Over one million fans turned out for Rock in Rio III, the seven-night music mega-festival held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in January. The last Rock in Rio was staged in 1991, but the success of this year's event may prompt the organizers to make it an annual get-together. A roster of artists ranging from rock veterans REM, Sting, Neil Young, and Guns N' Roses to pop stars Britney Spears and 'NSync all performed on the World Stage, under its dramatic white spiked roof.

LD Patrick Woodroffe designed a large automated rig to light the roof, as well as an automated concert rig. Control was via four Avolites consoles: one Diamond III console for the moving lights, a Sapphire 2000 for the conventionals, and two Pearl 2000s for the audience lighting. Most of the individual LDs used the Avolites boards, and some even used Avolites Visualiser systems in advance to get familiar with the rig. Of course, there were some exceptions, including Lee Gilbert who brought in a Light & Sound Design Icon Console™ and 24 Icon® fixtures for Guns N' Roses, and Garry “Sport” Waldie who used his touring Flying Pig Systems Wholehog® II for 'NSync.

“This is the hugest thing most of us have ever worked on,” says Susanne Sasic, LD for Beck. “Patrick's rig was great, with banks and banks of lights as building blocks, and large blocks of color. There was lots to work with and we just wrote in a few extra cues. I wish all festivals were like this. In most places there aren't enough stage washes for Beck's 10-piece band.”

Ellen Lampert-Gréaux chats with Woodroffe about his involvement in this monster concert series.

Ellen Lampert-Gréaux: When did your work on this project begin?

Patrick Woodroffe: The commitment that the promoters made to the festival was initiated almost a year ago, in that they started rebuilding the original Rock in Rio site after 15 years. The investment was enormous, so they were certain that the festival would go ahead, but of course the acts took ages to confirm. This meant that for the first few months we were simply concentrating on the design of the system. It was only later on that we started to contact the acts and let them know what they might expect in Rio.

World Stage and Dome
72 High End Systems130 Studio Spot 575s
72 High End Systems Studio Color 575s
12 High End Systems Studio Color 250s (truss toners)
24 High End Systems Cyberlight Turbos
24 High End Systems Studio Beams
10 Coemar100 CF7 HEs
4 Studio Due131 CityColors
1 Avolites132 Diamond III console (moving lights)
1 Avolites Sapphire 2000 console (conventionals)
8 Avolites FD 48-way dimmer racks
4 Lycian102 Truss Spots
8 Telem1331,200W followspots
60 Columbus McKinnon104 Lodestar motors
Audience lighting
456 LPL custom PAR cans
2 Avolites Pearl 2000 consoles
Circle Number on Reader Service Card

ELG: Did you collaborate with Brazilian designer Peter Gasper on the area lighting?

PW: No, Peter designed the lighting of the site himself, but we talked and enthused and complimented each other and continued a friendship and relationship of 15 years!

ELG: How did the design of the stage impact your design of the lighting rig?

PW: The engineering was a still a work in progress, so we had to assume that it would just be very big and very beautiful, and then make an allowance for instruments that would light it. I was always sure from the beginning that we would in effect be designing two lighting systems — one for the immediate playing area and one for the surrounding scenery that included the roof. In addition, I wanted to have something that looked impressive and robust but that could be used for artists as varied as James Taylor and Guns N' Roses. I also wanted something that could be changed subtly from night to night to give a different appearance in the medium TV shots.

ELG: I understand you collaborated with Danny Nolan?

PW: Danny Nolan, who lives and works in Brazil, was my co-designer on the job. We started fairly early on to rough out a design based on a series of three articulating trusses that spanned the full width of the playing area, supplemented by big angled banks of sidelight. In addition, we put in three large rectangular structures at the back of the stage that would frame the video screens and provide low back- and sidelighting. Although this system was enormous, it was still dwarfed by the structure in which it hung. My worry was always that it would look too wimpy within such a giant frame. Our budget didn't run to that of a giant American festival — I think we probably had fewer than 200 lights — and I was concerned that we get the scale right. When I arrived in Rio and saw everything working I was thrilled. The roof turned out to be our secret weapon. It was so huge and impressive and beautiful that anything we did to it looked amazing. The show system hung inside it quite comfortably and by combining effects and cues from both systems, we could produce some extraordinary pictures.

ELG: Was it helpful having a co-designer on-site?

PW: Being in Brazil, Danny was able to constantly feed in the latest information from the site and follow the progress of the roof build as it went on. We had a troubled last two weeks, when the weight loading suddenly changed and we had to put in a substructure to find some of the points. Luckily the extra trussing looked rather good and we were able to use it as an additional part of the system.

