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Mantra Design Hits a High Note with 2009 Country Music Awards for Artist Performance Screens

Mantra Design, an award winning creative content design and visual effects boutique, recently transformed some of the 2009 Country Music Awards (CMA) background performance screens into a wintery landscape, a graphic novel and several other exciting looks. A veteran of the CMAs and the Country Music Awards Festival, Mantra Design was asked to return for a third year to produce and deliver the content that appeared on the screens for 13 of country music’s biggest stars as they performed during the national broadcast.  

At this year’s CMA awards, Mantra’s creative team worked with Executive Producer Robert Deaton and Creative Producer Lee Lodge, who commissioned and art directed the sequences, to create the artwork for each of the artist’s performance screens. Though each screen package was designed to reflect the individual artist or song’s unique personality, Mantra also worked to create an overall modern

look for the performer’s screens to enhance the night’s proceedings.

“Our challenge in designing the performance screens for the CMAs each year is to reflect the music and the talent without defaulting to the stereotypical country cowboy boots and hats,” says Fred Salkind, creative director at Mantra. “If you look at the CMA show itself, it’s a very non-stereotypical country event with major production value. The visual backgrounds we focused on designing for this year’s show were very fresh and contemporary, creating a cohesive look that was compelling for the duration of each three- to four-minute performance.”

One particular example was Taylor Swift’s show opener, “Forever & Always.” Mantra knew the event screens for this performance had to be particularly attention-getting, drawing in the audience right from the beginning of the show and setting the bar for the other performances of the night. As Swift is a young, hip artist, Mantra’s creatives worked with Lodge to storyboard and create bold screens inspired by a contemporary version of the conceptual artist Barbara Kruger. Using Kruger’s signature style of captions set in white on red, Mantra broke up the screens using revolving boxes to reveal significant lyrics that underscored the passion of the performance.

Using a combination of Adobe After Effects and various 3D applications, Mantra’s team, under Lodge’s direction, worked quickly to deliver the content for the screens in just three weeks. As the screens were created before the lighting design, the CMA production team was able to then integrate the graphic reference from each screen into the other production phases of the show. Designs by Mantra, including a misty blue and red forest look for the Zac Brown Band’s rendition of the “Devil Went Down To Georgia,” extended into the lighting choices for the CMA performances. For the Zac Brown Band, Mantra’s content for the performance screens were complemented by flashing blue and red lighting.

“This year, more than any other year, the screen creative and the color palette very much drove other creative aspects of the show, including production and lighting design,” says Salkind. “An example would be Lady Antebellum’s ‘Need You Now’ performance, where we shot and created stills that were treated to look like Manhattan in the dead of winter. That translated to the cool tones in the lighting, and then it was decided that it would also look really cool if there was snow actually falling on stage, really rounding out the entire performance. What’s important about an awards show like this is that everything is integrated and we work closely with the CMA producers to make that happen.”

Other highlights of Mantra’s creative work with Lodge for the CMAs included a guitar-string inspired screen set for George Strait’s “Twang,” a dramatic graphic novel design for Tim McGraw’s “Southern Voices” and a geometric shaped, Peter Saville inspired look for Miranda Lambert’s “White Liar.”

“Mantra Design prides itself on its strong relationships with our clients, and we’re very proud to have such a successful working relationship with Lee Lodge and the CMAs,” says Casey Steele, executive producer at Mantra. “Our team looks forward to this project in particular each year because of the fun, creative opportunity to reinforce visually the spirit of the music and lyrics during each performance.”

Mantra’s team for this project included Anna Toonk and Laurel Heisman as co-producers and Salkind as creative director.

About Mantra Design
Mantra Design is an award winning creative content design and production studio specializing in creating media for broadcast, commercial, event, retail, digital signage and installations. Located in New York City’s Flatiron District, Mantra’s talented team of designers and VFX artists are behind some of today’s most visually compelling broadcast and event design offerings including the 2008 Grammy Awards Show, the MTV Video Music Awards, and various show packages.  Founded by Creative Group in 2007, it offers motion design, visual effects, creative editorial, event design and production for its clients, many of which are among the world’s best known brands, including CBS, ESPN, CNN, Saatchi & Saatchi, MTV Networks, Nickelodeon, The History Channel, and the USA Network. Visit Mantra online at