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Computer programs for tech/design students

  • 1.  Computer programs for tech/design students

    Posted 11-18-2018 22:26
    What online computer tech/design programs would you suggest that the kids could explore in class? Our students just went one to one, where every student has a computer. We only have 13 days left in class this semester. I can explore more options next semester, but I would like to show the students as many possible tools and apps as possible before I lose them.

    I'm looking for things to show them that won't take a lot of time to learn. I want to give them things they could continue to explore when I no longer have them in my class next semester.

    David Tate Hastings
    Olathe South High School
    Thespian Troupe #5006
    Kansas Thespians
    Treasurer & Membership Chair

  • 2.  RE: Computer programs for tech/design students

    Posted 11-19-2018 00:03
    Don't mean to be difficult here, but what exactly are you trying to show them? A program to help design a set, or to draft a set, or to design lights, or to run lights, or to build scenery or props, or to design/run sound, or something else? There are lots of options out there, but you need to know the goal before you can choose the tool.

    George F. Ledo
    Set designer

  • 3.  RE: Computer programs for tech/design students

    Posted 11-19-2018 07:42
    I have 43 students in my class this semester. I have been teaching it for 17 years. It has been hard to teach the kids lighting and sound when we only have one light board and soundboard in each theatre. Just getting all the kids around a board is a logistical challenge, let alone trying to give every student the chance to touch the board.

    We have drafted set designs by hand with rulers. I have used different texts and paper materials to give the students a chance to design.We have made set renderings and costume renderings. We have done floor plans. We have hand drawn lighting plots. We have made scale models. We have even done storyboarding for short scenes, and made production notebooks with props, cue sheets, and plans for quick changes for costumes or set changes.

    Everything has been away from a computer. The skill levels, as well as the student's interest in design, has been all over the board.

    Basically, I want to show students computer tools that might make them more interested in theatre, and specifically design.

    Sketchup and Audacity are the first ones I considered, but I was curious if there are other programs that might be good for students who have never played with design before. I would love to have a simple computer program to let the students play with light design. I only get to teach these students for one semester.

    Whether this class is effective is not the subject for this post. It is what I have been asked to teach. Since each student was just given a computer, I thought I would take advantage of the opportunity and see what other ways I could peak their interest.

    David Tate Hastings
    Olathe South High School
    Thespian Troupe #5006
    Kansas Thespians
    Treasurer & Membership Chair

  • 4.  RE: Computer programs for tech/design students

    Posted 11-19-2018 07:50
    I have had a good deal of success with Google Sketch Up.  This is a free solids based drafting program that allows each student to design a set.  Often we would read a one act play in class, and then students would each design their own set for the play.  I give them a day or so to familiarize themselves with the program, then let them go to town,  I use this program for my own set designs.

    Robert DiMartino
    Theatre Teacher
    Cumberland High School
    Slatersville RI

  • 5.  RE: Computer programs for tech/design students

    Posted 11-19-2018 08:47
    SketchUp is a fantastic tool for set designers, and being used more and more in the movies as well as for exhibit design, museum design, architecture, and loads of other industries. It's fairly easy to learn the basics, and it has a huge online community plus lots of third-party add-ons. I've been using it for years for my set design jobs.

    The problem with it, and where many people get hung up, is that it's not a design tool -- it's a visualization tool. The design happens in the designer's mind, and SketchUp serves as a drawing board to put those designs down. I've seen many beginners sit down to "design a set" with it, and end up with just a bunch of scenery elements (flats, platforms, ramps, etc.) precisely because it's so easy to draw squares and rectangles. It's a classic example of the pencil driving the design instead of the design driving the pencil.

    I've written several posts on my blog about SketchUp and how it's used in set design, and you can find them by going to and typing SketchUp in the search box at the top. One of the posts, "A set design from start to finish," shows the typical workflow we use and where SketchUp comes into the process.

    It's a great, easy to use, efficient, and fun tool, but it won't help you create a set design any more than a word processor will help you create a novel -- it'll help you visualize what your mind comes up with.

    George F. Ledo
    Set designer

  • 6.  RE: Computer programs for tech/design students

    Posted 11-19-2018 09:42
    For sound design, I love and recommend ProTools.  They now have a free version, ProTools First, that will allow multi-track audio editing.  It is perfect for sound design and the basics are pretty easy to learn.

    Pro Tools | First - Free Music Software - Avid

    There are also a ton of online resources and tutorials that delve deep into the program and its abilities.

    For lights, there is visualization software out there, but it is pricey.  I have not come across a good free one yet.  If it is just for practice in programming a board, ETC and HighEnd Systems both have "off line" versions of their systems where you can play with the different abilities of the board.  The down side, with out the visualization software you cannot see what the lights are doing.

    Jeremy Riggs
    Actor, Director, Designer

  • 7.  RE: Computer programs for tech/design students

    Posted 11-19-2018 12:31
    For lighting design there is always ETC Nomad. ETC Nomad is free and replicates the ETC eos software that is on the Element and Ion boards. Actually if you have a little budget ($250 for etc nomad for education) you could buy the doggle so you can plug any of their computers in to actually run their designs with your actual light grid.

    if they have macs, Qlab is great for sound design but my guess is that they are pcs.

    Joseph Gels
    Theatre Teacher
    Boston Latin School
    Boston MA

  • 8.  RE: Computer programs for tech/design students

    Posted 11-19-2018 15:55
    Sketchup. Free basic 3D design to schools. Some texturing. Pretty simple.

    Sent from my iPhone

  • 9.  RE: Computer programs for tech/design students

    Posted 11-20-2018 01:21
    MS Excel spreadsheet can be a powerful tool if you learn to use it.