ELG: Did the design evolve as you went along?

PW: Our basic design stayed much the same throughout the process, although the choice of instruments varied as things became available and budgets stretched (and shrank!). We nearly used the new High End x.Spots™, but they weren't ready yet. We always knew that it would be a bonus if we got them, and were able to replace them with a set of High End Turbo Cyberlights at the last minute. We used a mixture of High End Studio Spot 575s, Studio Color 575s, Studio Color 250s, Turbo Cyberlights, and Studio Beams, Coemar CF7 HEs, and Studio Due CityColors, combined with PAR cans, Molefays, and followspots.

ELG: What control consoles did you use?

PW: The control was split on four separate boards — one for the generic lighting, one for the moving lights over the stage, one for the effects lighting in the roof, and one for the huge audience lighting system. Different acts used different permutations of operators, but generally Danny Nolan or Chris Steel programmed and ran the moving light system over the stage and the automated roof system, Cesio Lima and Brazilian lighting operator/designer Marcelo Marino ran the audience lighting, and the individual LDs generally ran the generic board.

ELG: How did you deal with the LDs for each of the individual acts?

PW: With the final design completed and color and circuitry finished, we were able to send out a package to all the LDs that we knew were confirmed. This included a letter from me explaining what the festival was about, that it was being run completely by a Brazilian production team, and how the lighting system was expected to run. We also asked the LDs to let us know if there was anything we could do to re-jig the system to take into account any of the special effects and performance things they needed.

ELG: Did you do anything to ensure that each act had a distinct look?

PW: I am always torn, at these sort of things, between wanting the various acts to have very different identities and looks and being mindful of the fact that one act's indulgence is usually at the expense of another act's set-up time.

“Without exception, every one of the 30 or 40 LDs — English, American, and Brazilian — were appreciative and grateful and our team enjoyed working with all of them.”

In the end I think we got the balance about right. Some artists really took advantage of the situation and insisted on bringing in whole chunks of their touring lighting systems. This seemed a little self-defeating to me, in that the time spent setting this stuff up could have been much better spent in programming. The additional problem was that taking it all down after the show invariably denied the programming time to the following night's act. On occasion the effort was worth it — REM's rope light looked incredible — but generally I would have been happier if the LDs had used the existing system they were offered.

In the end, of course, everyone was just trying to do the best they could for their artists and were often under pressure from managers and production managers to reproduce their current shows. Without exception, every one of the 30 or 40 LDs — English, American, and Brazilian — were appreciative and grateful and our team enjoyed working with all of them.

ELG: How did the lighting look for the various acts?

PW: With a couple of exceptions, the universal opinion of those involved was that those who took the system at face value, got to understand it, and then ran it, quite instinctively produced the best lighting. James Taylor was a perfect example: His LD Don Carone spent 15 minutes the night before familiarizing himself with the system and the various control desks and making a connection with the operators and spot callers, some of whom spoke no English. On the night he created simple, bold looks and the result was not only spectacular but gave the impression that the system had been created solely for James! Susanne Sasic, the LD for Beck, got a completely different feel from exactly the same system and did an amazing job.

ELG: Who provided the lighting system locally?

PW: The lighting system was provided in total by LPL Productions, Cesio Lima's company from São Paulo. I've been working with them for over 10 years doing international festivals in Brazil and also with indigenous Brazilian artists. It was enormously gratifying to see a group of people who started with a handful of second-hand PAR cans, 10 years later provide a very sophisticated, beautifully prepared lighting system for one of the top festivals in the world. The crew was first-class; in fact, probably beyond first-class in that they managed to be incredibly professional and hard-working but with a sense of humor and style that only the Brazilians seem to have. Nothing was too much trouble, but everything was fun. A perfect combination.

ELG: Did you do anything special for the television lighting?

PW: Everything was filmed and recorded by Direct TV, who filmed the show beautifully, and the lighting was designed to make the television pictures as appealing as the live experience. We designed the rig to incorporate fixtures from every angle to fill in the backgrounds of every shot. We were helped enormously by the layering of our lighting rig against the far background of the roof lighting — this gave tremendous depth to all the pictures.

ELG: Will you go back if they do Rock in Rio again?

PW: I loved the whole experience and I think that all the LDs and their crews who came down to Rio did as well. They all produced great lighting from the same system, albeit in many different styles. I made a point of letting them know that this was not the “lighting Olympics,” and that whatever anyone wanted to do was fine by all of us and to the exuberant audience of crew and friends who invariably gathered behind them all at the house mix. There was a fine atmosphere there, as there was at the whole festival. Over one million people came and everyone loved it. Roll on, Rock in Rio IV, V, and VI!