Simastage is a 3D stage environment, divided into categories to easily manipulate desired aspects of the overall design. The system requirements to effectively use the app are: a computer with at least 4Gb of memory and webgl capable graphics hardware, an internet connection of 20Mb/sec or better and the latest Firefox browser. Google Chrome is also capable of supporting SimaStage, but no other browsers should be considered. These are very common attributes of most modern personal computers, but the bar must be set.
When you launch the sim, first off, there is a venue stage, represented by a grid and floor. The stage center line is yellow by default, and is the horizontal measurement origin for stage right/left. The grid spacing is 4′ x 8′ by default, and the default stage size is 60′ wide by 40′ deep. All of these parameters can and should be edited by the designer. The near edge of the grid is the downstage edge, which is the measurement origin for up/down stage position. What you see is all just a starting point and these items are found in the ‘venue’ menu. Illumination is also setup in this menu. I call them Illuminators because they provide the ‘actual light’ in the scene, not the light fixtures that you will later add to the scene. This is done to maintain good performance in this online sim as lighting is a major memory hog in a 3D environment. Illuminators may be added from the venue menu much the same as any other object, which we will address later in this document. For now, just be aware of the items accessible in the venue menu. To see the stage size in feet, turn on the HUD checkbox while in the venue menu.
Next is the environment, or the surroundings of the venue. By default it resembles an outdoor environment with a blue sky. In the ‘env’ menu, you can alter the environment colors as you wish. There is also a button to black out the environment and one to restore the default look. The ‘Worklight’ checkbox is on by default so you have some initial illumination on the stage to work with. Turn this off when you want to see custom illumination results. The other controls are variables that you can play with to get different looks. It is not important to understand them at this point. Just know you have the ability to alter the environment in the ‘env’ menu.
Interface conventions :
In each of the menus we will explore, there are a few different types of data entry methods. Text boxes are simply ‘type and press return’ , while some are drop-down lists and others require numeric data. These are the ones that need some explaining. For each numeric data box, there are many ways to enter data. Click in the box first. If a slider control appears above the menu, you can use it to adjust the value. Click the handle and drag it left or right to adjust the selected value. When you release the mouse button, the slider will disappear. To bring it back you must click in the box again. Otherwise, you can type in a value or use the arrows at the side of the box to increase or decrease the value. Note that if you cannot reach the number you need with the slider, you can simply use the other methods to enter the desired value. These data boxes also support cut, copy and paste conventions. Buttons are pretty simple to use, but when to click them is the issue as we will soon see.
Creating LED tiles :
The central feature of Simastage is custom LED wall configuration. You can enter the tile specs of any LED tile model into the ’tile’ menu. Here you will see the specs for each selectable tile model, starting with ‘scale ref’, which is just a 1 foot square reference tile, handy for measurement tasks. When you click the ‘next’ and ‘prev’ buttons on the top bar, it will move you through this list of records much like a database program. You can use the ‘n’ and ‘m’ keys to do this too. This is a central task of this program. Each of the menus have a list of records that you will navigate through in the same fashion. As you can see, there are a few actual tile models in the database already so you get the idea of how to enter your own. It is important to fill these out completely and accurately because all the wall specification calculations will be done using this data. Once you have some LED tiles entered in your list, you should save that list so you don’t have to enter it again. Go to the ‘project’ menu and find the tile section, type in a name for your list in the tile textbox, and press enter. That list is now saved in your private project folder on the Simastage server. You can access any of your saved data by choosing ‘user’ in the ‘source folder’ dropdown list. It defaults to ‘stock’ so remember to change it when you want to access your personal data files. If you still don’t see the file you just saved, toggle the project menu (click ‘project’ twice) to refresh the list. If you succeeded to save a custom tile list, then you have learned an important task indeed. All the categories’ data may be saved in the same fashion, but in their respective section of the project menu. Take a look, you will see that walls, set, props and truss are also listed in the project menu. The project section will save the entire project, including stage setup, camera presets, media buffers… all aspects of the project. If you want to save only the truss assemblies, for example, you would use the truss section for that, not the project section. Basically, you can build subsets of the stage items and save them independent of the project. You can load custom subset items into the overall project and save that as the project file. This way you can create reusable groups of items for use in multiple projects. Think of the project as your master file for a show design, and the subsets as resource material for building the project.
