October 2008 Issue
Road Tests

Vectorworks Spotlight 2009

On the surface, the latest version of Vectorworks computer-aided design, visualization and rendering software may not look as if it has had a radical upgrade, but when you replace the 3D modeling engine with a new kernel, there’s a good argument for saying so.

For the last several months, Nemetschek, the maker of the program, has been stealthily working with Siemens PLM to incorporate their 3D modeling engine called Parasolid. Now they’ve unveiled the result by launching Vectorworks 2009 with the Parasolid engine.

This 3D modeling kernel technology is used in hundreds of computer-aided design, manufacturing and engineering applications in various industries and there are over already over 2.5 million end-users of Parasolid-enabled applications. The newly embedded kernel delivers added speed and power to the Vectorworks suite of applications.


The new modeling engine speeds up modeling operations four to five times, we’re told, and there are over 70 new features in this upgrade. Not all of them are applicable to the live event production industry, but the ones that are represent some nice improvements.

Among them is an expanded lighting fixture library with new fixtures from several different manufacturers. This is a challenge for lighting software developers because there are so many existing fixtures and new ones are introduced all the time. The Vectorworks Spotlight fixture library continues to expand with the addition of fixtures from Color Kinetics, truss from James Thomas Engineering and several other items for our audio brethren.

A lot of people who use Vectorworks also use Lightwright, and those people will be happy to learn that the new version of VW has a real-time link to the soon-to-be-released Lightwright 5. You can set up automatic data exchange so that it exports updated information to Lightwright when you make changes to the plot, and if you make changes in Lightwright it also imports the changes into VW. I didn’t get to try out this feature because I’m writing this before the release of LW5, but it’s easy to see how it could be a big time saver and, more importantly, a sanity saver. 

Some of the other features include:

Automatic DMX512 universe assignment. This prevents the DMX512 slot footprint from bridging two universes. This feature should probably have been implemented from the start, but it’s here now.

Improved DWG/DXF import and export functionality, including support for AutoCAD 2009. I imported a very large AutoCAD file with trusses, soft goods and lots of lighting blocks, and, much to my amazement, it imported rather well. The really cool thing about it was that I did it with the new drag and drop feature; just open a browser window, find your file and drag it into the workspace. Voila!

Pre-selection indication. Objects are highlighted when you hover your cursor so that you know exactly which object you’re about to select. I call this a frustration saver because it helps to keep me from selecting the wrong object and then throwing my laptop across the room.

Create plot and separate model view. You can create a 2D plot view and a 3D model view, each with a unique 3D rotation angle. This allows you to display things like booms in a plot view that shows a horizontal view as well, and when you switch to an isometric view the illustrative horizontal boom disappears.

Number instruments sequentially. Multiple data fields in a device can be automatically modified and incremented and the increment can be optionally based on channel number.

Improved snapping. The cursor gives you feedback about where it wants to snap before you click, and you can actually snap to lines on imported PDF files. I think this would work well for “tracing” new fixture 2D drawings from PDF files without having to totally draw them from scratch.

Similar object creation. Lets you match an object already in a drawing, including the properties, like the layer and class, of the object.

Editing mode improvements. I’m told that people who have used VW in the past will appreciate this feature. It allows you to view and snap to objects outside of the group, symbol, solid, or viewport group and you can edit them without leaving the edit mode. 

Extrude along path enhancements and enhanced 3D modeling tools. There are a lot of new features that came along with the Parasolid engine, including the ability to extrude profile curves with sharp corners along a path, as well as a more efficient fillet tool, stitch and trim surfaces tool, loft surfaces tool, project and add tool mode, and the protrusion cutout tool to generate generic solid objects, or NURBS surfaces. These improvements will help tremendously in the virtual construction of set pieces or when you are drawing a 3D model of a venue.

New visibility tool. You can more easily manage your drawing visibility settings by selecting or isolating objects in your file based on their layer or class. This can help save time, especially when an architect hands you an AutoCAD file and you have to see past all of the structural, plumbing, HVAC and all the other things that typically get in your way.

The new features are designed to speed up and streamline your workflow, making it quicker and easier to get to the bar for a pint of Guinness. One of the coolest things about the new engine is that it speeds up renderings. I attended a demonstration in Baltimore, and for the gathered press, the renderings were flying. Of course, it was done on a high-end machine with two quad-core processors, but it was really quick.

I’m coming at this as an AutoCAD user and a new user of Vectorworks, but I was able to get up the learning curve fairly quickly. I’m by no means a power user, but I like what I’ve seen in the new Vectorworks 2009. It is very powerful, it has a lot of features to help streamline your workflow, and it is capable of producing some fabulous documentation. 

What it is: CAD software with custom lighting module and interactivity with ESP Vision and Lightwright.

Who it’s for:
Lighting and set designers, architects.

Very powerful features, fast, custom lighting specific features.

Takes time to get to learn.

Retail Price:

Vectorworks Spotlight 2009 - $1,795
Vectorworks Spotlight 2009, with Renderworks- $2,195
Qualified students can get a fully loaded version for free. 

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