Light Plot Deconstructed is a book written to compliment the Vectorworks Spotlight application, it is billed as a tutorial manual that is both accessible and easy to follow. It is written by Gregg Hilmar, someone who is infinitely qualified to talk on the subject. Gregg has spent years as a professional lighting designer who has used Spotlight since its inception in 2001 and Vectorworks and its predecessors before that. Gregg also gives demonstrations of Vectorworks at trade shows and conventions and even gives training sessions to the staff at Nemetschek! If you’re going to get a lesson in a complex piece of software like Vectorworks Spotlight, you probably couldn’t wish for a better person to get it from. Well in theory anyway…
Sadly things don’t live up to expectations, Gregg is clearly very knowledgeable about the subject, of that there is absolutely no doubt. However, just knowing about something, even if you can give excellent lectures and demonstrations, doesn’t necessarily make you a good author. I feel bad saying this as I’m sure that Gregg has put a great deal of time and effort into this book. I would not wish to diminish his work, but the simple fact is that it’s true. However, I would direct the blame towards the publisher for this and not Gregg. I can’t believe how this book reached publication with so many errors in the text.
Now I don’t claim to be anywhere near perfect, there are sure to be mistakes in this very review. The difference is that to get something in to print there should be a series of quality control procedures in place with an editor and several proof readers spotting mistakes. Especially when the asking price is $40!
The text contains numerous examples of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, even at one point spelling the name of the program incorrectly as ‘Sporlight’. A couple of times I encountered sentences that just didn’t make any sense, here is an example taken from page 13:
‘The Spotlight command, and the and include this option in the dialog box itself.’
I have no idea what that is supposed to mean. I did have one very peculiar experience of déjà vu while reading the book too, I was certain I’d read a particular section before and I knew what he was going to say next. It was getting late and I thought I’d maybe skipped back a bit by mistake, but then I realised I hadn’t because the next paragraph was all new to me. I was still convinced I’d read the previous section though, so I flicked back a few pages and my suspicions were confirmed when just two pages earlier he had written exactly the same thing, word for word!
That’s not the end of the problems though, there are many smaller errors such as confusing the x,y co-ordinates and starting to use acronyms without explaining what they actually mean. For example, I assume the ‘OIP’ refers to the Object Information Palette, but as far as I can tell it’s never actually specified and I’m still not sure what the ‘DLVP’ is.
I also have an issue with Gregg’s writing style, everything is written in the first person, which is fine because he goes to great lengths explaining the book is about how he uses the program and that you may have your own method of working. The problem with this stems from the fact you can only read ‘I do this’ and ‘I do that’ so many times when you are trying to learn what YOU can do.
There is one more niggle I have to mention, Gregg spends a lot of time explaining how drafting a light plan used to work back in ‘Ye Olde Days’. If you are young and have no knowledge about vellum and drafting then it’s an interesting topic. It certainly deserves to be covered in this book as many of the techniques used then are just as applicable and relevant today in a CAD package. However, he keeps revisiting this same topic at the start of almost every chapter and the same ‘Ye Olde Days’ quote is constantly repeated. If I ever have to read ‘Ye Olde Days’ again I might have to gouge my eyes out! I don’t mean to offend the author, but it did get a bit wearing.
Again, I want to stress that I don’t place the blame for any of this with Gregg, all these issues should have been picked up before publication by proof readers and the editor. You simply can’t expect the author to be able to do the job himself it’s impossible! I do have to wonder what kind of controls the book went through though, I noticed all these problems in one read through. It would seem to me that the publisher needs to take a far more active role in the publication process.
Anyway, with all that said what about the content of the book? Well if you are expecting a tutorial on how to use Vectorworks Spotlight you won’t find it here, there are no worked examples or projects for you to follow. Instead Gregg looks at each aspect of the program and tells you how you can make the most of it, or more accurately how he makes the best use of it. You are reminded at several points that his methods are only one way to achieve the results, you may develop a better way that fits your own work flow.
This is fine, but as I have the book I want to actually know how he uses it. A couple of times I was disappointed as I felt I hadn’t been given enough information. For example when he talks about the Vectorworks preferences he only mentions a couple of the settings he uses. Gregg constantly states that the preferences are personal choices, but the point of reading a book like this is to find out other ways of working and how they could benefit you. I don’t learn anything by being told I can make my own choice, I can do that without the book.
The book is also littered with illustrations, but many of them are never referenced in the text. Sometimes the illustrations are relevant to what is being described and presumably just haven’t been directly attributed, but other times they would seem to exist purely to break up the text.
I’m not entirely sure I know who this book is aimed at. It certainly isn’t any good for the complete beginner because you need an understanding of the tools and procedures before you can grasp what it is Gregg is talking about. If you are a novice with Vectorworks you would be far better served using the free downloadable training guides available on the Nemetschek website. However, if you have used Vectorworks for any length of time then you will probably already have a method of working and so the suggestions in this book will be largely irrelevant to you. The first half of the book is essentially just an overview of the software anyway.
I must admit I was expecting a lot more from this book, it’s a paperback and just under 100 pages. This means it never really goes into any great detail about a particular topic because there isn’t enough space. It’s also spiral bound, which would be very useful when using it in conjunction with the software because it will lay flat. However, I never felt a need to do this since the way it is written doesn’t ever encourage you to explore the program at the same time.
With that all said I did learn some things from reading this book, all those years of experience that Gregg has designing and drafting do come across at times. However the majority of those are in regard to his drafting method and practises rather than any specific Vectorworks feature. The problem is, even with those few great ideas, I just can’t honestly say I think they justify the price.
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