Cry Pretty: Fireplay’s 360 Designs for Carrie Underwood’s Massive Tour, Part Two

special effects for Carrie Underwood Cry Pretty 360 tour
(Ralph Larmann)

Carrie Underwood's Cry Pretty Tour 360 has taken her across the U.S., Canada, and UK. Creative director Barry Lather and tour manager Geoff Donkin hired design and production studio Fireplay to handle the show’s creative production, production design, lighting design, laser design, and special effects. The result is a stunning, eye-shaped stage design and an in-the-round experience that surprises the audience with a new look for every song. Read Part One on the stage design and lighting design, and continue on to learn about the special effects.

To keep the surprises coming, the show features numerous special effects moments, courtesy of Fireplay creative producer and SFX designer, Kelly Sticksel. “I had the honor to work alongside Barry Lather on this project,” says Sticksel. “Collaborating with Barry took the SFX to a new level on Carrie’s show. He has such a unique vision. Creating special effects to fulfill his needs generated tremendous emotion at the proper moments in Carrie’s performance.”

When designing the special effects, Sticksel took inspiration from the songs as well as the artist herself. “Carrie loves to interact with her fans,” he explains, “so the FX need to get up close and personal without encroaching on safety setback distances. It’s always a delicate balance. This show was challenging in achieving that balance but collaborating with Barry and the Strictly FX team enabled us to achieve the goal and make this one very special.”

special effects for Carrie Underwood Cry Pretty 360 tour

A matrix of custom Strictly FX “Facet” Audience Scanning lasers, installed under the center stage lift for 360° coverage, are revealed as Underwood rises skyward while they sweep the audience with graceful waves of multicolored light. “It’s an emotionally uplifting effect, which works really well with the upbeat feel of her music, the positivity,” says Sticksel. “The Facets were chosen for this effect due to their unique ability to safely scan audiences both in short proximity as well as longer distances. This created some really special, immersive moments that are quite magical when you’re standing in the pit and watching her rise above you.”

Pyrotechnics are used very strategically during the show and are carefully concealed to provide punctuation and surprise at key moments. Twelve Strictly FX CO2 jets, spaced around the stage perimeter, are used primarily during “Blown Away” to symbolize the destruction of the massive Notch-based video tornado as it travels around the stage. 

Fog played a major role in the creative vision for the show and helped create some of the more memorable moments. “We wanted to use fog, both chilled and traditional, in unique ways that would help Carrie tell the stories in her songs,” states Sticksel. “During ‘Something in the Water,’ we push a massive volume of CO2-chilled fog through four custom pop-ups on Carrie’s center lift as she smoothly rises over 10 feet into the air. The fog blankets the top surface of the lift and gracefully falls around its perimeter, giving the illusion that Carrie is nested into a soul-cleansing waterfall. It’s one of my favorite moments in the show, and one that appears repeatedly in social media posts.” Adding to the effect are four ARCTOS Stella 30s that “send high-power, rolling, blue laser waves over the audience to give the feel of being suspended in water.”

special effects for Carrie Underwood Cry Pretty 360 tour

Lasers, cryo, and confetti join forces again for “Love Wins,” the show’s grand finale. The song’s music video features a powder rainbow that paints the scene and people in an array of bright colors, and Underwood’s creative team wanted to create a variation of that effect on stage. To scale that effect to arena size, twelve double-barrel stadium-type confetti cannons are positioned around the center pit area. “Each pair of barrels contained a similar color in the rainbow to ensure that our color bands were wide enough to be visible during the fall,” explains Sticksel. “We wanted a soft fall versus a concussive blast, so we only pressured the cannons just enough to lob the Pixie Dust out and enable it to disperse into 12' wide bands as it drifted to the ground. The resulting effect was a crowd pleaser!”

“I think this is a brilliant team to work with, both Barry and his creative team and the production team,” concludes Whitehouse. “It is unusual in this day and age to have a team that is so well-run. We knew what we were doing the whole time and were always ahead of the curve. By the time we got to opening night, we had a really fantastic show we were all really proud of.”

Underwood resumed the second and final leg of the Cry Pretty Tour 360 on September 10 in San Diego and will wrap up the tour on October 31 in Detroit.


Carrie Underwood Creative Team

  • Creative Director: Barry Lather
  • Assistant to Creative Director: Bryan Anthony

Fireplay Design Team

  • Creative Producer / Lighting Designer: Nick Whitehouse
  • Creative Producer / Special FX Designer: Kelly Sticksel
  • Production Designer: Josh Zangen
  • Associate Lighting Designer: Brian Vaughan
  • Associate Creative Design: Benny Or

Carrie Underwood Tour Management

  • Tour Manager: Geoff Donkin
  • Assistant Tour Manager: Amy Reynolds

Production Crew

  • Production Manager: Graham Holmes
  • Production Coordinator: Samantha Luettke
  • Lighting Director/Blacktrax Programmer: Nate Cromwell
  • Lighting Crew Chief: Chris Noll
  • Lighting Techs: Tanner Peterson, Mark Scherer, Darryl Newcombe, Samuel Morgan
  • Video Director: Jason Varner
  • Video Techs: Dylan Taylor, Clarke Anderson, Hayden Hallgren, Lorenzo Loche, David Bartlett, Jay Strasser
  • D3 Programming: Rich Porter
  • Video/Touring D3 Programmer: Andrew Gusciora
  • Audio Crew: Tim Holder, Travis White, Dave Shatto, Rich Burke, Jeff Sterns, Thomas Birkhead, Anthony Toneatti
  • Automation Techs: Juan Guerra, Robert Flood, Andrew Odom, Joshua Cardona, Michael Kinard, Joshua Cota, Nick Burns, Joshua Corcoran, Eric Carlson
  • Stage Manager: Luke Larson
  • Pyro Tech: Scott Allen
  • Laser Tech: Alex Lopez
  • SFX: Tanner Morris
  • Backline/Fractals/Timecode: Christian Castle
  • Guitar tech: Lonnie Tottman
  • Guitar tech: Bud Philips
  • Backline tech: Terry Fox
  • Wardrobe: Joan Lee
  • Backstage Coordinator: Christine Volpe
  • Riggers: Ken Mitchell (Head), Todd Molle, Jeremy Caldwell, Joel Wilson
  • Carpenters: Dennis Osborne (Head), Charles Phillips, Matt Shoup

Production Companies


Special Effects


  • 4 MDG theONE Atmosphere Generator
  • 12 Strictly FX CO2 Cryo Jet
  • 8 Chauvet Professional Vesuvio II Vertical Fog Jet
  • 6 Ultratec LSG Low Smoke Generator with Custom PopUp

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