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Marching Band Show Designer Software

Mike Lawson • Archives • May 1, 2000

These are exciting times to be a marching band director. Show-design software is more versatile and powerful than ever before. No longer are creative performances relegated to football half-time shows. With ease and speed, directors can design shows for basketball pep band, color guard, parades, pom-poms, and much more. There is no limit to the size or venue in which your students can now perform.

Show-design software has also opened up the business possibilities for directors. Basically, there are four routes to take. First, the most common and popular practice is to hire a professional to create a custom show for your band. The cost for this will range from $1,500 to $10,000. Another choice is to purchase and perform pre-designed shows from publishers such as Warner Bros., Arranger’s Publication or Creative Consultation Services. This cost can be $200 to $1,000. A third option would be to purchase show design software and fully edit a pre-designed show. Your increased confidence with this technology can reap impressive rewards for your program. Lastly, band directors can successfully design their own shows with the new, more powerful show-design software products.

It is important to note that directors do not necessarily save intellectual time with the computer but tedious mechanical time is saved. Show designing with a computer still requires understanding of the music. The computer allows you to explore ideas and quickly find out if your creative thinking is on target. The computer can help create good precision drills, pictures/formations or transitions between formations. You’ll still need to take the time to conceptualize the best design before you instruct the computer and its software what to do.

Pygraphics
Pygraphics has been a pioneer in marching band show design since 1982. The company now offers three different products: 3D, Virtual 3D and their brand-new 3D Java. This last product is particularly innovative because it uses Java, a very powerful programming language that takes design software to a new level. Pygraphics is the only full-time marching band software manufacturer.

3D is Pygraphics’ general-purpose drill design product that has been used by high schools, colleges, universities, and corps around the world since its inception in 1994. Its power and many special features have made 3D a standard in the industry. It has been the only drill program that uses count-to-count technology. This allows you to view, edit, or print any count of the drill at any time. With 3D’s unique “morph” feature, you can create transitions by morphing existing formations instead of tediously recreating each formation segment from scratch. Pygraphics has a patented “time track” process which removes the limitation that requires all transitions to begin and end at the same time. Another innovative feature employs “true automatic” animation, which is handled by your computer behind the scenes as you design. 3D records every move and then uses that information to automatically create animation in the background as you write your show. A feature that particularly intrigues me is the “follow-the-leader” function for precision drills. 3D has a patented rewrite technology feature allowing you to rewrite your drill in seconds, which is very handy when editing your drill. The price is $499.

Virtual 3D is an enhanced version of 3D. In addition to 3D features, Virtual 3D allows you to analyze every aspect of your drill before you step onto the field. With the touch of a key, you can see every count of your drill and view it for collisions, excessive strides and visual voicing, which allows phasing and balancing of your music through MIDI capabilities. Virtual 3D is well suited for use in a marching techniques class. Students can turn in their projects on disk which you can then grade and return to them with a built-in multimedia report for their review. Standard features include the ability to design a drill on any size field or street. You can even change performer colors and symbols during the animation. This color feature lets you see dramatic changes as your band turns in different directions. Not only can you see the color changes as the uniforms turn but you can also hear the changes in the music, loud or soft, with the animation changes on the screen. Price is $599. System requirements for both 3D and Virtual 3D for PC are a 386 or faster CPU with 16 MB of RAM, Windows 95 or higher and a color monitor. System requirements for Macintosh include 16 MB of RAM, System 7 or 8, and a 14-inch color monitor.

In April, 2000, 3D Java will be released. Java is an extremely powerful and congenial programming language that works equally well on both Macintosh and PC platforms. 3D Java takes advantage of this unique cross platform compatibility. This includes Windows 2000, Unix, Windows 95 and 98 and Macintosh computers.

