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Secret of Rock in Rio Lighting Design - Interview Terry Cook (WBD)

15/06/2016 Festivals

Terry Cook
Senior Lighting Designer at Woodroffe Bassett Design (WBD)

Festival lighting designer at Rock in Rio Lisbon 

Interview, Bela Vista Park, 17th May 2016
(More pictures and information can be found on our Rock in Rio page

Q: How did you start working with Rock in Rio and what is your role here?

Terry: WBD actually came to Rock in Rio Lisbon back in 2014 with the Rolling Stones. We thought the festival set up was incredible. It is very different to other festivals, not just the tidy and clean look and feel but the festival also prides itself on its straight edges, its environmental achievements and what it gives back to the community. During this time here at the festival, we started speaking to Roberto and Roberta Medina, the father and daughter pairing who run the Rock in Rio festivals in Lisbon, Las Vegas and Rio de Janeiro. Shortly after, we started working together and came up with the plan to make the whole festival ground with all its stages more coherent. We looked into areas that needed improvement and decided on three shows that we would support as a lighting design company. The first one was Rock in Rio Las Vegas. The last one is this Rock in Rio Lisbon. During this time, we focused on improving the VIP experience as well as the integration of all the smaller stages into the festival to give it one DNA.

One example being that every stage has a very similar holding look whenever the band is not on stage. If the festival is ever at a moment of pause, all stages have the same familiar look.

Here in Lisbon, WBD is the festival lighting designer company; we are responsible for delivering the lighting system, along with PRG, for the main stage as well as ten other areas on the festival grounds. The high amount of areas means a lot of work for PRG and for us. WBD is excited about the future with Rock in Rio and we have many creative and technically exciting elements in the pipeline.

Q: What is your main lighting design focus at Rock in Rio Lisbon?

Terry: WBD’S main lighting design focus is to make it as successful as possible for everyone involved. Meaning, my aim is to provide the best possible lighting set-up for all parties. For the festival operator I supply a multi-purpose rig that fits the budget and for the incoming lighting designers, I’d like to supply a lighting rig that has a thought behind it and caters for everyone. I determine the success of a rig after how often it has been used, i.e. how many bands do not chose to take it down and put their own lighting in. And to date, for the three festivals, we have not had a single band that took the trusses down. For me, this is success and that is what I focused on when I designed the lighting for Rock in Rio.

Q: Is there anything new at his year’s Rock in Rio festival?

Terry: We have a completely new design here in Lisbon: The Electronica stage. It is a big stage and for me, this is the main focus in terms of creative input. The VIP area is also new and exciting. The structure is huge, it holds over 2000 people, offers great views over the festival area and has some exclusive features. Corporate hospitality meets rock’n roll festival. It Is very funny to see the PRG crew, rock’n rollers by heart, to fit birdies and cut cables to length.

Q: What is your secret?

Terry: The secret behind it is that I have not tried to be too creative. I didn’t see it as my lighting rig but as OUR lighting rig. I’ve gone with how I would call it, a “standard festival set up”; I have straight trusses overhead and ladders and a versatile floor package. Instead of putting a diamond truss or any other advances style up that incoming artists have problems with when trying to adapt it for their show, I went for a very simple look.

Q: How is Rock in Rio celebrating the 30th anniversary?

Terry: Two things. Firstly, a much bigger festival in Rio and secondly, the return of some of the biggest artists that have performed over the past 30 years on this stage. For example, Queen, which was one of the first bands to play Rock in Rio and now we’ve got Queen + Adam Lambert back on stage here in Lisbon. And of course Bruce Springsteen.

Rock in Rio also planned a show in the Amazonian jungle to celebrate its anniversary. This coincides with Rock in Rio planting 1 million new trees in the Amazon.

Q: How are all the different lighting requirements from incoming designers coming together?

Terry: WBD sent out a provisional lighting concept that goes out with the initial contract negotiation with the artist management. So they know that we are doing the lighting design but also what the kit list what will be like. At that stage very basic. We then get together with our vendor, in this case with PRG, and are able to send out a revised kit list and also the festival drawing package. I then start the early communication with the lighting designers and answer the basic questions. We then introduce the lighting designers to our visualization team and see if they bring their own lights, desk etc.

My job as festival lighting designer is to make sure the lighting rig is ready for the incoming artists and to welcome them when they get here; offer my support and make sure they are happy and have a great time.

Q: How do you work with Vickie Claiborne from PRG?

Terry: Vickie and I get together at a very early stage in the process. For this event, we actually created a work flow that we all fed into. The sharing of requirements and tasks is vital with so many locations to light and the amount of people involved. Vickie works very professional and knows the industry very well. I am also lucky that Vickie ran the FOH of RIR Las Vegas so know the festival and me well, this makes things a little simpler and speeds up the process.

Q: Do you remember your first job with PRG?

