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LD Assistant by Design & Drafting

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LD Assistant by James Eade

LD Assistant, from Design & Drafting, boldly claims to offer “the easiest, most cost effective way to design your lighting, sound, video and other production elements”—so we decided that it was time to take the software for a spin and see if this was the case.

Powered by Autodesk technology, LD Assistant really will make anyone used to AutoCAD and its environs feel right at home. From the moment you start up, it looks and feels like AutoCAD, and that choice has been made for good reason. For some years now, AutoCAD has become the standard CAD drafting package for many industries, and while there are many more complex 3D drafting tools out there, there is nothing like AutoCAD to turn the old cigarette packet sketch into reality.

Thus it makes sense if you’re on the lighting side of things to avoid having to retrain yourself, and yet take full advantage of some software that will help make your life that bit easier and, as the sales blurb would normally indicate, make yourself more productive.

On booting up, you’re presented with a bewildering array of buttons and menus which, if you’re not totally conversant with AutoCAD, may cause you to raise an eyebrow. If this is the case, or if you find that you’re not getting the best out of things, then the easy to use online help and tutorials will certainly be beneficial. Better still, the personal touch can be obtained via Skype and, after an extensive call, we can vouch for just how useful this is!

Even taking things very slowly to start with, it was a matter of minutes before LD Assistant had helped us to autocreate a room, put in some lights and autofocus them, assign DMX channels, and record a simple pan/tilt/colorchange sequence. While that might not be anything to stop the designers of the next stadium tour in their tracks, it’s a clue as to just how powerful, yet easy to use, this software is. Five minutes later, and that simple setup had been converted into a more complex lighting rig with changing gobos, video projection, and music added.

While the autocreation and autofocusing side of things is a really useful tool, that’s barely the tip of the iceberg. The most powerful feature of this software is the library of fixtures. Those who have used AutoCAD and its “block” facility will know the power of them, but you may not appreciate the full extent of just how useful they are. LD Assistant takes these blocks and uses their potential to the full. A library of 8,000plus fixtures—lighting, truss, drapes etc., all with fully defined data fields—can, with a few clicks, yield more information than you’ll ever need. Automatic BoMs are done within four mouse clicks, and HTML based reports are also easily obtained, and are further customizable. Should you ever tweak the predefined content that you’ve brought into your design, you can then save it again, as userdefined content for future projects.

One thing that CAD designers are often guilty of is spending so much time in the virtual world that, when the client comes along to inspect the design, they just can’t visualize what the draftsman sees. Here again, LD Assistant passes the test admirably, with high quality rendering done with some flair and speed. However, the best part for us was the ease with which a walk-through of your set could be achieved, and with full rendering too.

Better still is the flypast facility, which allows you to define the route the camera takes, the focal point, and how long you want the camera to film for. It’s all very clever stuff, which impressively didn’t seem to clog up our computer too badly.

But again, this is no use if you can’t apply your design to the real world, and integrate with lighting consoles, etc. Here, the simulation side of LD also does well, allowing you to program up to a maximum of 64 universes of DMX, review things in realtime, and output to standard movie formats. DMX support is given to ArtNet, Enttec, Pathport, and other open or generic interfaces on both USB and Ethernet, which neatly avoids any tieins that force you to use any one console.
Once you get used to it, we suspect you might not need all the buttons and menus that are initially thrown at you, and which do have a habit of reducing your viewing area. However, should you be lucky enough to have more than one screen, LD Assistant does support multiscreen functions, allowing you to put the menus elsewhere.

You may start to wonder just how powerful a computer you’ll need to get the best out of LDA: it’s a question often asked of the software’s designers, who say that the minimum requirements are and Intel P4 3.0 GHz processor combined with Windows XP (it does work on Vista too), 2GB of RAM, 3GB HD space, and a 128MB Open GL graphics card.

It’s obviously difficult to give a full account of all the features of LD in this short review and we’ve tried to pick out those we thought were the most powerful. While it may be true that other packages can do similar things, it was really quite surprising to count the number of times the phrase “Now that’s clever” was uttered—especially as we’re quite familiar with AutoCAD.

But that’s not to say that LD Assistant is just for lighting—there are a few fixtures in the library that look towards the sound side, and, although this only accounts for a fraction of what the program does, it could offer a hint to the product’s future.

While there are a few “hot fixes” to install and the slight niggle of having to “explode” fixtures you drag in, these are processes that are being worked on, along with yet more userdriven features. And that’s a worthy testament to the guys behind the development of LD Assistant, who have spent over two years putting this package and the database library together.

They haven’t taken their eye off of what is ultimately the reason for this software—to allow you to create and pre-program your lighting setup with the minimum of fuss, and produce highquality output to give to your customers. Combine that with a personal service of online and Skype based help, and you will be up and running in no time. As Rufus Warren, of Design & Drafting, says, “We believe in support as the best way to win customers.”

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