A good fireworks display involves a combination of art and science, as well as a lot of planning. 100 or so hours of planning can go into creating just a 20 minute show, whether for New Year’s Eve, Bonfire Night, or for special occasions like weddings. How, then, do professional fireworks displays come together? What kind of stages are worked through in developing the best combinations and choreography for fireworks, and how do pyrotechnicians work to make displays as smooth running and safe as possible?
Fireworks displays first involve having to find the right fireworks and assemble them for a commissioned show. This can take place months before the show is due to be held, and requires technicians to develop a plan of how they’re going to break down different fireworks by size and type. At this stage, a survey of a fireworks display site is also carried out to check for any potential problems, and to make sure that all angles are covered in terms of lighting and the gradient of a slope.
In terms of the effects used for a show, these are typically broken down by the size and grade of the fireworks, which are either taken from storage, or ordered specifically for a display. Once the basic materials are assembled, planning then starts on the choreography and the running time of a display. Around 2 hours can go into even one minute of a 20 minute show, with 75 hours not unusual in terms of long term planning. More time might be spent depending on whether the display involves spelling out letters, or being set to music. Getting the timing right for a fireworks show is perhaps the most difficult to achieve in terms of artistic effects and choreography.
To this end, computer systems and launches are often used to make more precise calculations – timing synchronisation can be made for a tenth of a second, while technicians can try to set up a computer program in advance that can simply be automated on the night. Synchronisation can be very hard to alter once a display starts, with head technicians usually having the option of a master switch for turning off the entire display if there are false starts and problems. In general, displays need to be planned down to the smallest percentage, with individual fireworks, stars, and shapes designed to be as precise as possible.
For smaller displays, technicians might use an electrical board to manually control fireworks launches. Road flares can also be used to light fireworks manually, although most are automated. Having a computer display means, then, that technicians can invest the time into ensuring that as few flaws exist as possible before setting up for the night. On the night, mortar racks and other stands can be checked, though, for any problems. All technicians also have to wear hard hats, ear plugs, and non flammable clothing in the event of a stray spark. Around 4 to 5 people make up a single fireworks display team, and work with a local fire and police department, as well as the security for a venue, to make a show run as cleanly as possible.
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Meredith Green loves fireworks and currently writes for Dynamic Fireworks, UK providers of professional firework displays for all types of events!