    • Inventory lists and databases.
    • Batten weight calculations for predicting arbor loads.
    • 2-dimentional and 3-dimentional rigging Bridle loading and leg lengths.
    • Electrical calculations (Ohm's Law, total current with multiple light loads, etc.)
    • Scenery parts lists
    • Seating charts
    • Show Production Budgeting, expense reporting, ticket sales, advertising costs, etc.)
    • Attendance
    • Scheduling (or even better for scheduling:  MS Project - that is a really powerful tool)
    • Radio Frequency tracking for coordination
    • Safety Check-lists
    Remember that ALL computer programs are just a 400HP pencil - if you can't figure-out what you are trying to do manually, then you will never make it work with a computer.

    Erich Friend
    Theatre Consultant
    Teqniqal Systems

  • 10.  RE: Computer programs for tech/design students

    Posted 11-20-2018 07:06
    Lighting: ETC has worked with the Swedish company, Capture, to create a visualizer for learning how to use the Eos family software. It corresponds to their workbooks and plethora of tutorial videos on YouTube.

    Capture is expensive but well worth the money. I have used it as a designer and a teacher for the last two years and it helps my kids see what light's potential is for a show they are designing.

    If you want to go towards drafty and teaching the drafting USITT conventions look at Drafty its a monthly subscription web-based program that is mainly for lighting and sound people. One of the nice features is it has built-in paper generators and will change information across the whole file when you make a change once. Similar to how Vectorworks and Lightwright communicate but in one program rather than two.

    Scenically, Sketchup is great and probably the best bang for your buck in terms of getting them to create in a 3D world. Sketchup doesn't export drawing in drafting conventions last I checked but that was a decade ago.

    Nicholas Osenberg
    Design and Technical Theatre
    Warren Consolidated School
    Royal Oak MI

  • 11.  RE: Computer programs for tech/design students

    Posted 11-20-2018 08:15
    Edited by Scott Wilson 11-20-2018 08:16
    I really liked using QLab for sound. It is an easy to use platform with drag & drop cueing of sound cues.It was a free download, not sure if that is still the case.

    Scott Wilson
    Fine Arts Consultant
    Ohio Department of Education
    Columbus OH

  • 12.  RE: Computer programs for tech/design students

    Posted 11-20-2018 10:59
    We have been a 1:1 school for many years.  While going 1:1 offers a ton of really wonderful opportunities, it can feel to a student as if they are being bombarded.  The fun of everyone getting computers is sucked out of the experience when every teacher is suddenly expecting the students to make friends with and use new programs to accomplish specific educational goals.  I remember students complaining that they sat in the dark all day long, because all the teachers were encouraged to transfer notes to PowerPoint, so we did.

    With only 13 days of class left, you might want to have students explore some of the specific programs mentioned here in small groups, then complete some sort of group analysis of the various programs.  It sounds as if you have taught them the fundamental and specific knowledge they would need to evaluate how useful some programs might be and how long it might take students to gain enough proficiency to make use worthwhile.  The move to 1:1 usually comes with funding opportunities for software, and you might get some ideas of programs for which you might want to purchase a more advanced version.

    One of the easy online activities my students really enjoy is compiling a group of production pictures for a particular play.  I have each of them submit a document of "Good Ideas" photos, and a document of "Don't Do This" photos.  I require them to paste in the URL beneath each picture as an informal citation.  I project the documents, and we talk about the pictures.  Sometimes the costumes are what they really like, or dislike.  Sometimes lighting.  Sometimes the set or stage props.  This is especially helpful for students who haven't gotten a chance to see much theatre outside of school, so tend to think of design as right or wrong.

    Whatever you do, try to keep the sharing and collaboration front and center.  Getting computers can work against that.

    Best wishes for a successful implementation.  May fewer websites be unblocked than blocked!

    C. J. Breland
    Asheville High School
    Asheville NC

  • 13.  RE: Computer programs for tech/design students

    Posted 11-20-2018 12:30

    Vectorworks offers a free license for educational users, and while, yes there is a learning curve, I didn't find it any more difficult to get the basics down than sketchup. There are a bazillion tutorials available. 

    Vectorworks has a really cool feature that lets you hang virtual instruments and see the throw - You don't get color mixing, but I found it really helpful in learning how instrument size relates to lighting areas.

    Ashley Bishop
    Birmingham AL

  • 14.  RE: Computer programs for tech/design students

    Posted 11-29-2018 11:13
      |   view attached
    Hi David! For scenic and prop design, I agree with everyone who has mentioned Sketchup. There's a free web-based option now, so students can work directly in a browser window without you needing to download and manage software installations. It's a great way to introduce spacial awareness and 3D modeling without getting bogged down in the intricacies of 2D CAD drafting.

    For lighting, I'd encourage you to try Capture. There's a free student version, so you can get started without any costs. It's the best all-in-one program for high school students, imo. Students can hang and focus lights in virtual 3D space and experiment with lighting ideas much faster (and safer) than working onstage. And it pairs well with a short unit on Sketchup, since students can import the object they created into Capture and light it. I even use Capture as a digital light lab when I guest lecture at high schools and colleges, since many schools aren't lucky enough to have a full lighting rig at the ready. And there's plenty of room for growth: Capture connects to ETC light boards/software and has paid versions with a library of light fixtures that includes almost every light ever made.

    As an example, I attached an image with scenery created in Sketchup and lit (with only five lights) in Capture.

    As a professional LD, I regularly use Vectorworks-but it's a steep learning curve for a short unit. I recommend focusing your energy on the Sketchup+Capture combo and save Vectorworks for the most advanced students to explore independently.

    Benjamin Pilat
    Director of Education
    Stage Lighting Bootcamps