MTV's 2023 VMA


The production design for the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards was conceived by imagining what a world would look like if audio waves ripped through the arena and sculpted the environment. The iconic 35’ tall Moon Person helmet appeared as if the power of sound was so intense that it carved its waves into the metal, etching an entirely new version of the distinctive MTV award.  The chrome visor appeared to be shaped by equalizer bars frozen in time, creating a central portal from which the celebrity presenters emerged.   

We had the opportunity to ask Matt Steinbrenner, the production designer, to tell us something about the project. 

MTV’s iconic Moon Person has been a staple of the show since its inception, so over the past 38 years there’s been incredible stage designs featuring the trophy figure. My challenge this year was to design a unique interpretation of the icon that felt both genuinely MTV and strikingly different.  I started sketching initial ideas in March and we had an approved design concept established by mid-April.  The Helmet scenic piece alone took over 3 months to get technically drawn, engineered, and built. One of the challenges of our show was the sheer scale of it.  We actually maxed out the rigging capacity of the arena so we needed to fully ground support the giant Helmet set piece, which at 35’ tall was no small feat. But after some careful engineering (and 15,000lbs of hidden ballast) we were able to pull it off without hanging it from the roof.  


Arcing over the Moon Person sculpture was a 200’ long video installation designed to evoke the movement of audio waves through the air, visually connecting the 2 performance stages anchored at opposite ends of the arena. Both performance stages, each about twice as large as the other awards shows out there, had full production capabilities for lighting, video, SFX, and performance scenic needs. They both featured LED floors and massive bi-parting LED walls with integrated pixel-controlled lighting, intermixing the 2 media as if audio waves left their indelible mark as they flowed through the space. With 16 performances in the arena, the need for versatility of the stages was foundational to their design. From a creative standpoint, I worked to ensure that the video canvas behind each stage was large enough to showcase narrative scenes for the performance creatives, and also to provide cross-shot coverage for the director. Tom Sutherland (Lighting Designer) and I worked together closely to integrate lighting products into the LED surfaces so he had plenty of horsepower to extend the high-energy lighting design into the backgrounds.  


The best thing about the VMAs is that it’s inherently a design-forward show that always prioritizes creating iconic designs with a strong vision. The VMAs not only push the boundaries of what’s possible, but we work together and take extreme measures to realize the dreams we set forth.  


I’ve worked on the VMAs since 2010, starting as the Assistant Art Director, then the Supervising Art Director, and now as the Production Designer.  Over the years I've gathered a wealth of knowledge that I was able to reference to make sure the stage design was not only impressive and dynamic, but also worked logistically to facilitate 16 live performances.  


The Helmet was fabricated by Jet Sets (LA) and the rest of the main set was built by Scenic Express (LA) and Concord Creative (Atlanta).  Video was provided by Fuse Technical Group. Rigging was done by Brian Lolly, Kish Rigging. SFX was done by StrictlyFX


Simply stated, designing the VMAs was a dream come true for me.  Having worked with so many amazing designers on the VMAs over the years, including Julio Himede/Yellow Studio, Ric Lipson/StuFish, Florian Wieder, and Tom Scutt,  it was a huge honor to be the Production Designer myself this year.  The experience and mentorship of these great designers before me have been instrumental to my own design career.  

Art Department Credits

Matt Steinbrenner - Production Designer 

Kristen Merlino - Supervising Art Director 

John Zuiker - Performance Art Director 

Ellen Jaworski - Performance Art Director  

Lex Gernon - Assistant Art Director 

Gloria Lamb - Art Director 

Lighting Design: Tom Sutherland - DX7 Design 

Director: Liz Clare 


Executive Producers: Bruce Gillmer, Jesse Ignjatovic 

Co-Executive Producer: Barb Bialkowski 

Creative Producers:  Paul Caslin, Trevor Burk, Harriet Cuddeford 

Executive In Charge: Alicia Portugal 

Coordinating Producer: Gary Lanvy 

Photo: Justin Schmalholz 

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