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  • Writer's pictureedwardjamescoco

Design Drafting vs. Build Drawings

Well I missed November with my Blog postings. So for that I apologize to my numerous and dedicated fans. (I'm assuming there must be one or two out there. . . maybe?) To start December I thought I'd briefly tackle and issue that drives me nuts: Design Drafting vs. Build Drawings.

To begin let's go back to the Design Process (yeah, that's going to have to be a blog post one of these days as well). Through the Design Process we develop the creative elements of the design and the overall visual picture. Regardless of the length of the process there are typically frequent changes and explorations. Ultimately they must culminate in an agreed-upon design, and the process must move forward into realization.

Design Drafting example from a Nickelodeon event.

For a designer, the primary means of communicating their intentions from concept to realization is through the Design Drafting. While models and sketches can convey the feeling, the scenic treatments and, to a lesser extent, an element of scale, the Design Drafting will be the contract through which the designer will guide the design into production. The Design Drafting will show; real dimensions and accurate scale, specific materials and details that are integral for the look of the design, call-outs for details of the design which may not be clearly evident through drafting alone, and questions/discussions that still need to be determined though collaborative efforts.

A Scenic Shop (or Production Scenic Studio, or whatever other name they might go by) will then take thee Design Drawings and turn them into Build Drawings for their own internal use. Build Drawings will include; internal framing and support for scenery, hardware, all construction materials including those which are not seen by the viewer/audience, properly engineered and developed construction methods, and any further processes required to bring the scenery to completion. These drawings may or may not be vetted through the designer for confirmation, and the format of these drawings is typically up to the discretion of each particular Scenic Shop.

Here's the part that I always have to explain: Designers do NOT do Build Drawings. No matter how great we like to think our drawings are, it's just not the case. I pride myself on the fact that I spent several years as a Technical Director before going to graduate school and getting my Masters Degree in design. I spent a lot of time doing technical drawings for my shop carpenters, it was a practice that I'd developed ever since I began computer drafting in Engineering school. But becoming a designer meant leaving those drawings behind, and trusting in the teams of talented production artists who would collaborate with me on projects. As I always tell people, the staff in the scene shop will know their specific capabilities and strengths far better than anyone else. That's their job to know those things. So collaborating with them on the particulars of the scenic construction is essential. Attempting to dictate all of the construction techniques to them is not only nearly impossible, it's impractical and somewhat insulting. Trying to tell them how to do even minute detail is basically telling them that they have to work FOR you, instead of you working WITH them. And a good team doesn't work that way.

Another Design Drafting example. Notice how there are overall dimensions for size and location of scenic elements, but every single detail isn't dimensioned. You don't see framing and hardware. While other detail drawings can develop the scenery further it's essential to keep design drawings clear and concise, not cluttered and messy.

Ok. I could go on and on about this. I could go into the various ways that the process deviates slightly. I could give examples of ways that this process has worked best, and worked worst. But that would make for an extremely long (and probably boring) blog post. I think my main point is to remind my fellow professionals that there is a difference between the two types of drafting. And that both can be very essential to an effective, efficient development of a project. Don't assume that designers are creating perfect build drawings that can be handed off to shop carpenters to build. Don't assume that the collaboration between the designer and the scenic shop can be minimized or bypassed. And (here's the main reason why I always have to explain this) don't assume that once a design is approved by a client that it's ready for the scene shop to immediately start building. Remember the process, and respect the time needed to make sure that elements are fully developed.

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