Creating an LED wall :
Now that you have a list of LED tiles to choose from, you can go to the ‘wall’ menu and make a new wall. Click the ‘new’ button and a wall will appear stage center, using the first tile model in the list and a still image from media buffer 1. You will notice that it is a 12 x 8 tile matrix by default. You now can proceed to customize the wall as desired. Select the tile model from your list in the ‘model’ dropdown selector. Set the number of columns and rows. Open up the HUD from the top bar (click the box) to see the real-time specs as you edit. The size of the wall, the weight, power, and location data are displayed. If you drag the header of the HUD window you can place it anywhere you want in the scene. Note that the location of the wall is measured from the stage center line and downstage edge to the center of the wall. Click the ‘hilite’ box from the top bar to see what that does. It just gives you a better visual cue of your current object, which will be handier once you have a stage full of objects to navigate. There is a ‘name’ field for each object you create which I highly suggest you use to better reference stage elements. It has no functional impact but is critical for visual project management when you provide a descriptive name for every element. There are many more features on the wall menu to deal with now. Choose your content from the content list. It has two still buffers , two video buffers and a POVcamera to choose from. We will discuss media buffers a bit later. There are options to show the grid matrix or not, and the same for content. If both are unchecked, the wall will not be visible. There is also a wall type selector, from which you can choose a flat, cylindrical or curved wall type. The curvature setting obviously only applies to curved walls. It allows you to alter the amount of curve, but as an arbitrary amount, not specific degrees. In the lower part of the wall menu is a fun part for sure. For flat walls only, You can add headers and turnbuckles, as well as truss sections to support hanging the wall. There are choices for different motor sizes also. The app will calculate the motors needed for the weight of the wall, and automatically place them for you. the app will over estimate by nearly twice the capacity as is typical in stage design. You will also see a Vgap setting which simply means how low the wall hangs below the truss. Adjust these things til you get the feel for it. The ‘-‘ will remove the last, and the ‘o’ will clear all for each section. This applies to other parts of the app too. Once you have your wall as you like, let’s move it to one side of the stage area by dragging the manipulator. Get familiar with this widget as it is used throughout the app. The red arrow moves left and right, green moved up and down, blue moves back and forth. Dragging the yellow boxes allows two axis movement and dragging the center will give you free floating movement. I highly recommend moving by one axis at a time for the best precision design method. There are arrow key commands for finer movement control, refer to the Keyboard Map page for details. Once you have moved the wall over a bit to one side, click the ‘dupe’ button, then drag the duplicated wall over the opposite direction. The dupe is now the current object. If you match the center distances for each wall, you will have a symmetrical layout! Note there are no auto rigging features for curved walls at this time. You can manually mock that up if you need to in the ‘set’ section, coming up.
The ‘set’ menu is really just a feature to create geometrical shapes and combine them to make basic set pieces. One basic thing you can use this for is to create the venue walls or simple risers. There are a few basic shapes you can manipulate into just about anything if you take the time to tweak them. This is a really easy section, just click ‘new’ and a basic box will appear center stage. There is a shape selector from which you can choose from six basic shapes. The box you will use the scale settings to adjust, while the others are rounded, so use the ‘shape adjust’ settings, radius and height to alter these. The ‘hsegs’ set the smoothness of the curves and the ‘circ’ sets the amount of circularity, i.e. if you want half of a sphere or cone, use ‘circ’ to do that. If you remember PI from geometry class, you will grasp these settings easily. Other notable features are the wireframe setting, which will help immensely when moving large shapes around in 3D. You can also change the color and opacity of each shape and you can place a texture image on your shapes. The texture is from one of two texture buffers in the ‘media’ section, more about that later. The rotation controls comply with the previously mentioned number data entry rules, the slider helps out… but there are also buttons next to each value. These are quick 45 degree increment adjustments you get by clicking these. You will encounter this later as well. One thing more about rotation settings, if you double-click in a box, it will reset to zero. If you need to reset all rotations, click the 0 button below. Other buttons in the menu are ‘delete’ which hopefully needs no explanation, and the X which is the universal the ‘close menu’ command. If you click the menu button again it will do the same, and if you click a different menu button, it will just change menus. Now, once you have made a few shapes, like maybe you make a 3’x 6″x6″ stair step and then dupe it, make it 6″ taller and repeat a few times, you have made a staircase, but all the steps are separate and you can’t easily move it. This is where the ‘combine’ button get used. You have a list of objects (steps), and you need to make them into stairs. When you click the combine button, all the steps will be joined together into one staircase, which you can then move as a single unit. Note, you can save them as individual steps or as a staircase; whatever fits your needs. Remember, you are in the set menu, so save in the ‘setpieces’ section of the project menu. Using this method you can make all sorts of custom shapes and build a personal library for future use. One cool use is to make the walls of a theater and save it. Then reload it, and scale it to the appropriate size for a given venue.
