Lighting up Edinburgh Castle: An Interview with Projection Designer Kate Dawkins

Each August, Edinburgh Castle's ancient walls are bathed in light, thanks to the visionary work of BAFTA-winning designer Kate Dawkins and her team. As we eagerly anticipate our 2024 show, we sat down with Kate to delve into her creative journey and the art of bringing breathtaking visuals to life.

How did you break into the industry?

“I wanted to be a designer from a very early age, and followed that dream. After completing a Masters Degree in Visual Communication at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, I got my one and only full-time job, where I ascended from a junior designer to a director. After creating a music video for Elton John's hit ‘Are You Ready for Love’, we were commissioned by legendary American Photographer David LaChapelle to create the visuals for Elton’s Red Piano show in Las Vegas. The rest as they say is history…the love of creating visuals for live performance and music was born and has never left."


Over the course of your career, what’s the biggest thing you’ve learned about the process of designing projections for a show? What’s your jumping in point?   

“We are sticklers for craft, visual storytelling and creating beautiful emotive moments, making connections with audiences, whether live or watching the broadcast. What experience has taught is to how best to execute these – creating spectacle visual storytelling as part of a holistic show.  

So, our jumping in point is always to start at a point of fully understand what needs to be communicated. What’s the story, what are we trying to say, and what’s the best way to do that.”


What stage are you at in preparation for this year’s Show and what is still to be done?

“We are in the design phase; it’s when we start developing the look for each sequence and how the story visually unfolds during the sequence and the show. When this is signed off, we then move into a more involved storyboarding stage, concentrating on how it develops with the music and then we animate – which is a hugely exciting time when the designs digitally comes to life ready for the Show.”


Not giving too much away, where have you drawn inspiration from with your designs for this year’s Journeys Show?

“It's a wonderful theme to work with, and, thanks to our Naval lead, we are definitely travelling towards a watery world in parts of the design. Much like Stories we are investigating familiar cues that the audience will recognise but also artistic ways to interpret the music and convey the sense of travel, movement, adventure, and discovery.”


Can you tell us a little about what we can expect from the projections this year and why they play such a pivotal role in this year's Journeys performance?

“We always want to entertain, surprise and delight the audience! We feel the role of the projection is to frame the performance, set the scene and enhance Edinburgh Castle. The castle's architecture is large and impressive, so our role is to bring our experience of balancing this iconic canvas with the performance to create perfect memorable moments throughout the show. Collaborating with the team over the years has produced incredible harmony between lighting and pyrotechnics and given the show a dynamic experience - we're focused on doing that again this year with Journeys.


Do the projections vary a lot from act to act? Are there particular acts that require very specific projections to bring out the best of their performance or their story? 

“Each sequence is very different in style and narrative, so the projections reflect those. There are definitely moments where the projection visuals will help enhance the amazing performance and storytelling but not overshadow and there’s points where it’ll form a dramatic and exciting backdrop.”

Is working on the esplanade rather than in a traditional theatre or arena more challenging or does it give you and your team more room to be creative? 

“Every project is unique in its approach. The castle is a challenging canvas, though our studio has worked on and within many unique spaces, we find these challenges exciting and sometimes you get really interesting outcomes when you have constraints.  


Have you got a favourite moment from previous years show's you have seen? 

“That’s a tricky question, there are so many wonderful moments, I love the sheer scale of the Massed Pipes and Drums, the wall of sound. The Lone Piper is a hugely emotional moment. But for sheer delete, the Tattoo performers and the transforming dancers dresses of 2023!”

What advice would you give to young designers looking to get into visual design?

“Be curious, ask questions; there are no stupid questions, we’ve all had to learn, and the industry is changing all the time. But also, be curious about ideas, keep looking for ideas in the places you wouldn’t expect to find them, the answer is not always in a google search. Also be unique. If you want to make a name for yourself, you need to stand out, not produce work like everyone else. Find your identity and let it speak through your work.”

Come along this August to see Kate’s magical creations come to life. Tickets are available now.