10?’s with multi BAFTA-winning, Kate Dawkins
Friend of the studio and all-around inspiration, Kate Dawkins is a designer and creative director. Kate has worked for some of the largest global brands, including high-profile projects for the giant 360˚ ‘Audience pixels’ for the London 2012 Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies, Nike, Jaguar Land Rover, D-Day 75, Festival of Remembrance, MTV European Music Awards and Elton John.
You’ve carved out a brilliant career in such a unique area, how did you first become interested in experiential and live performance design?
My background is in graphic design; however, while studying for an MA in Visual Communication at Central Saint Martins, I started embracing the new digital era.
I was lucky to have my own Mac at that time and a small digital camera, and I would make these short graphic and typographic films. When I left, I joined a multi-disciplinary studio called ‘Intro’. I developed my newfound love of motion graphics — working my way up to designing and directing title sequences, commercials, and music videos.
One such video was the 2003 remix of Elton's 1979 song ‘Are You Ready For Love‘ Shortly after its release and No.1 spot in the charts, we were approached by legendary photographer David LaChapelle, who, as Artistic Director for Elton’s forthcoming Red Piano show in Las Vegas, wanted to utilise this same pop art style in the video content for the show.
It was like a dream come true and such an exciting challenge. Never having created anything other than broadcast graphics to date, I believe the LED screen was one of the largest HD screens in America at the time. We produced these psychedelic films blending pop art collage, archive footage, and 70’s graphics to work with David‘s flamboyant set designs.
I was hooked, and as they say, ‘The rest is history’…
Your work often has such poignant and thought-provoking qualities to it, where do you look for inspiration, and what individuals or groups do you hold in high regard?
I believe that inspiration comes from all around; from life, the culture we experience first, the people we meet, and the paths we follow. I love some artists' and designers' work like Ryoji Ikeda, Karl Gerstner, Dev Harlan, and many others, but that is their work; I want to carve my own direction.
I remember when I was doing my MA, my whole final project came about from reading a horoscope in the Metro (or whatever it was back then) on the tube – I’m not sure I believe in horoscopes, but I went with it that day.
The 2012 Olympics was such an iconic event for many reasons, but how did your involvement come about, and what was it like to play a roll in such an iconic event that included the likes of Danny Boyle, Thomas Heatherwick and Zaha Hadid as contributors?
I was freelancing at the time when I got a call from a Creative Director I’d worked a lot with; his question on answering was, “how would like to work on one of the largest shows on earth?“ *grabs her bag and exits*.
I remember asking if I could lead the digital content design and direction for the audience pixels for both the Opening and Closing ceremonies. I must have been crazy, but both were so special. The Opening, because it was the Olympic Opening ceremony!! And the Closing, a celebration of British music, because of my love of music visuals.
I mean, it was such a massive honour to work on your home city Olympics – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I know I’ve already said that the Las Vegas gig was like a dream come true — well, this was another dream come true!!
The task at hand was a massive undertaking, and doing two ceremonies simultaneously was crazy, so there was no time to think about other aspects of who was involved. Still, it did at the time feel like one giant family all striving for the goal. It was only afterwards, all these years later, that you think, “Wow, what an incredible opportunity to work alongside so many amazing and talented people.“
VJ75 was yet another breathtaking project, and especially impressive given the covid-19’ restrictions that were in place. What challenges did you face that weren’t expecting, and what learnings did you gain?
What a crazy project! When described to us, I think we all thought it was a brilliant idea, but was it possible?! I remember one of the teams from the technology company announcing they thought we might need a miracle to pull this one-off.
To sum it up briefly, it was the largest project our studio has undertaken, so the largest team, in the shortest timeframe; WW1 Remembered: Passchendaele was a six-month schedule, VJ Day 75 was six weeks!! In a full lockdown, all working remotely. Oh, and our internet connection at home is truly terrible!
But I think our main challenge was just the colossal environment; all the buildings of Horse Guards, Old Admiralty buildings, plus Dover House. So each one a different size, texture, and shape. There were further challenges with creating 3D models in time, and the general fie sizes, which were massive. On top of that, there we 29 separate sequences, whereas Passchendaele was only 19. Also, being filmed in a live environment meant there needed to be content on all of the canvas all of the time to enable flexibility of camera shots! Plus, the need and, more importantly, desire to do this heartfelt, deeply moving, and powerful subject matter proud.
