#TXVoices: Kelly Sticksel, Special Effects Expert

This article first appeared in Texas Lifestyle Magazine on January 16, 2020.

Kelly Sticksel is a special effects expert and knows how to turn a live show into a spectacular, awe-inspiring event.

Sticksel was on his way to becoming a banker, but life had something different in store for the special effects guru.

Pyro Design – Carrie Underwood, Cry Pretty 360 Tour 2019_carrie-underwood-cry-pretty-360_photo-ralph-larmann_19a00253
Carrie Underwood (shown) is just one of many musicians and artists incorporating Fireplay’s laser designs into their performances. Kelly Sticksel’s ‘soul-cleansing’ waterfall was used for Underwood’s ‘Cry Pretty 360’ Tour. Photo courtesy Fireplay

As a self-proclaimed born, raised, bruised and polished Texan with a real Texas twang, he was an avid reader of Popular Mechanics magazine and a held a fascination for electronics kits. He began experimenting with an old HeNe laser and learned how to magically manipulate its colorful beams of light, but it was a Pink Floyd concert in the early ‘80s that changed the trajectory of his path in life.

Recent Pyro Design – Kelsea Ballerini, 2019 CMT Award Show.
Kelsea Ballerini performing at the 2019 CMT Awards Show. Courtesy photo

Over the years, the self-taught Sticksel experimented with a home-brew rocket engine and high energy power supplies. With over 30 years under his belt today, he now makes the impossible special effects possible and is known for using boundary-pushing elements at jaw-dropping levels.

“I guess the bruising is part of the learning process—it sure teaches you not to touch the hot stove again once you’ve done it,” says Kelly Sticksel.

The Master of Lasers is the co-founder, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Director of R&D/SFX Design for Fireplay. Inspiration for his special effects comes from nature—taking a natural phenomena and making it happen on cue, helping the audience connect and react with powerful emotions.

Sticksel admits the best part of his job is working with people and bringing joy to an audience. “At the end of the day, when Fireplay walks into a project, our job is to work with an artist to drive emotion to ultimately bring joy to their fans.  Not a bad workday, right?”

Recent Laser Design Thomas Rhett – VHS©2019ToddKaplan-LR
Kelly Sticksel creates natural effects and makes nature happen on cue for Thomas Rhett on his “VHS” Tour. Photo Todd Kaplan

Sticksel’s portfolio is beyond impressive. The Dallas native has worked with most of his “bucket list” artists during his long and successful career, but is hopeful he’ll add 21 Pilots and Reba McEntire to that list before retiring from the lasers, pyrotechnics, flames, fog and mechanical effects comprising the majority of his life.

Cover: Kelly Sticksel. Photo Donny Evans