Drawing A Lighting Plan

30th July 2007

Dear fellows,

I am currently in the process of drawing a lighting plan for an indoor studio stage, a 3 room "theatre", set-up.

I am wondering if you, out there, still do that by hand - like me. Is there any software available to help me in the drawing process?

Kind regards,

Christian Roth,
DP, Austria

Hi Christian,

Well, it seems I was just on this subject last week. John Brawley brought the software program "Omnigraffle" to my attention. It was already on my Mac, bundled with OSX. If you're on a PC, I'm not sure if there's a version for you, but Omnigraffle is really cool.

You can have stencils, which I got from John and are available on www.Graffletopia.com for all manner of lighting instruments and camera staging, not to mention furniture, people, etc. You just drag the stencil onto your drawing as needed, position it, rotate it, size it, etc. It's fast to learn, especially if you're familiar with Photoshop, and it's really easy and intuitive.

I did have to pay $30 for an upgrade license, by the way, to make it work properly.

Good luck!

Graham Futerfas
Los Angeles based DP

Google picked up SketchUp a while back and provides a free version. Sketchup is a 3D program, but also has free film lighting instruments, stands, etc. It also runs on a PC if you can't use OmniGraffle because it's Mac only.

I don't use SketchUp for basic lighting plans because I'm not very proficient with it, but I have laid out complete rooms after the fact when I had more time.

Info about Google SketchUp is here:


If you go back to the first page of search results, you'll see some entire film set/location set ups.

Disclaimer: I don't work for Google, SketchUp or any related companies.

Jason Eberts
DOP from L.A. in PA

Also, Visio is a product for the PC from Microsoft that is made to do 2D vector based technical drawings (and, from what I read on the OmniGraffle Wiki, it sounds like Visio is similar to OmniGraffle)

Over 2 years ago I started messing around with Visio and posted something here hoping to find some film oriented stencils for lights, stands and things. I never got any responses, so maybe nobody here uses Visio, but while SketchUp is cool, Visio is probably a better tool for doing overhead lighting plans.

The only Visio lighting stencils I was able to find are for theatre lighting. They work fine for doing basic layouts but I'd like to find Mole-R lights that actually looked like the instruments I'm using and "C" stands and flags and things. It's possible Visio can import other vector formats, like DWG as well. I'm not sure, but I never located free downloads of M-R lights for Visio.

The theatre lighting stencils are available from http://www.seleconlight.com if you search their site for vss you'll find them.

Jason Eberts

Hi Graham and Jason,

Thanks very much for your recommendations.

I have downloaded Sketchup, since I am unfortunately using Windows (still), but this seems quite a bit too complicated for a quick drawing right now. I am looking more for some 2D thing like Visio, but don't need all the features that come with it.. anyway - Visio is quite high priced, isn't it? I'm stuck here because I plan to buy an Apple powerbook in the next months, so I don't really want to spend money for a Windows program anymore.

As for lighting gear model templates - these seem pretty hard to find, you're right.

Anyway, wonderful it would be...

Kind regards,

Christian Roth,
DP, Austria

Hi Christian,

For 2D drawings of lighting set ups I utilise Publisher (Office 2003), it allows me to import any drawing or JPEG quite easily.

To get the best result I get the art dept to give me a scale drawing of the set. Plan view (top view), scale being the important operative here. This can either be a hard copy or preferably a digital one, and then publisher allows me to layer on the units that we need to rig... The scale allows me to show each unit in perspective, & when additional detail is required for my rigging gaffer I can crop & blow up the relevant information.

I utilise an image library developed by myself & one of my guys (& in fairness most of the graphic visualisation done by him, brilliant at drawing the lamp images on a computer, dyslexic as ****, but this is one of his fortes).

If you like to see a sample, e-mail me off list. Using publisher files allows me to send a copy to one of my DP’s, who when he receives a publisher file can quickly make any corrections or changes that he wants. Then the final result can be saved as a JPEG that is fixed to be forwarded to the rigging Gaffer & production so they know the requirements.


James Mc Guire

Hey Christian

Here's a free 2D CAD program a friend recommended to me. I've never used it, but it's supposed to be 'easy' to use. Who knows what that might mean, but since it's only working in 2D, it's probably easier than SketchUp where I end up moving things up or down in space instead of across a plane

http://www.cadstd.com/ the lite version is free and seems to be a pretty small download as well.

If you want to use it, it says it will import DXF files. In my version of SketchUp, I can export 2D DXF files. So you could feasibly use the free lights & stands from SketchUp, export them as DXF and then import them into CADstd.

In a pinch, I've also just used the drawing tools in a Microsoft Word document, but that's obviously not the best way to go.

