Ryan Dunbar, freelancer and former designer for events service provider Gearhouse South Africa (GHSA), has been drawing and conceptualizing stage and visual concepts for the live entertainment industry for over ten years. He has designed a wide range of events including televised awards shows, outdoor music festivals, Bollywood concerts, corporate launches, and professional conferences.
A Vectorworks software user, Dunbar takes advantage of its capabilities to transfer his rough ideas and sketches into a 3D space, complete with important structural components and surrounding set elements. Dunbar claims that these functionalities allow him “to do things quickly and with ease.” In addition, Dunbar notes that the Vectorworks software also allows him to “draw realistically to accommodate the venue’s limitations.”
“From past experience, it can be very frustrating and time consuming when you produce a wonderful looking stage design and then you have to go back and redraw your model, set, and trim heights,” Dunbar explained. “For example, if the ceiling height is lower than you anticipated, then what you have designed will not fit in the venue!”
Before Dunbar starts work on any project, he likes to go through his personal arsenal of resources first. “I like to keep a library of images on my PC from anything I stumble across on the web. Anything interesting – ranging from modern and unique architecture, industrial machinery, abstract shapes, and textures,” said Dunbar. “I also keep a folder of previous events that have happened over the years to review what other designers are doing or have done.”
Although Dunbar admits that his ideas sometimes “don’t make sense in the beginning!”, his extensive knowledge and expertise awarded Dunbar the opportunity to design for the 2015 Vodacom Durban July. This highly sought after event takes place on the afternoon of the first Saturday of July and is home to one of South Africa’s most prestigious sporting events – a horse race at the Greyville Racecourse that is now known to cure “July Fever” since its inception in 1897.
For this spectacular event, Dunbar was tasked with the full show and concept design for the Jack Daniels BOOMTOWN stage, the space that houses an exclusive line-up of top artists and is equipped with premium lounges and exclusive views of the racetrack. As the venue where Vodacom Durban July sells its most requested tickets of the entire event, BOOMTOWN was a tall order for Dunbar, so he immediately turned to Vectorworks software to help him conceptualize the end product.
“Once I’ve drawn my basic model in Vectorworks, I’ll rotate the model around in the 3D workspace and carefully observe what the stage will look like from all angles,” Dunbar explained. “I’ll also start to add colors to the solids to show the separation between all the different features, stage tiers/levels, and the set pieces. I'll start to play with color combinations during this phase, too.”
Having a variety of color and lighting options to present to the client was important for Dunbar, as “this gives a good understanding of how all the features will synchronize together.” This is particularly important for a space like the BOOMTOWN stage that guarantees audiences 11 hours of non-stop entertainment through a revolving line-up of artists.
When further asked how he conceptualizes the lighting part of the process, Dunbar states that he first “adds the primary lighting to the model. This is all the key and ambient lights for bringing out the image props (in this case, people), walls, and general atmospheric venue lighting. The musicians and their instruments, performers, and lectern positions with speakers all need to be lit with key lights. I then proceed and add lighting fixtures at a high level out of the main model work space; these fixtures will project gobos and textures onto areas in the model where I am looking for a textured or shadow effect.”
Next, Dunbar relies heavily on the Renderworks feature set within Vectorworks software to fully illustrate his concepts for the client. The resulting 16-meter-wide dome roof and side-flanked LED fingers that spanned the length of the stage were the outcomes of this very thorough process. “Since this event was happening outdoors, I used the Renderworks backgrounds and tweaked them accordingly,” Dunbar shared. “I added one Renderworks camera to my workspace; I do not set it to any height or specific position, as long as it is directly positioned in front of the model. I then view the drawing through the camera and use the mouse to rotate and zoom in and out of the drawing.”
Dunbar continues, discussing how using the Renderworks feature set specifically has been helpful. “I like the freedom of moving the camera around the model until I get to a camera angle that I like,” he explains. “I believe it’s very important that you spend time on your camera angles to get the very best view from your design. I used Fast Renderworks to continuoully check my render and tweak the colors, textures, and reflections until I’m happy with the final product.”
It appeared that attendees of the event were happy with the final product, as well. South African media outlet Times Live reported that the weekend drew over 50,000 visitors to Durban and helped drive the economic impact of the event to more than R440-million. Thanks to Vectorworks software, Dunbar had the ability to accurately present his vision and design to a client for a prestigious South African event. Not only was Dunbar successful in making this vision a breathtaking reality, but he also created an amazing standout feature that is part of a rich historical legacy that will surely be discussed for years to come.
Want to learn more about Dunbar’s projects? You can check out his portfolio here.