You learn something from every project you do; it’d be hard sometimes to pinpoint what that is, as the projects are so different. But we always use any learnings to streamline our processes; establish what does and perhaps doesn’t work so well for certain aspects of the production, and each project allows you to gain more experience.
Do you ever get the fear that tech will fail you on these huge experiences? Has that ever happened?
It is always a worry. We are so reliant on the technology that enables these vast experiences. Our technology partners are hugely experienced and always have a solution. Still, sometimes things are out of our hands, for example, schedule limitations, meaning is tight to rehearse and iron out any problems.
On that note, we’ve had a few close shaves! Regarding the giant building projection, particularly ‘WW1 Remembered Passchendaele’, we usually have a cut-off period when we will not ingest any new content into the media server unless it‘s rehearsed. However, we‘d been having issues with audio, and some files had to go in late. It was the dress rehearsal, and a live audience was in attendance.
One sequence was a beautiful typographic visualisation of Siegfried Sassoon’s famous quote, ‘I died in hell - (They called it Passchendaele)’ We had this vast red lettering across the building. Halfway through the words ‘called it Passchendaele,’ something went wrong, and we stuck with only half the words; it would have been that sentence!!! But that’s what dress rehearsals are for. Thankfully the next night, we were live globally, and it went like a dream.
I’ve many stories of near misses, but thankfully that’s all they’ve been. Fingers crossed it stays that way.
What’s next for the studio?
Our main aim is to continue trying to be the best in our field, creating beautifully designed and crafted work. Plus, there are always new things to learn; you can never stop learning. That said, we are in unprecedented times, which has a considerable impact on the live events sector, so we’re always on the look-out for new outlets for our work.
I also like to remain open to new opportunities, challenges, and collaborations, so who knows what’s next. However, whatever it is, I feel weirdly optimistic.
Given the recent restrictions around public gatherings, many events and performances have happened behind closed doors and with little or no adaptation of the experience for remote viewers. Are there any events, finales, or experiences that you wish you had the opportunity of working on?
It’s a challenging time, and I think a marvellous job has been achieved to plug some holes with virtual events and similar. Still, you can never replace the connection between an audience and a performance. I believe a layer of emotion is lost when viewing remotely, significantly, as you say, if not much thought or consideration has gone into this aspect.
I am excited about the prospect of working on live events again when the virus is under control enough for us to do that. We’ve had lots of time to think and reflect on not being able to experience ‘live.’ So I’m looking forward to these new opportunities.
As a prominent figure in the creative industries, what advice would you give young designers about making their mark and finding their own path?
Get out there. Don’t just sit behind a laptop waiting for inspiration to come to you. Embrace all the creative inspiration around you that life has to offer, absorb!. It’s also essential to build your confidence and find your own feet in your interests and processes.
Try new things; I love the analogue and digital and love mark-making using perhaps not the most obvious of tools! The more you experiment, the more you can find out what you like and don’t like and where you might have hidden talents. Please don’t feel that because others are doing something or that it’s supposedly the latest thing, it’s right. Find your voice and sing out loud and strong.
You have THE most amazing collection of glasses I’ve ever seen – how many pairs do you have? how did that interest/collection come about? And what’s your favourite pair?
We were checking out the glasses in this great optician off Brick Lane one day, and my husband asked if they had any Cazal Legends (as defined by the hip-hop style of the 80s) out of sheer interest.
A beautiful case, full of these unique glasses, was brought out from the deep recesses of a cupboard -]– unfortunately, they weren’t as flattering on him as they were on me. I didn’t wear glasses at the time but compulsively bought them anyway.
That started the mildly obsessive collection - I have my first pair of Cazal 607’s which is the most iconic, and then another seven pairs, mainly sunglasses, obtained from all over; NY and Amsterdam and London. My favourite, are my latest pair. My original pair were damaged in an accident, and while repairing, the proprietor tempted me (easily done) with a limited Edition pair of a model called 667’s. They have a gold stripe through the frame and gold-tinted lenses. Nice!!!
Your partner, Jon, is also a designer. What does that mean for those design-related decisions that have to be made at home? Are you generally aligned on things or is there a battle of aesthetics?
Yes my husband Jon, is one of the founding partners of Bibliotheque Design. So two designers in the house – the dog’s not bad either! However, we’ve known each other for a very long time. Actually since we studied together back in the late 80’s so we’re very aligned with our aesthetics thankfully.
Kate heads up Kate Dawkins Studio – a BAFTA winning creative studio which specialises in designing, creating, producing and delivering bespoke digital content for live performances, shows and brand experiences.