Cate Carter is Creative Director of UK-based BRYTE DESIGN, a full production service and design studio founded in 2014 by Cate together with co-directors Mike Smith and Paul ‘Pablo’ Beckett. Having produced an impressive body of work for clients, including Nile Rodgers & Chic, Elbow, Editors, Ellie Goulding, George Ezra, Andy C, and music video provider, Vevo, the Bryte Design team have been the recipients of no fewer than four prestigious Knight of Illumination Awards.
Where and when did the interest in lighting begin for you?
As a child, I took part in local theatre productions and I first became interested in live music around the age of 14. It started with going to local gigs and then, during the summer, that I finished my GCSEs, I was lucky enough to go to Glastonbury for the first time. My passion for live music began there, but it was a few years yet before I became interested in lighting.
When did you first realise that it could be a career?
Initially I’d hoped to follow a career in live sound. We had very little lighting equipment as such at my school or sixth form college and, with the exception of Glastonbury, my early live show experiences were largely in small clubs and bars. I knew I wanted to be a part of this world of live performance but, to be honest, lighting really wasn’t on my radar until I started my first job as a stage technician with South West Audio in Bristol.
Did you have any formal education in lighting or event production?
I didn’t follow a formal education in lighting. I studied theatre and music technology at college. My tutor was very passionate and encouraged us to get practical experience rather than pursue a formal degree or a higher education diploma. I gained some work experience opportunities in the summer after I finished sixth form, and once I was surrounded by people who were already working in the events industry, they encouraged me to opt for the ‘apprenticeship’ route rather than a formal education. I later followed a National Diploma in Music Technology in Weston-Super-Mare, to improve my knowledge of software and systems such as Logic and Pro Tools - and I did this alongside early freelance work.
Looking back, were there pivotal moments that influenced the direction of your career?
Absolutely - there have been quite a number over the years. The first show I saw which sparked my interest in concert lighting would have been Radiohead at South Park in Oxford in 2001. I was absolutely blown away by the lighting and that was the moment where I knew I wanted to be a part of this - whatever that meant!
From then on, there have been many special moments where I’ve really had to pinch myself and think – ‘I can’t quite believe I’m here.' Working with Elbow supporting U2 at Wembley Stadium on the 360˚ tour in 2009 was another one of those very special moments.
Who have been your mentors and personal inspirations along the way?
My first inspiration would be Andi Watson (lighting designer for Radiohead). Andi’s design work, and the way he brings live music and performance alive with light, is magical.
My mentor was Bryan Leitch. Without him, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today, there’s no doubt about it. He took a chance on me at a time when no-one else would have done. He taught me so much over the years – introduced me to the world of concert touring and showed me the ropes. He supported me, mentored me, created opportunities for me. He offered me much sage advice over the years and I have a lot to thank him for!
What are your career highlights? What has given you the biggest buzz and why?
It’s hard to pick all the highlights, but some of the more memorable moments of the last 10 years:
Elbow’s Build a Rocket Boys arena tour in 2011 - my first arena tour as show designer.
Elbow’s Glastonbury Pyramid Stage performance, also in 2011. This was one of those unforgettable sunset shows where the sheer scale of the crowd took your breath away and made all the hairs on your arms stand on end.
The Weeknd album launch show in LA in 2016 for Vevo Presents. Led by Mike and together with Pablo and the team at Bryte and Vevo, everyone worked around the clock to pull together an ambitious production design with a very short lead time. It was one of those moments of pure joy and relief when the show went live.
Lastly, George Ezra’s arena tour in 2019. We had such a fantastic team. I took the role of show designer for this production and it was just such a brilliant experience from start to finish. A delightful artist and incredible musicians, the management and production team are excellent. Lots of talented people working together to make a show that felt really good to be a part of.
What causes you most frustration about the lighting business?
Sometimes things can be so last-minute and sometimes that can feel quite unnecessary. The pressure this puts on individuals and companies alike can be overwhelming and have knock-on effects on other projects and personal situations.
We’ve all come into this business with a ‘show must go on’ and ‘we’ll do whatever it takes’ mentality, and that’s great; it makes us who we are. But when you start to see people suffer, just because someone much further along the line hasn’t got their stuff together – that’s really frustrating.
How did Bryte Design come about?
Bryte Design in its current format came about as a result of the working relationship between Pablo Beckett, Mike Smith, and myself. Pablo and I had been working together for a number of years on various projects; Pablo’s background is video and visual content production. We began working with Mike Smith more frequently on various projects over the years and, in 2014, the three of us decided to start Bryte Design Studio as it is today.
Unlike me, Mike has formal training in theatre lighting and an incredible knowledge of all things technical, software, CAD, and much more. Pablo is a fantastic animator and has an extensive knowledge of 3D, graphic, and visual design, and they are both excellent designers in their own right.
We each had our own clients and were collaborating frequently as freelancers and we felt that by combining our skills and creating a design company, we could support one another and engage in a broader selection of projects.