Jason Eberts

My drawings tend to be pretty complex as I mainly work multi-cam, so I use Vectorworks. It is available Mac or windows and if you buy for one, you can have it re-licensed for the other for a price lower than purchase.

Vectorworks Spotlight - VW with an additional module - includes symbols for many fixtures, though most are theatrical not film.

Learning curve is somewhat sizeable, but it will do anything you'll ever need.

Can important any format plans an art department is likely to generate.

Bill Berner
ICG 600 DP

Cast software has WYISWYG which is a super powerful lighting plot designer. It comes with a huge library of fixtures and can even import data into lighting consoles. It is mainly a theatre/rock software but it allows for previsualization and even electrical load data, weight data and more. the libraries even have stock gel colours for your preview. it is viewable in 3d, plan view, and side view. It is a really powerful piece of software. unfortunately not cheap either.

Robert Duke
Key Grip
Memphis TN USA

Dear fellows,

Thank you very much for your suggestions.

I will look through all these programmes during the weekend. Seems quite promising. Meanwhile, I have drawn again by hand my last project - multicam theatre stage. I hope it will be the last one done in this manner.

Kind regards,

Christian Roth ,
DP, Austria

Interested in WYSIWYG from Cast. Their website has nothing about it. Can you give more info?

Jacques Haitkin Local 600 DP
Malibu, CA

Try going to the Cast Software website through this link.


There's a link on that page to take a "tour" of WYSIWYG. This software is very good for lighting and pre-visualization, however it's more geared to concert performance and studio lighting than to film work. The software is sold in three main configurations. The cheapest (WYSIWYG Report) is under $1000 and will give you 2D drawings and all the paperwork you need to detail what-goes-where. The next step up is WYSIWYG Design (over $2000) and steps up from "Report" to full photo-realistic rendering in 3D. The final trim is WYSIWYG Perform which lets you completely program intelligent lights with movement that can be transferred from the virtual to the real world. That costs over $4000. In all cases, you can buy annual subscriptions that let you upgrade to the latest version of whatever version you purchase.

Bottom line, I love my WYSIWYG Design. I use it to work out the scenic design as well as the lighting. I can show my client(s) exactly what it will look like before I lift a stick of wood or plug in a single light. I've got some gripes about it not being as "friendly" with stand-mounted lights and lacking things like Chimeras and silks. Still, this is the most powerful Lighting CAD program I've found. Only you can decide if it's worth it to you. Demos of all products are available for download at their site.

If all you need is a simple picture, try Google SketchUp. If you've got a hundred lights and a paying client that needs to know how it will all look, try WYSIWYG.

The usual disclaimers apply. Cast Lighting has a few examples of my work on their website, but I don't get any friendly consideration for their use.

Bruce Aleksander
DP/LD/Chief Bottle Washer

Bruce Aleksander wrote :

>> Try going to the Cast Software website through this link.
>> http://www.castltg.com/cast/software/home.jsp

The main lack of al this kind of softwares is that they just "cast a spotlight" and nothing else, they rarely take care of resulting ambient light, bounces and so on. While in theatre it could do the work in cinema it doesn't in my humble opinion.

The only way to archive a realistic previz of the lighting setup is to use some professional cad system with a physic based lighting (GI, ambient occlusion, etc.etc.) the cons is that it takes damn long to calculate.

Dario Corno
DP/Liquid Gate studio s.n.c.

Bruce wrote, in a reply ...

>>If you've got a hundred lights and a paying client that needs to know >>how it will all look, try...

I don't think you can or should show anyone 'how it will look'. It's impossible to know precisely, the same as it is impossible to know exactly how many lights and what exact lens you are going to use, lighting, to me, is an organic art where you create as you do.

If I don't like what I had in mind the day before or during the
pre-light, I can change my mind.

But than I am old school.

I don't understand why anyone would want a program which lit for them. It's cheating?

Why not show your client paintings and other reference? Hopper and Rembrandt always work for me, plus a 'local' artist always helps. It also makes you look a little more creative.

As far as lighting plans are concerned, graph paper is good, sticky circles and an HB help too. The back of a pack of Marlboro/ripped beer mat is what I used last time. (Honest)

Google SketchUp is a lot of fun and has a load of lights and cameras you can download, gratis, but one of my gaffers is naughts&ones-o-phobic.

There are also some nice cars so you can pretend to be Geoff and play at lighting them too?

Maya and 3D Studio Max are good for lighting though.... I think it is called CGI.

Chris 'if the clients ain't happy buy 'em a drink' Maris
Chris Maris
Director of Photography
My reel : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zusYNL969ak


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