SOLIDWORKS Skills Help Eric Spendlove Make Entertainment Spectacles Come to Life

The Man behind the Magic

As someone who likes building things—he constructed a metal test stand in his backyard and uses it to conduct his own destructive testing—and solving problems, Eric Spendlove has risen from early work as a stagehand to become a top designer for entertainment props, sets, and rigging on the Las Vegas Strip. Spendlove’s journey to becoming a sought-after entertainment venue design consultant is marked by his long association with the Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, his willingness to take on the biggest design challenges, and his focus on developing his SOLIDWORKS skills to the highest levels.

Spendlove began working with a friend’s small production company decades ago as just something to do, setting up for bands and other performers at Las Vegas night clubs. That early work involved simple, rudimentary tasks, like putting a bolt through metal plates, but it also exposed Spendlove to the design and fabrication process as he eventually encountered situations that required him to have pieces made and assemblies built.

He learned how to draw and design the props, riggings, and structures required to support smaller shows; obtained his welding certifications; and gradually began working on larger projects. Ultimately, what started off as a hobby has evolved into a successful career as one of the top entertainment venue designers and consultants, not only for Las Vegas-based shows but also across the entertainment industry.

As Spendlove puts it, “There was always a demand, a need, for what I could do, and I was always interested in learning how to use new tools to meet that need. Whenever I encounter an obstacle, I don’t throw up my hands and quit, I look for a solution to the problem, which includes investigating new tools that may have a bearing on the issue at hand.”

From his first assignment as a rigger/stagehand at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino Las Vegas to his work at Cirque du Soleil, which produces more than a half dozen major shows in Las Vegas at any one time, Spendlove has focused on increasing his design and fabrication skill set. With the establishment of Spendlove’s consulting firm, SA Fabrication Ltd., in 2012 and his decision to learn as many ways to use SOLIDWORKS software as possible, his career has taken off, enabling him to leave Cirque du Soleil as an employee but continue working with the group as a consultant.

Spendlove credits his success to his interest in learning new tools, especially in SOLIDWORKS; his willingness to take on new challenges; and his attitude that no problem is too big. He taught himself how to use AutoCAD® software early in his career and followed the same hands-on approach in learning how to use SOLIDWORKS, when he discovered that SOLIDWORKS was used, in conjunction with AutoCAD, at Cirque du Soleil.

“Everyone was encouraging me to try SOLIDWORKS, and I told myself, ‘I’m going to learn this program to see what all the hub-bub is about,’” Spendlove recalls. “I quickly recognized the benefits of the software—the parametric nature of the model really opened my eyes—and discovered the certification program as my road map for learning and using SOLIDWORKS effectively. As I achieved each certification, I gained skill sets that help me in my daily work.” A Certified SOLIDWORKS Expert (CSWE) in mechanical design, Spendlove has also gained the following SOLIDWORKS certifications: Certified SOLIDWORKS Professional Advanced Drawing Tools (CSWPA-DT), CSWP-WD Advanced Weldments, CSWP-SU Advanced Surfacing, CSWP-SM Advanced Sheet Metal, CSWP-MT Advanced Mold Tools, CSWP-MBD Model Based Definition.

From Criss Angel to the Boss

As a power user, Spendlove has relied on SOLIDWORKS design, visualization, and engineering tools for his work at Cirque du Soleil and SA Fabrication. At Cirque du Soleil, he designed and fabricated the sets, props, and rigging for some of the entertainment company’s biggest Las Vegas-based shows, including the “O” (water), “Zumanity,” “Michael Jackson One,” “Ka,” “Love,” and “Zarkana” shows. But the show on which Spendlove cut his design teeth was the 10-year run of magician/illusionist Criss Angel’s “Believe” show at the Luxor Las Vegas.

“I was the only designer and ran the rigging crew on the Criss Angel show, which involved creating a variety of mechanisms to support the illusions as well as suspended steel catwalks high above the stage,” Spendlove recalls. “All of my work, which requires significantly higher safety factors of 10 to 1, was done in SOLIDWORKS.”

With the establishment of SA Fabrication, Spendlove expanded his work with other entertainment clients. He designed four different types of stilts for Disney Imagineering, including a complex assembly comprising 140 individual parts; dimmer racks, which control on-stage power, for the American nu metal band Korn; and the intricate lighting system that was used on the most recent Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band tours in the United States and Europe.

“In addition to my SOLIDWORKS skills, the one thing that I’ve been able to bring to all of the projects that I work on is experience in building a bunch of different types of things,” Spendlove notes. “From surfacing, sheet-metal, and mold design to simulation, machining, and weldments, using SOLIDWORKS has helped to broaden my areas of expertise, enabling me to take on a lot of different kinds of challenges.”

New Industries, User Group Leadership and Mentoring

While Spendlove continues to design props, sets, rigging, and lighting systems through SA Fabrication, he has also brought his SOLIDWORKS know-how to challenging projects in new industries and to his mentoring efforts to help colleagues who are new to SOLIDWORKS. Once the recognized, go-to SOLIDWORKS expert at Cirque du Soleil, where Spendlove helped craft the company’s internal SOLIDWORKS training program, Spendlove is also the leader of the Las Vegas SOLIDWORKS User Group.

The SOLIDWORKS skills that Spendlove has acquired not only help him in his familiar field of entertainment venue design but also in undertaking projects in other industries. “The most challenging project that I’ve worked on was an automated machine for making gift cards and credit cards,” Spendlove explains. “That was a complicated project, but with SOLIDWORKS skills I can design just about anything, allowing me to shift from industry to industry. In an oddball kind of way, being new to an industry is an advantage because I have a completely different way of thinking about it.” Most recently, Spendlove designed a minimally invasive, orthoscopically inserted knee replacement, which is currently in the U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) approval process.

“Although my heart remains with the design aspects of live entertainment venues, and I still enjoy doing shows, I also have a desire to assist with innovative projects and ideas as well as an obligation to help out other SOLIDWORKS users,” Spendlove stresses. “While my career began by doing favors for friends as sort of a hobby, it blossomed because of my continued interest in designing and building things, my experience in supporting shows and performances, and my acquisition of speciality skills, including all the different ways that I use SOLIDWORKS. I now feel a responsibility to help others learn about SOLIDWORKS.”

I am a freelance writer who has written professionally about CAD/CAM/CAE since the early 1990s. I’ve written hundreds of case studies, numerous magazine features, and lots of white papers over the past 25 years, including many focused on SOLIDWORKS. In my spare time, I enjoy fishing, gardening, hiking, cross-country skiing, reading, and writing (fiction). Please feel free to contact me with ideas for case studies or blog posts, or just to say hello.