What advice would you give to those who would like to follow in your footsteps?
Hard work and perseverance are the key. If you keep an open mind, learn from others and dedicate your time and energy to developing your craft, opportunities tend to present themselves. Be kind to one another. If you’re working long hours and spend a lot of time away from friends and family, it helps to get along with the team.
How does being part of a design team compare with working alone?
I think I can speak for most of us at Bryte when I say that there are many benefits to working as a team as opposed to independently.
Collaboration can bring so much to the creative process and we find that we can achieve greater things whilst working together - since everyone has a subtly different way of looking at things and each brings their own unique set of skills to the project.
Can you talk us through the Bryte Design team approach to projects?
When approaching a show design, we primarily focus on the aesthetics of the design: what is the artist/client trying to communicate? What story are we trying to tell? Which style is appropriate for the context of the performance, music or subject matter? What is the space? Who are the audience? How will they experience this? From there we can look at how we utilise technology to work with each of these factors and create the desired environment.
Although the design process can be quite fluid, we have tried to create a certain workflow that allows us to get a design from concept through to delivery as efficiently as possible and within the required time frame. In doing so, we encourage each person to work to their strengths and take ownership of a specific part of that process. So, for a more complex project, it’s likely that each person in the team will have had oversight of a specific area – concept drawings, design renders, technical drafting, project management, visual content production etc – rather than having one person covering all aspects, as we often did as freelancers. We then bring these elements together and try to ensure that everything fits together seamlessly.
Bryte has received four KOI Awards over the years – something few can lay claim to. To what do you attribute that level of recognition?
It’s been a great honour to have been awarded by KOI four times - and I must say we have been absolutely surprised and delighted to win each award. The time taken by the judging panel to evaluate each show is greatly appreciated and having put blood, sweat, and tears (sometimes of laughter!) into each of these productions - it’s a wonderful feeling of recognition to receive an award for these designs.
Do you think you have a ‘style’ of lighting? If so, how would you describe it?
It’s a tricky question! I’m sure we do have a style by default and certainly each designer within Bryte has their own trademark, but generally speaking, we try and explore different ideas and methods for each commission. That said, we do become comfortable with techniques and tricks that we know work well for us and we all have our favoured fixtures, so I suppose that in itself creates an inevitable ‘design style.’
Successful show production depends on collaboration, with great communication and understanding between artist/performer and creative teams. How do you ensure that runs as effectively as possible?
Collaboration is absolutely key to a successful show. I think that it’s so important to remember that we are just one cog in a much larger wheel and our purpose is to bring the artist’s or creative’s vision to actuality. I think good communication is key and listening to one another is a big part of that.
What traits do you admire most in the creatives you collaborate successfully with?
I admire the insight, decisiveness, patience, and innovation of my collaborators.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
Various places. I try to look outside of our sector for inspiration. For me, this frequently comes from architecture, nature, and travel.
How does social media affect how you approach a design, and how aware you need to be of lighting for camera?
Increasingly we need to think about how a design will be perceived, both on camera phone and broadcast quality camera simultaneously. One of our long-standing clients is Vevo – so we frequently find ourselves designing shows for multi-camera shoots that will be streamed across various platforms. Lighting for these sorts of shows is a skill in itself, something my colleague Mike has a great deal of experience in. Stan Crocker and Seth Robinson from Sightline Design Group are experts in this field and put together a brilliant lecture focussed around this subject at last year’s LDI exhibition.
Are there areas of lighting design that you haven’t yet tried but would like to?
Yes, I’m interested in exploring more sculptural work and potentially architectural lighting design.
What are the main performance characteristics you look for in a luminaire?
We look for different attributes depending on the application. A flat, even field and good CRI are important to us and also how a fixture will perform in a specific design. Aesthetically, good optics are important. Where using fixtures with color mixing, it’s essential that this is of a high quality, with an even distribution and the possibility to achieve lots of variants in hue and saturation.
How far is low power consumption a consideration for you?
Low power consumption can be greatly beneficial when we are working in venues or on shoots where the location has limited power availability. We are all keen to drive towards being more environmentally considerate in the work we do and certain clients do request that this is reflected in the production design with use of more sustainable materials in scenic design and a lower power consumption for the show overall.
What do you think about the current state of LED stage lighting fixtures on the market?
There are some fantastic LED luminaires out there now which we frequently use and, more specifically, there are a great selection of wash and effect lights available at this moment in time. Some of the newer LED profiles that have recently arrived on the market are very interesting.
How closely do you work with manufacturers in pushing them to develop the tools that you want/need?
We work very closely with certain manufacturers, contributing to discussions in the R&D stages to talk about new ideas that we’d like to implement into designs, or to discuss which features are most important to us within more traditional types of luminaire.
What’s missing from the LD’s toolkit? What would you like to see from manufacturers?
It’s always interesting to have fixtures that can be used in different ways or combined to create a more sculptural or structural design, with the attention being on the form, rather than the fixture.