Fall 2011Impact

If you build it, let Jim Ream draw it up first. At least that’s how UIndy does it.

When professor Jim Ream has to design a dinner theatre set that will fit into the Schwitzer Student Center dining hall, he doesn’t have to wonder if he made a steeple that is too tall or created a ship that is too wide. Thanks to a computer-aided design and building information modeling software program called Vectorworks, Jim has mapped the interior of the dining hall down to the last inch. And not only has he created templates of the dining hall, but he’s also created a virtual Ransburg Auditorium, Studio Theatre, Ruth Lilly Performance Hall in the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center, and the gymnasium in Nicoson Hall.

The software allows Jim to build 3-D computer models of a space—such as Ransburg—and to know the exact dimensions of the area. In the case of Ransburg, he can then start creating sets for the latest theatre production and see how they will look on stage before he even lifts a hammer to build them.

“To create a simple stage,” he explains, “you draw a rectangle, then add walls, and then add more details such as colors or doors or whatever you need.” Hardly a major event occurs on campus where he isn’t called on to provide a carefully crafted view of the space, with helpful variations on seating arrangments, lecterns and potted plants, scores of international flags, and musicians. Jim—chair of the theatre department and a faculty member since 1973—has seen it all. Before Commencement ceremonies in May, Jim used the computer software to model the inside of Nicoson Hall and to design the stage. Using the program, he can add color, texture, lighting, and even reflective surfaces to the model to achieve very realistic results.

The software enabled Jim to stage the presidential inaugurations of both presidents Beverley Pitts and Jerry Israel, and he also has taken his design skills out into the community. When he did a show in the old laundry building at the former Indiana Central State Hospital, he created a model of its industrial interior. When he helped with a play at Wagon Wheel Theatre in Warsaw, Ind., he created a model of its stage to help him design and draft the set. In Indianapolis, he’s also built models of the stage at Cathedral High School, the studio theatres at Butler University, and the CTS Repertory Theatre—which looked so good CTS used it on the cover of its program one year.

“The main reason I create the space in Vectorworks is so I can build the set design and then show the director what it’s going to look like,” Jim explains. “I can say to the director, ‘Here’s what the set will look like from the floor, and here’s what it will look like from above,’ and I can show the director lighting choices and different views.” Jim teaches the program to students in his Computer Applications in Theatre class and his Scene Design class during the second semester, and he also has written some plug-ins for the program, such as one that enables the user to draw a Venetian blind.

“I always tell my students that there’s no scale limit,” he says. “So you could model the entire city of Indianapolis, then zoom in to their desk, then to their notebook, and you could put a little fly on the notebook. There’s that much capability.” As could be expected, some students take to the program immediately and others spend months hating all its complicated possibilities. But for those interested in technical design, the program can be invaluable. After learning the virtual ropes, for example, Jim’s former student Aaron Selig took an internship at Clowes Memorial Hall at Butler and built a model of its stage, and then went on to West Point and built a model of its theatre as well.

“It has a bit of a learning curve,” says Jim, “but it’s fun for people like me who enjoy it!”

—Jen Huber ’07

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