Walking the Talk
Incorporating SoftPlot in your daily routine.
By Dean Panttaja

Dean Panttaja is a Professor and the Head of Design to the Department of Theatre and Film at the University of Idaho. He has been professionally designing shows since 1982. This month, he shares some of his personal insights and thoughts about using SoftPlot, Light Shop and Light Grid to help design his shows and how each program streamlines his overall work process.

Instructors of lighting design often find it hard to present a model of professional lighting design to students just starting their careers. With the ever expanding role of technology in the lighting design process, and with the implementation of CADD and photometrics, just teaching the basics becomes a daunting task. How does an instructor start with students who have little or no knowledge about light and develop competent lighting designers in a semester?

Lighting design you can sink your teeth into: A few views of the spectacular SoftPlot-aided lighting design of the Spokane Interplayers Version of "Dracula" by Dean Panttaja.

A full shot of the intricate, emotional lighting design of "Dracula".

Using SoftPlot to help design your shows instead of other lighting programs is like comparing night...

...and day. (Scenes from Educating Rita designed by Dean Panttaja.)

As a professional, I have been using SoftPlot, Light Shop, and Light Grid to resolve the issues of "communication from a distance". A rural campus, the University of Idaho is a six hour drive from the pacific coast where most of my professional lighting design work occurs. It is essential that during the design process I communicate with my director, colleagues, and crew as completely and efficiently possible. When my residency for focus through opening arrives, it is important that all be in readiness. Towards this end, I use Light Grid to establish "looks" for scenes and to develop a "color key" for the design.

I share this information with the director and fellow designers adjusting accordingly. Since I work in many different theatrical environments, I find it necessary to use Light Shop to understand the exact photometrics of the individual theaters lighting inventory and the effectiveness of those instruments from any of the theaters lighting positions. This prevents wasted time in re-hanging poor selections. Finally, I use SoftPlot to diagram all this information into a light plot so that the master electrician can hang the show and the work of focus, level and cue setting can commence.

As a CADD program, SoftPlot is one of the more user friendly and efficient programs I have used. It has many nice attributes, travels well, plays well with other "programs", and produces clean, high quality plots and paperwork. I have been using SoftPlot since 1996 and happy with the way the developer, Bill Kirby, continues to adjust the program for all his users needs. Working in tandem with Light Shop and Light Grid, SoftPlot makes a solid design suite. In 2000, I started using SoftPlot and Light Shop in the classroom as a teaching aid. Its popularity over doing hand drafting and paperwork was quickly noted by the students.

Eventually, I integrated Light Grid to complete the process. The beginning lighting class uses the suite to go from complete design visualization to practical documentation. By the end of 16 weeks, students have designed a hypothetical show in an arena with an inventory of 100 lights and in a proscenium with an inventory of over 300. When you consider that 80% of the lighting design course are performance majors, this feat is truly remarkable!

I look forward to playing with the new 3D portion of SoftPlot and integrating that aspect into my design course.

Scene from "The Seahorse" performed by the Tacoma Actors Guild.