Pygraphics’ 3D Java is very user-friendly, with fewer steps to accomplish editing and drawing tasks about 20 percent fewer keystrokes. Drawing tools always show the performers in a shape rather than switching back and forth between line drawings and performers. Editing tools include controls for editing a shape either by changing values or moving handles on the chart. All layers are combined into one tool palette and displayed all the time. Forms are shown in shapes. Stride, distance, length and interval information are shown continuously as you design. You can create any type of grid, therefore any type or size of design surface is possible. Instant animation is another helpful feature. Matching is intuitive. For example, when matching two shapes that have an odd matching order, or are meshed, you simply start the matching process and by the third or fourth position, 3D Java automatically matches the rest by calculating the order. Labeling and numbering of positions is much more flexible. Labeled positions can follow the contour of the shape with just a click.

While the value of animation viewing with music has always been innovative, it has been restricted to MIDI files. In 3D Java, it is now possible to animate to CD recordings. This is significant because you can easily synchronize your drill to a CD recording, which is more realistic than MIDI. Designing a drill backwards has been added. For example, you can create a set at count 48 and design backwards to a set at count 24.

Static charts are an interesting concept included in 3D. These drills can be designed without animation. This is great for idea books where each page is an unrelated chart. You can create a library. A static chart can be copied and pasted into a drill file that has animation capabilities.

There is a special Internet distribution feature that allows you to share your show. These 3D Java drill files can be protected and only read by an Internet visitor but not printed, and the first 80 counts can be viewed. For drill designers, a customer can download from the Internet and review a drill for purchase. Should they decide to purchase, the drill can be unlocked by the customer with a password provided by the drill designer.

Resources abound for the director who lacks time or ability to design drills themselves. Today, directors can purchase completely adjustable drills from drill design companies throughout the country, all of which use 3D to create their packages. Creative Consultation Services (CCS) out of Woodland Park, Colo., has produced some particularly good add-on products for Pygraphics marching band software. CCS provides an instructional video for both Windows and Mac platforms. You can purchase generic marching band drills that CCS wrote for Warner Bros. and alter these quality stock half-time shows at reasonable prices. All drills are modifiable for any size band and the drills are all on Pyware’s 3D software. CCS also has developed the 3D deluxe font a third-party-developed font that allows the designer to view on screen actual instrument symbols like flags, drums, human characters, and all-wind sections of the band.

Systems requirements: Windows requires 400mhz CPU or greater, 64 MB RAM, Windows 95 or higher. Macintosh requires 400mhz CPU or greater, 64 MB RAM, and Macintosh 8.0 operating system or greater. Price is $799.

Drill Quest by Edugraphics
Drill Quest gives you the power to chart your drills quickly and easily, regardless of your experience with computers. Keeping in mind that charting is done for just a few weeks during the summer and fall, their drill design software is especially easy to learn and use. Drill Quest is the result of careful planning by veteran band directors so it requires very little time to get up and running.

It is designed for charting drill teams, cheerleader routines, or even a band performance on a parade stage. Drill Quest can handle a band as large as 2,500 participants. You can choose from football fields with NCAA, NFL, or high school hash marks or a Winter Guard court. You have the ability to automatically insert or delete players throughout your entire drill. Drill Quest’s unique drawing tools can bend, distort, rotate, scale, stretch, fan copy, linear copy, and pinwheel copy. There are a lot of predefined tools on the tool bar like straight lines, circles, star tool, polygons, formation, etc. The number of sides on a polygon can be designed from 3 to 255 points. The star is the same. The placement of players can be achieved through a mouse or a digitizer. Drill Quest can animate a show in 3-D and in stereovision without any animation commands. In addition to the concise tutorial manual, Edugraphics also offers toll-free technical support.

A useful feature of Drill Quest is its “Drill Inspector” which inspects your charts for large step sizes and collisions of players and calculates total distances that players travel in the show. This ability to anticipate rehearsal problems is an important feature. “Drill Inspector” is useful in spotting potential collisions in transitional movements. Drill Quest users can choose several ways of labeling marchers. Symbols from the program’s font or another font chosen by the designer can be used to identify marchers. Another favorite feature is the perspective for viewing your drill from any position or elevation in a stadium. Animation is automatically generated so that once the drill is finished, your animated drill can be introduced to your students before the drill is taught. Colleges and universities are offered a free site license when one copy of Drill Quest is purchased.

