designer Sam Kusnetz, who also happens to work for Figure 53. Neither I, nor Team Sound, are affiliated with Figure 53, LLC. As Sam puts it on the Team Sound website, we’re awfully big fans, though.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF TEAM SOUND NYC

*Editorial note: I made a few minor corrections to this post after the first upload.

Design & technology instructional videos

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I have recently been busy putting together a series of video playlists on my YouTube channel. These are supplemental videos for my QLab and Dance Production books. The QLab playlist is a series of instructional videos specifically for QLab 3 tools and tricks. The Dance Production playlist is a collection of videos related to a wide range of topics. Though it is created to accompany the dance production text, it would also be useful for anyone wanting to learn more about design and technology, in general. I hope you find these useful and, as always, please share with your friends and give feedback. If there is a topic you would like to see addressed, please let me know!

Women in Design & Technology

Historically speaking, the entertainment industry has been a dominantly male workforce.  Workers in the design and technology sector have followed this trend, minus a few notable exceptions in areas like costuming, wigs, and make-up. That is not to say that there aren’t capable designers and technicians lacking the Y-chromosome in every area of design and technology. In fact, as a university professor I have noticed a trend to the opposite; over the last decade at separate universities of varying size, demographics, and missions; my observation is that women tend to outrank the men. My area of expertise lies in theatrical design, but in speaking to a number of my colleagues in art, interior design, music, and graphic design this trend seems to be consistent with their experiences, as well (the exception being in Simulation and Video Game design, which still featured more men).

I attended a conference this weekend for high school students auditioning for university theatre scholarships. Of all of the designers and technicians I met, 88% of them were young women! This is obviously not a designed test group for scientific study, but my personal experience and those of many of my colleagues tells me that we have more women than men studying to be designers and technicians these days.

The fact is interesting, given the comparison of women in training programs vs. those in the upper echelon of their respective fields. The difference becomes quite disheartening. The Bureau of Labor Statistics throws a somewhat wide net over the entertainment industry, listing one generic marker of “Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation” for those in the industry. In a November 2013 survey from the BLS,  55% of the individuals who categorized themselves as working in the Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation sector were men. While, at first glance this doesn’t appear to be a great disparity,  let’s extend our look out to those regarded as the most successful in their field. Will the numbers remain consistent? The Antoinette Perry, of “Tony” Awards symbolize the highest honor a theatrical artist can  achieve on the American stage. Last year 6/40 Tony nominations for theatrical design were for females (7, if you count a co-nomination for a man and woman) with 3 of those coming from costume design. Best case scenario, women only accounted for 17.5% percent of those recognized as the best in their field. From a strictly numeric approach, that seems to indicate that even though there may be more women entering into the entertainment design & technology industry, they are less represented at the highest levels of the industry.

What does it all mean? Well, it’s hard to say. For one thing, these are two different study groups. Those Tony award nominees have typically been working in the field for decades. The young women training to be designers and technicians over the last ten years are highly unlikely to have reached that professional level at this point in their careers. The real question is will the trend of an increase in females studying to be designers and technicians find its way into the industry? It remains to be seen, but I, for one, certainly hope so. If the young ladies I met over this weekend and those in my classes are any indication, though, the old guard had better get ready. The industry is about to be shaken up by some great designers and technicians!