In this menu you will find lots of 3D objects to place in your scene as single objects or as a matrix. Again, first click ‘new’ , then choose your object. Using the ‘reps’ settings, the app will repeat instances for you. For example, load a single panel of drape, the set the xreps to 6 to have an instant 6 panel drape. Or, load a riser, the set the xreps to 5 and the zreps to 3, and you have a stage riser perfectly aligned. The same rotation controls mentioned before are here. Everything else should be familiar. The dupe button will copy whatever multiplied object you have into a new instance. This is where you populate the furniture, drape, amps, people, risers, speakers, microphones, etc.. To save the props list, use the ‘props’ section of the project menu.
This is where we can build truss assemblies and add light fixtures and motors for their rigging. There are different truss types in a drop-down selector, such as 12 inch, 20.5 inch, MOD truss and curved truss. There are different sized sticks of the chosen truss in the truss model selector. First, click ‘new’ and a default stick of truss will appear center stage. Now choose the type and size truss you want to start with. Let’s go with the 12x12x8′ we have already. We will build a 32 foot lighting truss. The trick to this is to leave the truss where it is on the floor, until it is all assembled. Click ‘dupe’ three times (not too fast please) one, two, three, done. now we have 32 feet of truss laid out from center stage. Click ‘combine’ and they will be joined together as one. Now drag the red arrow to move the whole truss to center stage. Time to add some light fixtures. Click ‘new’ and this time select ‘fixture’ from the object type selector. A light fixture appears center stage. Select a leko from the ‘fixture type’ selector. Now is where we will talk about navigating the view. If you found out you can drag the scene around with the mouse, that’s good. If you discovered you can zoom in and out with the mouse wheel, that’s great. If you realize you can shift the scene in the view by right click dragging, that’s just awesome! For the mouse-less, these things can also be done with a touch-pad using one or two fingers to drag. I use this method mostly when testing, but I highly recommend a mouse for serious designing! Another handy feature is the ‘z’ key. Press it and the view will center on the current object. Now we zoom in to the leko we have added so we can place it on the truss. Just a nudge in the z axis, and a slight y axis move and we can place the clamp over the truss stringer. Be sure it is truly ‘hanging’ on the truss and not stuck into the truss. Once you’re there, we can dupe away and start dragging them in the x axis along the truss. Dupe and drag until you have populated enough lekos to do the gig. If you want movers, it’s pretty much the same thing, carefully place the first one on the truss, then dupe and drag a few on to the stick. You should distribute them on both the front and back stringer to properly balance the truss when it flys. Once you have all the lights on, go ahead and add some inverted half ton motors using the same method. Place them just above the center top of the truss, evenly distributed. Open up the HUD and check the weight of your truss and lights to determine how many motors to use. Also account for the truss bend limits by placing motors evenly across the stick. Probably three or four should suffice for this one. Now with all the lights and motors carefully placed, you could save this truss in the truss section of the project menu if you want, but then click the combine button to make it a single unit. Now you can move it into place in the scene. You will figure out a strategy about saving trusses so you can easily reconfigure them for different shows. Once combined, at least for now, they are baked that way so it’s best to save them uncombined and combine them for each particular show. Note, you cannot combine two pre-combined units. Only individual items can be combined with a pre-combined unit, like we did with this truss build. In the project menu, notice the ‘add-load’ checkbox. It is on by default, but what this does is add new loads to what is already in the scene instead of replacing. I.E, if you add a downstage truss to the scene, but then decide to use a different one, uncheck the add-load to replace that truss with a new one. If there are any other trusses in the scene already, they will disappear too, so be careful when unchecking the add-load. You can always load the new one and delete the other one when the scene gets complex.