The counts between formations are left up to the designer. By default, Drill Quest works with 16 counts per page. This can be changed to one count per page and up to 255 counts per page. The step size can be changed and formatted again by the designer and each step does not have to be the same size.

System requirements are modest as long as the computer can run Windows 95 or greater. Some directors are using 486 computers with 8 MB RAM, and this is the same for the Mac platform. Macintosh requires: LCIII+ recommended, System 7.1 or higher, 8 MB RAM, 6+ MB hard disk space, 17-inch monitor and laser printer. PC/Windows requires: 803386 CPU or faster, 8 MB for Windows 3.1 and 16 MB Windows 95 or higher, 6+ MB free hard disk drive space, 15″ SVGA monitor and laser printer. Drill Quest supports any Windows or Mac compatible printer. You can print parts by player with instructions for each page as well as each page with all players, portion of pages, individual, etc. Price is $499.

Points of purchase
It is important for potential marching band show designer users to download a demo copy from manufacturer Web sites in order to gain actual charting experience with these products. While advertising can be informative, using the product is essential before making a final decision about which product to purchase. The more time you can spend with a demo copy, the more answers you will have with no financial obligation. Pre-designed “package” shows can be a great transition to marching band-show design because you can get involved with editing purchased shows with a minimum of stress and learning curve requirements. Ultimately, band directors will want to buy a drill design program and begin designing their own shows and have complete editing capability with designed shows.

When you contact manufacturers about their software, you’ll need good questions to get all the information you need. Here are some pertinent questions to ask their sales representatives to gain insight about their products.

  • What’s the maximum number of formations it can run without program sacrifices for your size band?
  • What are the specific hardware requirements and approximate cost for these products?
  • What kind of printing is offered? Is it automatic when unattended? How long does it take to print an average page. Can it print entire formations and individual student printouts? How many counts can be printed between each formation? Is there flexibility between various step sizes?
  • Can you include written instructions on the print-outs?
  • Can you change animation criteria without re-designing the show?
  • Can you do different step sizes in your show design? 8 to 5, 7 to 5, 6 to 5, etc.?
  • What flexibility do you have with the number of counts allowed between formations?
  • Is there a library of pre-defined shapes? Pre-defined shapes allow you to create formations quickly and thus free yourself to concentrate on transitions between formations. How conveniently and accurately can they be created by you with their input/output devices (e.g. trackball, mouse, digitizer, etc.)? If you are primarily interested in precision drill, you may not need any pre-defined shapes.

For more information about marching band software, visit the following Web sites:

Pygraphics: www.pyware.com
Creative Consultation Services: www.creativeconsultation.com
The Halftime Shop: www.halftime.com
Dan Ryder Field Shows: E-mail: Ryderdrill@aol.com
Jericho Shows Designs: for “live” demonstrations, visit: www.jerichoshowdesign.com
Marching Show Concepts: www.msconcepts.com
Drill Quest: www.drillquest.com
School Music Store: http://software.schoolmusic.com/software/productdetail/Drillquest.asp

Since there are few marching band software manufacturers, it is easy to get a lot of information about marching band software via the Internet. If you use a Web search engine (Alta Vista, Yahoo, etc.) for Drill Quest or Pygraphics, you will find a variety of sites pertaining to their products. These sites offer a wealth of information about them, plus companies that write marching band shows for sale, companies that sell these products, and even articles and reviews of them. With Yahoo (http://www.yahoo.com), I found 59 URLs pertaining to Pyware products and 15 URLs for Drill Quest. If you don’t have the URLs for the more popular Web search engines, I suggest you go to the following URL which has over 20 search engines hot-linked for easy use at: http://204.98.1.2.

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