People Powering Production: CAD Design & Engineering
Interview with Madelyn Principe and Benjamin Van Brande, PRG Los Angeles CAD Department
Photos by Rosemary Getz
Madelyn Principe and Benjamin Van Brande, both talented Technical Designers in the CAD Department of PRG Los Angeles, shed light on their roles at PRG, their educational and professional backgrounds, the specialized software they use and the unique services they bring to PRG's clients.
With a passion for combining engineering, artistic vision and digital skills, they both play a pivotal role in creating support drawings, designing innovative products and visualizing spectacular shows for clients. Get ready to be inspired by Madelyn and Benjamin’s passion for pushing the boundaries of entertainment technology and delivering unforgettable experiences to audiences worldwide.
PRG: Explain your role at PRG. What does a normal day look like for you?
Madelyn Principe: As a Technical Designer at PRG, I receive requests throughout the day to draw lighting and rigging plots, LED walls, and to visualize shows for clients. I also work with Project Managers to develop custom solutions for shows. I see a lot of opportunities to come up with innovative new products and solutions to support productions, so I often work with product specialists within the company to develop new designs.
Benjamin Van Brande: My role at PRG is a Technical Designer and drafter. What that means is that we ingest ideas and concepts from our clients and break them down into the components needed to make it happen in the real world. We then take all that and make drawings that our clients can use.
PRG: What kinds of specialized software do you use?
MP: For building shows and creating plots, I work primarily in Vectorworks. I also use SolidWorks to design custom parts for manufacturing. For creating more photorealistic renders, I work and animate in Twinmotion, which runs on the Unreal Engine and Depence, a stage lighting pre-vis software.
The combination of the above makes a strong package for drafting, designing and visualizing.
BVB: To add to what Madelyn mentioned, we also use Epic for rendering and SoundVision for audio array design.
Stills from SoundVision, a program for visualizing audio that is used by LA CAD.
PRG: Tell us a bit about your educational backgrounds.
BVB: My education has primary been on-the-job training. I have worked at a few places before, in those tenures I drafted and designed some of the largest stages as well as some of the largest temporary structures in the world—from structures that stretch more than 500 ft. to temporary buildings that surpass 100,000 sq. ft.
MP: Before working at PRG, I studied Industrial Design at Georgia Tech. In that program I learned Solidworks and other CAD softwares as well as getting a foundation in design principles and frameworks.
Industrial designers are trained to think creatively. I identify unmet needs and create products and solutions that solve problems in creative ways. As a result, we play an essential role in any innovation process. My industrial design education helps me to increase efficiency, reduce costs and improve the aesthetic appeal of products and solutions. In addition, industrial design can play a vital role in developing new ideas and approaches to product development.
When designing new products, keeping the user in mind it is of the utmost importance. In this industry, the user is the crew. Using a user-centered design approach, I am always thinking about the experience of the crews using our products and designing an experience for them that is fast, easy, and safe. This translates into savings for the client and happier crew members.
PRG: What do you love about your job?
BVB: What I love about my job is just the sheer variety and volume of projects that I get to work on, and then watch all of them come to life. There isn’t much like the feeling of seeing something that you worked on come to life.
MP: I have the coolest job in the world. I spend my day drawing and designing shows and then visualizing them on my computer. I love making renderings for clients of what their shows can look like – concerts are beautiful and being a part of it feels like making art. I also love diving deeper into technology in my role.
PRG is a playground for innovative entertainment technology, and I am always working on learning something new. Recently, I took a course in the grandMA3 lighting control platform. Using this in conjunction with the Depence visualizer unlocks lots of exciting visualization capabilities.
A great workplace cares about and supports its employees while also challenging them to grow with the company. At PRG, our managers and employees have a shared commitment to both individual and company success. This has allowed me to travel to show sites, take courses, and learn new technology.
PRG: What services do you provide that set PRG apart as a technical production partner?
MP: Increasingly, clients are seeking our help earlier in the production process. Many clients want to engage with us at the conceptual stage. Coming to PRG with a design earlier in the process helps everyone. With our expertise on what is possible technically, we can get a show done more easily and it gives us time to develop custom solutions.
Translating a client’s concept into a technical reality is what we do best.
BVB: What sets PRG apart isn’t just one set of services or capabilities, it is our ability and knowledge that sets us apart. It can be quite easy to get tunnel vision when working on large projects and having a strong background in all disciplines helps us keep everything in mind.
PRG: Are there any of your services that you think might be a bit underutilized by our internal team or clients?
BVB: I’d say our creative services side of our group: this is something that can be very mutually beneficial for clients and our team alike. We can take a napkin sketch and turn that into a full drawing or develop the full creative if needed.
MP: One of our biggest strengths in LA CAD is visualizing photorealistic renders. Creating renderings can really help the client envision the look and feel of their show.
We can assist in every step of the process to design and visualize shows of all sizes. We also help PRG’s Artist Development team with producing creative lighting and video packages for smaller tours.
PRG: What’s the most important thing for a production manager or designer to consider before going on tour?
BVB: I think the most important thing to consider is getting all the physical deployment questions answered. For example, are there any conflicts between any elements? In CAD, we can draw everything out to be sure none of the elements are interfering.
MP: Designing a tour means designing the daily work experience for an entire crew. It is so important to have the right gear to meet the needs of the production without exhausting your most important resource, which is your people. Using PRG’s CAD services can get you better custom solutions that work for you and your crew.
We are qualified to promptly handle any structural entertainment engineering challenge. We pride ourselves on understanding how entertainment structures are built and used. We use that knowledge to design economical and realistic permanent and temporary entertainment structures, and then prepare documents for independent engineering sign off by an external party. This is extremely valuable for a production manager as it forms the foundation and basis for complex builds and hangs.
PRG: What is your favorite project you have ever worked on?
BVB: It’s hard to pin just one down but I did like working on Jack Harlow’s recent tour quite a lot. I helped design the LED automation as well as some of the other elements.
MP: It is hard to choose a favorite. One of my favorite projects that I’ve worked on was Justin Bieber’s Justice Tour. My team worked on one of the biggest features of the show that came with a huge technical challenge—LED ceilings that came down and doubled as automated dance platforms. We worked closely with the production's creative team and TAIT’s world-renowned team at Rock Lititz. As my first show at PRG, it was a baptism by fire in the entertainment industry.
I also worked on a fashion show at The Wiltern recently. One of my responsibilities for the show was designing the custom 20’x 30’ logo in lights, an automated structure that functioned as the backdrop of the runway. Another of my responsibilities was finding solutions for fitting a 1,100-fixture light show into a 100-year-old theater and safely mounting fixtures without losing the creative vision of the lighting designer. The result was the biggest show at The Wiltern ever and it was incredibly rewarding to work on – after the fashion show there was a concert where Iggy Pop and The Strokes played, and the fashion show lighting transitioned effortlessly into an incredible rock and roll show.