There are two cameras in every scene. The one you are using already is called the ‘viewcam’. There is also a ‘POVcam’, so you can place a camera anywhere in the scene and see that POV as needed, instead of moving the viewcam for that. In the ‘cam’ menu, there are many buttons, a row for each of these cameras. The buttons are for setting preset positions for each camera that can be recalled with a keypress or click. For example, the S1 button will set the current position to memory, and the R1 button will recall that position. The same applies to all six presets, for each camera. The viewcam already has three presets, ‘f’ for front view, ‘t’ for top view and ‘s’ for side view. If you already figured that out, then you must have used a cad program before or you are very intuitive. Anyway this menu gives you many custom views to call up with a keystroke when you need it, but it also has a cool, simple animation feature we will play with here. Go ahead and load a sample scene or create a scene (just don’t make a scene! 😉 ) , then move the viewcam to the right side of the space, looking at the center stage position, open the cam menu and click the ‘Set Key’ button for the viewcam ( top row). Then move the viewcam to the left side of the scene and click that button again. You have just created a simple animation path for the viewcam to follow when you click ‘Run’. See the camera move, looking at the center of the scene all the way. The ‘rate’ adjustment controls the speed of the animation. The app will hide the menu while running the animation. You can add more keyframes, of course, but this simple animation feature works best with fewer keyframes. It’s just there if you want to have some fun looking at your cool creation or do a screen recording to send to a client. The last part of the cam menu is the POVcam. The same presets and animation features apply to this camera, but you cannot see this camera yet, right? That is what the povpreview checkbox will do for you. Click it to see the POVcam view. Now use the positioning controls or the manipulator to move and rotate it. This view is available as an LED wall source. If you place the camera to see the stage from where a real camera would go, you an ‘punch it up’ on the wall and see how it looks. This is handy to make sure the back drop is proper from that angle, but really it is just a cool thing to put on the wall, right?
Finally, its time to discuss media but first I want to be sure you know that on the top menu, there is a button called ‘Takepic’. Maybe you tried it already, but it will make a 2D png image of the current view, and download in your browser like any other image or file you might download. This image does not exist anywhere else but in your downloads folder. It does not get saved on the server like your project files. If the HUD is on when you click it, the specs of the current object will be embedded into the image. If you wanted to output the specs of each LED wall in the scene, you could select and click ‘takepic’ for each wall. You get the pic? Ok, the media menu has two buffers for images, two for video clips, and two for texture images. There is a source folder selector to choose stock or user media. You can upload your own media via the media upload page, then choose ‘user’ in the media menu to load you media into the buffers. Click in the desired buffer box to open up a selector list and click your choice. Load ’em up how you like then they will be available in all the right places. These choices, along with camera presets, environment settings, animation paths, venue settings are saved with the project only, like project specific preferences. Once you set these aspects of your scene and save a project, you only have add the LED walls, setpieces, props, truss and light fixtures to have a show design.
File saving tips :
As you create your design, Simastage is autosaving the current project periodically into a user project file called ‘autosave’. Should you ever need to recover a recent unsaved version of your project, load the autosave file from the project menu, project selector. Of course there is no better solution to version security than to save often!
I encourage you to save multiple versions of projects and subset elements. These files are very tiny and there is no reason not to save as many versions as needed. Another tip is to use the shortcut keys control+s to quick save the current project. This only applies to project files, not subset elements.
To conclude :
I hope this guide is helpful to get a feel for this webapp. I have worked very hard to make it an easy to use, yet powerful show building tool. Although far from perfect, it is a careful balance of features vs. performance. Full quality, no render 3D design is only possible over the web by making careful choices about things like lighting, media and object complexity. I strive to achieve the right balance of these factors while still delivering a feature-rich environment to make it easier and faster than ANY program to create demo quality concept drawings for your client or your crew to have a standard model to refer to for design collaboration before the drafting staff spend a minute of time making the detailed drawings. This app will continue to improve in stability and features as long as people subscribe to it. I am not far from being able to create a full stage plot from a project file, meaning for low budget productions, this app is all you need to design the show from concept to load-in. I am open to suggestions and comments about the app to aid in making it do what you need it to do if at all possible, so please feel free to submit your feedback, hopefully in a constructive tone.
Thanks a lot for trying Simastage!