Apart from my hands and eyes, I have a small but useful toolbox of things to help make the job of lighting a show interesting, quick, and hopefully efficient.
For meetings, site visits, and prep work
You can't beat a simple paper and pen at a meeting. Simple. You really can't. I've seen people turn up to site visits with laptops, pads, and tablets. Watching them panic when they can't get power for their gadgets. If you need to share a technical drawing with everyone else then charge your gear up before you arrive and have the app, drawing, spreadsheets, or whatever open and ready to go. Or better still print it all up so we can all draw and scribble on it. We might scribble and draw cartoon cats and dogs on the CAD, but its easier than crowding around a 15-inch laptop screen. The pen and paper is also a great way to distract yourself from the one, and there is always one, who likes to tell everyone how differently they
did it and how we should
do it on this gig. You've been there. You've seen and heard them, haven't you?
No, I use paper and a pen and listen, scribbling as I go. I take pictures with a mobile phone if I need any. These notes and pictures are valuable for the next step when I get back home.
Using my notes
Once I get back to my office I then condense my notes into an app called Joplin. (I disregard the cat and dog drawings) It's a bit like Evernote. I can sync it across all of my machines. In Joplin, I create "notebooks". In these notebooks, I enter all the relevant notes from the meeting along with pictures, contact details, and so on. Joplin becomes the hub of the job or "gig". As I go forward I just keep adding notes. From hotel and travel to equipment lists and drawings, all go into a Joplin notebook.
Putting it together
I will usually get a CAD from a production manager or set designer, sometimes I'll get some visuals if I'm lucky. Again these are all filed away in Joplin. For technical drawing, I prefer to use Vectorworks Spotlight as it's a CAD program more suited to the lighting industry. Many of my peers use AutoCAD which is excellent but it doesn't have the same functionality and is less sympathetic to building staged productions. It's ideal for architecture which I suppose is what we are doing but Vectorworks has everything included, staging, fixtures, drapes, truss, and even the ability for DMX patching.
Using the CAD I like to visualise the project, so with my collection of CAD drawings, visuals, and notes I can get to work. I use software called Capture. This is an excellent stage lighting visualisation package. I can import the CAD of the venue and the set and convert it into a 3D space to which I can add the fixtures I want to use and the truss into the 3D space. Capture comes with a comprehensive library of truss and fixtures which the authors of Capture keep up to date on a regular basis.
Once everything is in Capture I can then
turn on the fixtures and create full colour and to scale visualisations of the show which, if anyone on the production is interested, I can share with them for their feedback. This is the point where I discover any errors in drawings or the notes, will it or won't it fit etc., but mainly I can "see" if my design will look right, do the right job, and I can make modifications quickly and efficiently. Capture will also print all of the paperwork, plans, kit lists, weights, and power requirements.
With Capture I can also hook up my lighting desk, a ChromaQ Vista. Now I can patch, create some presets and even pre-program the show in my office before turning up on site. Of course, there will always be some tweaking to be done but the main elements will all be there ready to go. All I need to do now is draw another cat or dog!
This is how I put my shows together but of course, there are lots of other ways, some far better and some, well... not so good. I've seen the results believe me.
Good simple paperwork and filing will make the job easier and give you more time in the bar...
Here is a list of my tool kit and possible alternatives that you might find helpful.
Pen and paper!
ChromaQ Vista (Alternatives? Well there are so so many good ones, just search the net!)
Of course the above is by no means a definitive list, there are so many software and hardware packages available, they are just the ones I currently use to get my job done and so far work well.