Turning a spotlight on lighting engineers
When entertainment events promoters are putting on a show – like a gig or an awards ceremony - they need a lighting engineer to make sure that everything looks as good as possible.
Tim Perrett at www.timperrett.co.uk
This goes all the way from designing and setting up the best lights for a venue to controlling them on the night to ensure a well-lit show. As well as being a very creative and fulfilling job, it’s also a great opportunity to travel.
We spoke to Tim Perrett, who works in light engineering, to find out what education, experience and contacts have helped him on the way.
Can you explain what you do?
I’m a self employed subcontractor in the events and entertainment industry. I look after lighting, audio visual and camera work, so you could class my work as events technical production. I have my own production company and I am also self-employed, contracting to other production companies by providing my skills and tools on a daily basis.
Could you explain how you got started in your career?
When I was fourteen I was taken on by a teacher (through church) and started working with him. He then became my mentor in the world of lighting, so at 14, it started on an amateur basis. As I came across contacts in the industry I became self employed and started freelancing and doing odd jobs here and there for production companies. I went to university from there.
Can you tell us what you studied at university?
I took all the experience I had (like in 6th form college, I got involved in the productions there) and did a BA Honours degree in Lighting Design. A teacher at Scarisbrick Hall School actually encouraged me to go for that. I took on more freelance work while I was at university and then went to work full time for a production company in Peterborough.
What subjects did you take for A-level?
Maths, mechanics, physics and geography.
Work byTim Perrett at www.timperrett.co.uk.
Can you talk us through the kind of involvement you have on a project?
An example is the Youth Sports Trust. They have a large conference twice a year at the Telford International Centre, so the production company the Sports Trust uses comes along to me and says, “we need a lighting solution for this event, so this is what the set is going to look like, this is the room and this is how it’s going to be laid out. Can you please light this event for me?”
I’ll work with computer aided design software that is industry specific – CAST Lighting’s software WYSIWYG – and I will draw up a plan of where all the lighting instruments can be placed, where all the rigging points can be on the grid and where all the trusses (the metal grid upon which the lights sit) will be. Basically I’ll put that together and make sure it comes in on budget. Then I’ll go to site with colleagues and instruct them on where all the different lighting fixtures are going to be placed. I’ll also do all the mathematical calculations behind the power requirements... l make sure that all comes together. I do a lot of pre-production work and focus all the lights up and point them in the right direction, and go from there to program and run the actual show. There are a lot of electrical calculations and electronics involved.
What other software do you work with for the results you want?
CAD does help but I use an app on my iPhone which helps with my power ratings and helps me work out power conversions between amps and watts and that sort of thing. And I also use an app called Lighting Handbook, which has all the manuals on there and all the vital statistics of all the lanterns that I use, so I can quickly draw data down to an Excel spreadsheet.
Is there a particular project you are proud to have worked on?
Yes... I toured across the world with a very well respected theatre company called Complicite with an award winning show about the Indian mathematician Ramanujan. I looked after the technical side of the projection. We had five projectors for the show. We went to over to Ann Arbour in the States, then went to Paris, Milan, Barcelona and over to Sydney, Australia, as well. That was one of the highlights of my career so far.
What sort of working environment do you have in working freelance?
No day is ever the same for me. Today I’m in a hotel in Bristol; tomorrow I’ll be in a conference room in a university in Birmingham, but next week I’ll be working in the O2. The week after I’ll be in a theatre somewhere... I have lots of working environments. I’m working with different people every day. The variety is very high. You never get bored in this industry. There’s always a new challenge to contend with.
Do you have any advice for young people wanting to work as an engineer in the creative industry?
I didn’t do very well in physics for my A Level and that’s because I found it wasn’t applied to what I was interested in: things like momentum, turning forces and power ratings and things, but now they all apply to me more today than I ever imagined they would. Try to look for how these academic principles apply to what you are interested in and to real life. I’d encourage people to look for ways in which they can apply what they're learning right from the start because I think that helps you learn it better.
What do you do in your spare time?
I love photography and graphic design and web design. I designed my company’s website. As a self employed person having a presence on the internet is very important nowadays.
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