Lighting Designer/Director Céline Royer

by Michael S. Eddy
in 1000 Words With...
Celine Royer lighting Linkin Park's show at the O2 in London.
Celine Royer lighting Linkin Park's show at the O2 in London.

Céline Royer is a name that you might not have heard of… yet. This lighting designer/director/programmer has been quickly building her career profile and reputation throughout the industry. Originally from France, Royer has been based out of Los Angeles for the past three years. She most recently was the lighting designer for Linkin Park’s One More Light tour, which was unfortunately cancelled following lead singer Chester Bennington’s death. However, we are sure this won’t be the last opportunity to see Royer’s design work on a major concert tour. PLSN caught up with her to ask about her career path so far.

PLSN: How did you get started?

Céline Royer: Fourteen years ago, I was in a band and I wanted to be a sound engineer, so I got an internship at a venue in Paris, Elysée Montmartre. After two weeks of the internship, the manager of the venue put me behind the lighting desk to light the band. I’m like, ‘Okay,’ but I was stressing about how to program that console because I didn’t know it. That night, I fell in love with making beautiful looks. After the show, the manager asked me if I wanted to do the last shows of a tour that was already on the road with the artist, Keren Ann. I said ‘Yes,’ because I didn’t know any better, so I went on tour in France. And I found I loved lighting.

Tell us about your career path after that.

I worked for seven months with a lighting company in Paris to learn about projectors and worked a few years locally doing fashion shows, TV, circus, private events, etc. I was doing a lot more events than shows. But then I had the opportunity to talk with some smaller bands and that’s where everything started for me as a designer. I would be doing the opening act, and by the end of the tour, the headline act was hiring me to design for their shows.

My first real tour, in a tour bus, was with the French metal band Gojira in 2008. It was a two-month European tour where they were the opening act for a Swedish band, In Flames. After that, I toured with various metal bands from Scandinavia, including HammerFall, Katatonia, Leaves’ Eyes, in addition to In Flames. In 2013, I got the opportunity to work as a lighting programmer/operator for the French lighting designer, Dimitri Vassiliu. He is one of the biggest designers in France and is like a painter. He was lighting an A-list French artist, Matthieu Chedid, and became a real mentor to me. I really learned a lot working with him. I think showing people in the U.S. my work on that tour is what allowed me to actually find work here.

In 2015, I was able to move to the U.S. and actually, I thought that I would have to start from the beginning, but I guess I had a good résumé and Mickey Curbishley introduced me to well-established lighting designers and programmers through PRG. That’s how I got the Linkin Park gig — someone from PRG introduced me to Jim Digby. Lighting designer Daniel K. Boland has been very helpful, too. Because of those connections, I had the opportunity to work on beautiful projects like Coachella; The Voice; also tours with Neil Young and Smashing Pumpkins; Hairspray Live; and some movies too. I did some tours as lighting director/designer for Tegan and Sara and for some smaller bands. Linkin Park was my first big design in the United States.

What is an essential element in the lighting director/lighting designer relationship?

I think the essential elements — I don’t think there is only one — are to understand each other, to be on the same page, also being both patient, and to trust each other. Sometimes designers explain in detail what they want; sometimes they have multiple ideas at the same time. I mean, it’s kind of hard to be in the head of the lighting designer. Also, sometimes designers are not very specific on what they want and let the lighting director come up with ideas. I think the lighting director has to be able to come up with ideas, too. I also liked being the lighting programmer for other designers. I loved it a lot — programming for them — as you learn a lot doing it.

What’s one or two milestones in your career so far?

Linkin Park was a high point; it was definitely a challenge. That show was a very good experience; I felt very alive artistically on that project. Gojira was my first big challenge, it was my first European tour; it opened many doors for me. I think my career as a designer really started on Gojira. The last tour I did before I left France, Matthieu Chedid’s tour, was a highlight too. It was my first arena tour, and I was programming for Dimitri Vassiliu.

What’s been some of the more unique experiences you’ve had?

For me, I would say working on The Voice in L.A. I was here for only four months and I had an opportunity to be an additional programmer on that show. Yes, I was freaking out; it was so big for me to do this kind of work, after only four months here, right? But everything went well. I am pretty proud of that one, and also for being a lighting director for the main stage at Coachella, which I’ve been doing for three years.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Creating beautiful pictures; beautiful looks. I like all the steps of the process; from having ideas to the actual show. I like the brainstorming at the beginning of a project when you go from abstract ideas to concrete ones. I like the programming sessions; I really like to be able to tell stories with lights.

What would be your dream collaboration or gig be?

I would love to work with Roy Bennett and Es Devlin. I would like to design for Biffy Clyro, a Scottish rock band; Blink-182; and Justin Timberlake; or at a TV show like Jimmy Kimmel.

Michael S. Eddy is editor-in-chief of PLSN’s affiliated publication, Stage Directions magazine (www.stage-directions.com).