Sven Ortel grew up in Cologne, Germany. After high school he lit small-scale theater shows for six years and complemented this with lighting for movies, advertisements and music videos.
Ortel’s subsequent studies of theatrical lighting design in London led him to develop a keen interest in digital technologies and their potential for the live arts. In 2001 he joined up with Dick Straker and his company Mesmer to explore and further the use of imagery and projection in this arena. For the National Theatre, London, Mesmer provided realization and design services for more than 20 productions and established a video department, which introduced technologies and techniques that have become de-facto standard today. Together with Straker, Ortel also conceived the video system and process that realized the technologically groundbreaking musical The Woman in White in London’s West End and on Broadway in 2004.
In the last 12 years, Ortel's work has been seen all over the world. His range of collaborators comprise some of the most established and celebrated artists ranging from directors Michael Blakemore, Simon McBurney, Gregory Boyd, Matthias Hartman, Jonathan Kent, David Leveaux, Trevor Nunn, Deborah Warner, Bart Sher, Julie Taymor and Francesca Zambello to choreographer Helgi Tomasson, conductor Valery Gergiev and set designer George Tsypin.
With the British theater company Complicite, namely 2005’s Measure for Measure and 2008’s A Disappearing Number, Ortel achieved new degrees of integration between lighting, imagery, live video and physical sets. Both shows also toured world wide to universal acclaim.
Other notable projects include Swan Lake for San Francisco Ballet; the re-staging of the Kirov Ring Cycle under maestro Valerie Gergiev in St. Petersburg, Russia and the Royal Opera House; the musical Rebecca in Austria, Switzerland and Germany; Newsies at the Papermill Playhouse and on Broadway and the off- Broadway production of Carrie.
Other Broadway design credits include Jumpers, Faith Healer, Deuce, The Little Mermaid, Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Wonderland. Current projects include a collaboration with Da Camera of Houston and Houston Grand Opera; a new work with Tectonic Theatre Company, the American production of Rebecca on Broadway and Julie Taymor’s Midsummer Night’s Dream at Theater for a New Audience’s latest home in downtown Brooklyn.
In 2012 Ortel was nominated for a Tony Award for his work on Newsies and only the second projection designer to be nominated for a Tony Award.
To foster the future of his profession, Ortel mentors young projection designers, gives master classes and has created an online resource for projection design.