Inside the Making of Carrie Underwood's Cry Pretty Tour 360: "It's a Visual Odyssey"

Jeff Johnson
Carrie Underwood performing at New York's Madison Square Garden on Oct. 2

Producer Sveta Yermolayeva talks to The Hollywood Reporter about helping craft the country superstar's latest concert series featuring second-to-none production, including stunning video projections that take fans inside Underwood's "sparkly and emotive world."

Following sold-out shows at Los Angeles' Staples Center and Nashville's Bridgestone Arena, Carrie Underwood attracted yet another completely packed house on Wednesday night at New York's iconic Madison Square Garden, the latest stop on her Cry Pretty Tour 360.

Powerhouse vocals, dazzling costumes, pyrotechnics, confetti and touching reflections from Underwood are all part of the concert series, which kicked off on May 1 in Greensboro, North Carolina. But what makes her sixth tour extra special is a hydraulic 360-degree stage flanked by remarkable video projections created by Sila Sveta, an interactive media and conceptual design company based in Moscow, New York and L.A.

Ahead of Wednesday's Manhattan show, Sila Sveta's Sveta Yermolayeva spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about collaborating with Underwood and using stunning visuals to help transport fans inside the country superstar's "sparkly and emotive world" they dreamed up to take on the road.

"The Cry Pretty Tour 360 is unlike anything we've ever done before. Really, it's a visual odyssey," said Yermolayeva, adding that she was particularly thrilled to partner on the project with Fireplay, the Brooklyn design firm that crafted Underwood's massive eye-shaped stage, which allows the singer to interact with every corner of her audience. "The stage alone got me super interested. It was an exciting challenge."  

Underwood begins the show with her latest single, "Southbound," for which the stage is illuminated in red, with more than a dozen screens floating above flashing images of ruby-hued geometric shapes, supersonic traffic lights and, of course, glitter (Underwood's current favored motif). "Sparkle is a big part of the show and this era of Carrie's career in general," Yermolayeva said, referencing the glittering tears painted on Underwood's face for the cover of her Cry Pretty album, released in September 2018.

With guidance from tour director Barry Lather (Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, Rihanna), Sila Sveta used different colors and vignettes to depict an array of moods during each song on the robust setlist. For example, "Cowboy Casanova" features cool blue lighting juxtaposed with sizzling embers onscreen; "Good Girl" gets the '80s treatment with a dancing stream of teal and magenta lasers; and "Last Name" is a golden moment full of twinkling orange fulgurations. Throughout, Underwood and her band traverse multiple stage platforms that lift high above the arena floor, improving sight lines for much of the crowd, and that have the ability to spew smoke and fire.

"The main goal was to create the most impactful visual effects throughout the whole concert and connect them as much as possible to Carrie's talent," Yermolayeva said of her approach to designing the show's VFX elements. "The visuals, for the most part, really support Carrie and let her shine more than she already does. Because she's a great star and she has an unbelievable voice, we didn't want the content to overshadow her. So we needed to find the balance where it all works together to support her."

Naturally, Underwood herself is frequently seen on the stage's oversize screens in conjunction with Sila Sveta's imagery. "For this show, we used real-time renderings generated by Notch Software. We then get a signal from [motion tracking software] BlackTrax, which the artist is wearing," Yermolayeva told THR. "This means that when Carrie is moving around the stage, the camera sees that BlackTrax tracker, and the visual reacts and changes in real time. That way, each screen shows Carrie on it at the appropriate time in the show."

Yermolayeva also catered her content to the themes and lyrics in Underwood's music. This was evident during the American Idol alum's forceful performance of her 2012 single "Blown Away" on Wednesday. Not long after a digital tornado coruscated through the arena, heavy rains appeared onscreen the second Underwood sang the line "There's not enough rain in Oklahoma to wash the sins out of that house." Similarly, footage of memorial services for deceased military veterans, complimented by shots of the American flag, candlelit vigils and falling bullets, played during Underwood's emotional rendition of her patriotic pro-troops chorale, "The Bullet." (The song has also been largely interpreted as a statement about the lack of gun control in the U.S. and the country's growing number of mass shootings.)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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For her beloved Christian crossover hit "Jesus Take the Wheel," Underwood walks across a succession of platforms (seeming to mirror the son of God's storied walk on water) that eventually rise to resemble a stairway to heaven. As Underwood ascends, lifelike clouds designed by Sila Sveta drift on screens overhead. "We know how much that song means to Carrie and her career," Yermolayeva said of the Grammy-winning single, released in 2005 off Underwood's debut album, Some Hearts. "So we really wanted to make that one special."

Sila Sveta was right to take extra care with "Jesus." As Underwood told fans Wednesday night, "I knew I had to hurry up and record it before someone else did. And I swear, I have sung that song in every single show we have done over the past 15 years. And it means more to me today than the first time I heard it. I still get chill bumps hearing you guys singing it, so thank you so much for that."

While "Jesus Take the Wheel" is one of Yermolayeva's favorite sections of the Cry Pretty Tour 360 show, other personal standouts for the production luminary include "Backsliding" for its "magical" onscreen mosaics; "Church Bells" for the 3D-rendered jewels that encompass Underwood as she belts her paean to female empowerment; and the prismatic back-to-back encore of title track "Cry Pretty" and the LGBTQ pride anthem "Love Wins."

"Again, the finale is very sparkly. A giant chandelier emerges from the ground, and it all starts out pink for 'Cry Pretty' before everything turns rainbow for 'Love Wins,'" Yermolayeva said. "It turned out to be so beautiful. It was emotional seeing it come to life for the first time."

Sila Sveta has previously worked with the likes of Drake, Migos, Halsey and Cardi B, but Yermolayeva told THR that teaming up with Underwood for the Cry Pretty Tour 360 just might be the highlight of her company's portfolio thus far. "We are so proud of this project, and we really enjoyed working with Carrie and her team," she said. "Carrie is very professional and very involved in the creative process — meaning she communicates heavily with her creative team and really puts her trust in them. That made this entire experience so incredible."

Underwood's Cry Pretty Tour 360 will next make its way to Washington, D.C.'s Capital One Arena on Friday before concluding at Detroit's Little Caesars Arena on Oct. 31.