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From a Blank Page to the ITV: How Vectorworks Helped One Production Designer See the Light

Posted by Rowena Winkler on 9/15/17 11:34 AM

Ben Telford is a UK-based Production Designer, Art Director, and founder of The Design Department Ltd., who specializes in light entertainment, reality, and music television. He has worked on high-profile projects such as The Voice UK and Sports Personality Of The Year, and has just designed the new set for the X Factor Auditions. We conducted an interview with Ben to learn about how Vectorworks software has helped him get to where he is today.

X Factor Auditions render.pngThe X Factor Auditions. Image courtesy of Ben Telford/Thames TV.

Ben’s educational background includes studying product design at Buckinghamshire New University. His degree was in product design, with a lot of time spent on various CAD software systems, which allowed him to experiment with different options. Ben found Autodesk and AutoCAD to be “very frustrating; everything was so overly complicated for what seemed like the most basic of tasks.” He discovered Vectorworks software after graduating, made the switch almost immediately, and began self teaching using various books and YouTube tutorials. 

While teaching himself Vectorworks and putting himself through university, Ben started working on several TV productions. These projects were mostly managed by his uncle Dominic Tolfts, who is also a freelance production designer. After graduation, he followed in his uncle’s footsteps and started freelancing full time, working for many of the other big production companies. According to Ben: “I was making sure I was one step ahead of everyone else; I was the only design assistant that was using CAD at that time. This quickly lead to generating studio plans, construction drawings, and visuals for most of the designers in the Light Entertainment sector.”

He described how Vectorworks Spotlight software, particularly the Stage Deck and Stage Plug tools, as well as the Screen tools, have helped with his workflow process. “Quick turnarounds are so tough,” he says. “Entertainment is so quick, from getting the call to say you’re on the job to delivering a complete set installed in the studio can be as little as four weeks. With Vectorworks, it is so quick and easy to change drawings, especially when you are using the great Spotlight plug-in tools Vectorworks provides. The lack of time you are given is challenging, but Vectorworks helps so much to handle the short amount of time you have. The software is so responsive. To have all of your plans, elevations, construction drawings, and rendered visuals in one file saves so much time importing and exporting between the various render packages I used to use. I can be sitting in a meeting and updating drawings as we discuss changes, issuing updates to the workshop and suppliers before I walk out the door. It’s brilliant.”

His growing reputation within the industry ultimately led to the launch of Ben's company, The Design Department Ltd. Since launching his company, Ben has worked on a number of high-profile projects including:

  • The X Factor Auditions (Production Designer)
  • The Voice UK (Art Director)
  • Play To The Whistle (Production Designer)
  • Sports Personality Of The Year (Art Director)
  • First Dates (Production Designer)
  • Children In Need (Art Director)
  • Catchphrase (Art Director)

In discussing the X Factor auditions, Ben detailed how this particular project offered him a great opportunity to experiment with all the features Vectorworks offers.

“With The X Factor Auditions I had to design an open set, so you can see the architecture of various venues on the tour,” he says. “There is a particular shot they use in the edit which shows the cameras, lighting, producers desk, etc., and this had to be recreated to show how my new set would look in this shot.” 

X Factor Auditions.jpgThe X Factor Auditions. Image courtesy of Ben Telford/Thames TV. 

“Obviously, Vectorworks Spotlight was perfect for the task, especially given the tight turnaround time,” he continues. “Using the various lighting fixtures in the Spotlight library as well as the powerful rendering capability of Renderworks, I was able to quickly turn around the visuals. Once signed off, it was just a case of separating out the various elements for construction onto separate layers and then creating the various construction sheets to be sent off to the construction company for building the set ready for the 2017 audition tour.” To achieve this rendering capability, he uses the integrated Renderworks feature set

Xfactor iso.png

The X Factor ISO. Image courtesy of Ben Telford/Thames TV.

For Ben, one of the biggest benefits of Vectorworks is avoiding drawing items from scratch, which saves him time that can be put into the next exciting project. 

When asked what advice he would give to folks interested in trying out Vectorworks software, Ben recommends using the opposite approach. “Take your time,” he says. “Have a project on hand, something you can play with. Set drawings out properly and cleanly from the very beginning. It’s all about being organized. Use the Resource Manager to your advantage, collate all of your own symbol files next to the Spotlight libraries, and always use classes and layers. Organization is the key to using Vectorworks.”

Ben’s extensive listing of projects is all the evidence you need to know that this approach works. “I am completely self-taught,” he said. “I had a lot of patience. I literally started from a blank page.”

To learn more about Ben and his projects, visit his website at http://www.thedesigndepartment.tv/.

Topics: Renderworks, Resource Manager, Vectorworks Spotlight, Ben Telford, X Factor UK, The Design Department Ltd., The Voice UK, Sports Personality of the Year, Buckinghamshire New University, Play to the Whistle, First Dates, Children in Need, Catchphrase

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