One of the leading names in lighting design, Tim Routledge, gives Sound & Stage an illuminating insight into the industry he is able to call both work and pleasure.
S&S: What originally made you want to go into lighting design?
My mother was an actress and I had enjoyed being involved with youth theatre groups when I was young. However, when I reached my teenage years, I decided that I didn’t want to be the centre of attention and headed backstage to learn my craft in lighting, which fascinated me.
S&S: What were the main challenges you faced while making your way in the industry?
The industry was still very young 20 years ago when I went to do a degree in lighting design at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Opportunities were springing up everywhere for keen talented people – I worked every hour available (and quite often still do!) to move as fast as I could up the ladder. I think nowadays there is an awful lot more competition for young lighting designers but, hopefully, with the growing number of shows there is as much opportunity.
S&S: In what ways do you feel the lighting industry has changed or progressed over recent years?
The industry has really grown up from being a 'hobby' industry to one of the most skilled professional industries out there. We create huge experiences with tonnes of equipment flown over audiences’ heads day in and day out — we're always pushing the boundaries of what is feasible and it’s that drive that has helped mature the lighting industry into what it is today.
S&S: You’ve worked on some hugely high-profile events - is it possible to pick a highlight or highlights?
There are two main highlights for me in recent years and both have been on home soil. The first has to be as lead lighting programmer for the London 2012 Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Being involved with an Olympics on home soil is like nothing else - way more than the excitement of doing the handover show for London in Beijing four years previously. I was also especially proud to hone what I had learned on an Olympics to be chosen as the lighting designer for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
S&S: Is there a standard process you follow when designing a show concept?
Every show and project is totally unique with its own set of challenges, rules and politics. For me it’s about identifying the politics of the production and working out the best way forward with the concept that I can see in my head.
S&S: Do you have a ‘go-to’ selection of kit/software that you tend to use most often?
One of the biggest pieces of advice I have for young designers is to not be technology driven — don’t pick a piece of kit and find a way to get it into the show. Design what you want to see then choose the right kit for the job. Having said that, I always use the same lighting control platform — MA2 — that’s my interface to paint with light, the lights themselves vary differently from every show.
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S&S: You’ve been recognised by many prestigious awards such as the Emmys, Royal Television Society Awards, BAFTAs etc. What does this represent and which nomination or award means the most?
It’s very tricky to say — I have been thrilled in being nominated for the various different awards. My first win of a BAFTA Wales award in 2009 really surprised me and is very special. This year I am nominated by my colleagues as best lighting designer for the TPI Awards, being recognised by the rest of the industry is equally as exciting.
S&S: Has the advancement of filming/broadcast technology affected the way you approach a design or is the focus always on the “here and now” rather than the capture?
Absolutely. With everything we do being filmed for YouTube, DVD, or live transmission these days, I always ensure that it is lit correctly for all instances as best as possible. It’s the film on YouTube that lives on and if it looks badly-lit then that’s what will be searchable in the future. I pay as much time balancing the light on the arena side screens for cameras as I do the live artiste — I want everyone to have a good memory of the show.
S&S: How has your own company developed and adapted to cater for the demands of the industry?
I became self-employed 10 years ago and have recently added Tom Young as my full-time assistant. I also run a small console hire company, specialising in the technology of control equipment for lighting. It’s these two companies that have given me the agility to take on multiple projects and to be as technically capable as possible.
S&S: What are the advantages and disadvantages of ‘What you see is what you get” (wysiwyg) programming and do you prefer this method to on-site?
Wysiwyg can never be preferable to on-site programming with actual fixtures, but with our two wysiwyg studio systems we are able to create lighting shows that are well thought-out before a single light is rigged. When we did the Glasgow 2014 Closing Ceremony, we had no rehearsal or programming time on-site as everything was rigged on the day — without wysiwyg we would not have stood a chance.
S&S: Of all the fields you work in — concerts/TV/ceremonies etc. — is it possible to pick a favourite?
I love the variety as I have a low boredom threshold! But, for me, anything music-based will always be my favourite. Combine music with television and I am a very happy man indeed!
S&S: What is your biggest ambition that you’ve still to achieve?
I would love to design for a headline act for the Glastonbury Festival — the biggest music festival in the world. Plus I would love to design an epic scheme for a permanent building. It would be awesome to leave my mark permanently instead of just temporary shows!
S&S: What advice would you give to those looking to break into the industry?
Take every single opportunity that comes your way, big or small. Don’t be overbearing in your work experience and listen to as much as possible — every day is a learning day on-site, including for me. We never get too old to learn new ways.