With webinars, online tutorials and smaller in-person academic sessions filling the education-shaped void of the COVID-19 pandemic, academic institutions are now in the process of opening their doors, on a university by university basis, to students across UK. One such student lookingto return to the University of Wales in September to complete the final year of a (BSC) Lighting Design and Technology is Freelance LightingTechnician, Joel Luther-Braun. Since completing an internship at Jason Bruges Studio as a Creative Technologist in July – he was responsible for coding installations as well as assisting with lighting design ideas – Luther-Braun has been spending his reluctant, government-mandated downtime developing to improve his workflow and test out new ideas.

“These tools include a GDTF system for Unity3D and Project Response software, which will allow me to receive and monitor live feedback from installed projects, which I hope to someday release,” he began. “University has helped me fill in gaps in my knowledge and raise my awareness about new areas of the industry.” He continued: “The most valuable education is being able to put the skills that you’ve learned from class into practice, either in a practical element or by working.” He added that freelance work and internships have also been critical to his career progression. “Working in a live environment brings challenges that you didn’t expect and learning from others on the job has been invaluable to my knowledge. No matter how much theory you are taught and how prepared you think you are for site, there will always be something that you don’t expect.” He shared some tricks of the trade he has become accustomed to employing while on site. “I’ve found that it’s always best to pack as if you’re expecting something to break or go wrong.

For example, laptop for troubleshooting network issues, or pack a portable soldering iron in case you need to make a last-minute repair.” He added: “Always have a backup show file. It’s always good to have the latest show file saved on another device in the case that your show corrupts, or someone deletes it. I’ve also found that it’s especially helpful when you need to offer technical support to the production crew when you’re not there. For instance, when you’re six hours into a plane journey – and yes… this did happen.” The aspiring technician highlighted the importance of staying calm in stressful situations. “Doing a show where people around you don’t speak your language can be terrifying – you can’t understand if they are ready or if something has gone massively wrong, which can be extremely stressful.”

He said ensuring that you are clear-minded allows you to be in the best position for any eventuality. “It can also help calm other people before an event, as seeing that you are in control of what you are working on can be quite reassuring for others.” On 23 March 2020, the UK Government declared a national lockdown, with live events greatly affected. “I was extremely lucky in relation to my work over the lockdown period,” Luther-Braun reported. “I’d been interning at JBS and had been working closely with the technical production team there to help code some of their installations. Unfortunately, due to lockdown, all scheduled installations were put on hold and instead we switched to working on coding our other upcoming projects.”

Although lockdown didn’t affect Luther-Braun greatly, since a lot of his work during March involved coding, which he discovered was easily transferable from a studio environment to a home office environment, he found the inability to easily bounce ideas off colleagues incredibly difficult. “Although I was fortunate during the lockdown period, my heart went out to all of the employees and freelancers within the live events industry who lost their jobs or came into hardships during this time.” At the start of the year, Luther-Braun was fortunate enough to travel to Xi’an, China, where he was tasked with operating a New Year’s Eve light show for a high-end shopping complex. As well as Shadow Wall – an installation for Quintain, outside of Wembley Arena, London. Five years from now, Luther-Braun said he’d like to either be part of a studio or a collective of designers who are constantly experimenting with technologies and mediums to create installations for live events and permanent installs. “Being part of a creative team who engineers projects to bring a sense of amazement and magic to the audience would make me extremely happy,” he concluded. “I look forward to what the next five years bring and hopefully I can contribute to some amazing projects.”