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The Secret Life of a Pyrotechnician

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How does a Firework Display Designer design a show?

If you’ve ever wondered just how one of the professionals goes about designing a firework show, then you’re probably not surprised to hear that the answer is as big as the question.

But there are some aspects which can be explained. Of course there is a great deal of ‘art’ and this is one of the areas that’s difficult to explain and only those ‘who know’ really ‘know’.

There are a number of skills that a Pyrotechnician will often require and these cover a broad base and include the knowledge. In fact, it is often said that a Pyrotechnician or Fireworker has the knowledge of a chemist, the skills of an engineer, the heart of an artist and the courage of a warrior.

These may sound a little far fetched, but in truth a Firework Designer and Pyrotechnician will embrace many of these skills in order to create, design and produce a show…from initial concept to the final delivery there is undoubtedly a huge variety of jobs and skills that need to be covered. Today we’ll look at the design.

1. What fireworks does a Pro Designer choose?

There are a number of factors that govern the choice of material, and these are often environmental and artistic choices combined. So the safety distance will dictate the overall size of the fireworks that can be use. Certain fireworks need far bigger safety distances than others, and simply won’t fit ‘safely’ into every venue. Other factors are the wind direction – Can fireworks that burn all the way to the ground be used or not? Noise is also a big issue to take into account, some venues don’t want noisy shows, and of course some shows that are fired to Music will require noisy sections and quiet sections. Equally there are 100’s of different firework types and combinations, and all of those are available in a multitude of colours.

2. How does the designer decide how to ignite the fireworks

There are two main practices used to light a firework display, and both mean a completely different approach to Firework Design. The more traditional method is to light the fireworks by hand, also known as a ‘manual’ show. Generally these shows are either smaller shows, or certainly more simple in terms of their design, or a combination of both. Manual shows rely heavily on a skilled Pyrotechnician on site who understands and can feel the flow of the fireworks. Fireworks aren’t as precise as people think, and when using this older method of hand lighting it’s essential that the Pyrotechnician is very experienced.

The second method which is used much more in Pyro Musical Displays and by larger, more established firms is to use a ‘firing system’ to ignite the show ‘electronically’ and more often using the help of a computer. This enables the designer to ignite many more fireworks in a much tighter time frame…sometimes hundreds of fireworks in just seconds.. This gives the designer total control, with split second timing over each and every shot (if they wish to go down to minute detail). The other benefits are that the setup on the ground of the fireworks can be done in a much tighter space and in places where it’s just not safe to light a display, for instance on a bridge, a tall building or a floating pontoon. Of course there are draw backs too, which include added possible failure of the equipment and hardware/software, melted cables or damage caused during the display which might lead to equipment failure in the show.

3. How does a Pro Designer decide the order?

If the designer has chosen to design a ‘manual’ or ‘hand fire’ display then the running order will definitely be based on the designers knowledge of fireworks, and laying them in an order to ensure that the display is entertaining, but also ensures that the Pyrotechnician can ignite the show ‘safely’ and that the running order is not so difficult that the Pyrotechnician can’t manage to light each firework in turn. If the designer has chosen the ‘firing system’ method then they probably have far more design freedom, but this will be limited by the system they are using to fire the show. They will also no doubt have the aid of some ‘design software’ such as ‘Showsim” which is a world renowned piece of design software, that has a library of effects, as well as the ability to add custom effects. Then using this the designer can add fireworks as easily as the push of a button…. and if the design is to Music then this also helps because the music can be played whilst designing the show and hitting the buttons on the keyboard.

The software also enables the designer to build the show from the ground up – so not only can he/she picture the display in the air, and use their imagination to create the show and see this as a digital simulation on the computer – But it also follows a simple ‘position’ system, which allows the designer to dictate how the firework should be placed on the ground, and also where in relation to the rest of the fireworks in the show – This then helps the Pyrotechnicians who have the job of setting up the fireworks, as they can easily transfer the design and art of the show in the practical assembly on the ground to ensure the end show matches the vision of the Show Designer.

Of course this has only scratched the surface of how to design a show, and as the ‘Secret Life of a Pyrotechnician” is documented you’ll get a bit more insight into just how a truly magical display can be created.

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