Terry: My first notable job with PRG from a design side of things was at a film festival in Doha, Qatar, called Doha Tribeca Film Festival. We started in 2009. It ended up being a huge show, where we had 6000 lights, nearly 100 crew member and two Antonov airplanes. We emptied PRG Birmingham, they actually used it to paint the floors.

Q: Since you started your career as a follow spot operator in your local theater, have you had a chance to test or work with the PRG GroundControl FollowSpot yet?

Terry: Yes, I had the chance to play with the GroundControl FollowSpot. In fact, I happened to be over in the US when PRG was still in the R&D phase and I got invited to have a look. So I actually saw it in the early stages. I think it is a fantastic product for our industry. For one, it gives designers the flexibility to put follow spots in positions that they were not able to utilize before. There are limits to where we can place follow spots and the beauty of the GroundControl is that if we can put a motor point and a light on the truss, we can use a follow spot. We do not have to worry about how we get the truss in to get the operator up and down, or the safety plan to rescue them, it just makes things more simple and more versatile. The only thing we have to do is to maintain the light like all the others.

Secondly, the invention of it is very bold and shows where the industry is heading technology-wise. To have a camera that bolts in the front of a light and allows the lighting operator to see what they are doing from the safe position on the ground is great. We can change the colour of the light and follow like we used to. Even though all of this is not new, it is the invention of putting it all together and having the operator on the floor where they are safe and easy to talk to. As a lighting designer you are the one sending the operator up on the trusses, this is a much safer option. There is a lot in and around this invention that makes it so exciting for the future.

Q: How did you became a lighting designer?

Terry: I can’t say that is was my plan to become a lighting designer. I actually started out as a child actor. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very talented. Honestly, I was rubbish at it. It impacted my confidence so my agent – yes, I actually had one of those – suggested I should operate a follow spot for one of the Saturday shows. I went and I really enjoyed myself. Operating the follow spot became a regular thing for me in my local theatre. When I realized I could actually go to college and study lighting and technical theatre, I knew it was what I wanted to do.

In college I specialized in sound design and stage management. Lighting was nice but it wasn’t my goal for life at the time. However, after I finished college, money was tight and it happened that lighting jobs were much easier to come by. So I did general crewing and lighting crewing.
In 1999 I went to work at the Millennium Dome in London and that was when I first encountered Patrick Woodroffe and Adam Bassett. Adam was Patrick’s assistant at the time, who worked as a lighting designer. I was just a member of the maintenance crew and didn’t have much interaction with them.
One of my jobs was it to go around every single light in the lighting dome with a spirit level; it took me days to get around. At the time I was told that Adam Bassett had requested it. Back then I hadn’t met him in person. Still to this day – so 16 years later - Adam has no knowledge of this and is adamant he never requested it. Anyway, Adam and I met, we became friends and because of my stage and production management work, I worked alongside Adam as a project manager.

So my background is production and my desire and future is lighting design. I like to think that I understand the worth of a light in terms of budget, I understand what the client goes through in terms of scheduling and costs and I know what the crew goes through because I have been one of them, putting those lights up on the trusses, climbing those ladders. And I am learning from two of the bests lighting designers in the world, which is why I am incredibly lucky. I don’t know what the future will bring but I love it at the moment. We are a creative bunch of people who are trying to achieve the best possible

Q: What makes you passionate about being a lighting designer?

Terry: When a show comes together and everything worked the way you planned it, that is a great feeling. When everything comes together and the music is in sync with the lights, it can be very impressive. A big drum hit and all the lights change for example from blue to red, it’s these little scenes that form an overall experience. And when you’ve got the client or people from the audience next to you and they are enjoying the show, it is a great acknowledgement of your creativity..

Being a lighting designer is quiet a lonely job when you’re doing a show. You are there late at night, working under a lot of pressure and you’ve got an expectation to deliver. Most lighting designer work on their own, the difference for me is that I’ve got a group of five people around me. They are definitely a motivation for me.

As a lighting designer, you can have all the budget and all the lights in the world but it is about the team of people that you work in the background and enable you to deliver a great job. I am very lucky here in Rock in Rio that we have a great PRG crew with us. They are working in the sun, in the rain, carrying the cables from A to B, digging additional trenches for the cable and doing everything in a professional way. Without their effort I couldn’t do what I am doing, so I am very grateful for that.

Q: Can you still enjoy a show when you go to see one in your private life or do you look at the lights?

Terry: I would lie if I say I don’t look at the lighting but I have learned to enjoy the overall show. But as a lighting designer, I still appreciate the lights and of course I have learned from other people’s work. The lights are just one aspect of a show. The key is to bring the light, sound and the artist together. Here at Rock in Rio, we have a firework display before the headliners go on stage. The lighting should reflect the firework rather than being a big light show. The firework leads the lights. It is easy to put 300 moving lights on a rig and create a big show but that is not what this is all about. It is about drawing people in and create a symmetry between both.

(Thank you Event Elevator for this interview. Interview can be found in German on


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