Archive for the ‘Reports’ Category

Interview with Team GFA / La Ronde

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

I met with Eric Cardinal, designer of the fireworks for the special closing show, along with La Ronde technical director, Paul Csukassy, who had put together the soundtrack.

Paul told me he had been inspired by senior pyrotechnician, François Leger, as he had toured with Harmonium “back in the day”. Working together with Harmonium frontman, Serge Fiori as well as founding bassist, Louis Valois, they spent time in Serge’s studio putting together the special tribute soundtrack. Paul said there was a lot of back and forth and Eric noted that he didn’t have the final soundtrack in his hands until mid June, though he’d heard drafts up until that point.

With a busy schedule for GFA this year, particularly in Ontario where they did a show on the CN Tower as well as many others in the area, Eric said he didn’t have time to start working on the design of the show until around July 13th. Fortunately, with GFA being local, all the products they needed were already in stock.

Paul Csukassy (l) and Eric Cardinal (r)

Paul Csukassy (l) and Eric Cardinal (r)

Eric said the show will be composed of around 3500 products and, due to the nature of the music, will be more of a show of shells rather than a one-shot dominated show. He noted that ramp 2, in particular, is very large with seven positions and that there are over 2000 shells in the show. Cue count reflects the lower number of one-shots with around 2600. All ramps will be used and Eric noted that the show fill feature a lot of large nautical shells, with calibres up to 150mm that “will take your hat off”. Another interesting feature of the display is the use of a lot of mines on ramp 3, with calibres up to 125mm. Mines seem to have fallen out of favour in recent years with competitors favouring one-shots. These are available as mine-effects, but usually no larger than 60 or 75mm – so mines of 125mm calibre should provide some dramatic effects.

Eric and Paul both said they enjoyed working on the show and it should be an enjoyable conclusion to the 33rd edition of the competition!

July 29 – Jubilee Fireworks – England

Sunday, July 30th, 2017

As a reporter now for 25 seasons, I will, unusually, not report on the this itself. This is because I was honoured to be part of the Jubilee crew and worked with them for the five day setup.

I’ve known for many years that each display requires five days to setup, but it’s a whole different perspective to actually work those five days. The first two days were spent inside a large tent on Isle Notre Dame to do what is termed “pre-mounting”. The reason for the location is that another competitor was working on the firing ramps to put out their display. Since there are only four days between displays when there are two per week, this extra site is required.

Pre-mounting site (thanks to Mylene Salvas)

The pre-mounting team is composed only of crew members from the competing team. In our case, we had myself and Mylene Salvas from Montreal and seven people from Jubilee in the UK, though the display designer, Andy Wiggins, arrived on day two. Our task was to “ignite” and assemble as many one-shots as we could. The term “ignite” means to apply electric matches to the one-shots before assembling them in racks.

Mylene and I were tasked with assembling four large fans of one-shots, each one composed of 64 devices. These were to be positioned on three of the “access ramps” which connect ramp 2 (land) to ramp 3 (floating in the lake).

Fan racks for access ramps to ramp 3

After two days of pre-mounting, we moved to the main site where we were joined by La Ronde’s crew of 15, giving us a total of 24 people for the three days “in the field”. Some of us continued with pre-mounting one-shots, fan-slices, roman candles and so on whilst the La Ronde crew installed all the mortars on ramps 1 and 2 and then, with the supervision of a Jubilee crew member, installed all the shells.

Day 4 saw us start to install ramp 3 and this was completed by early morning on day 5 (show day). In the meantime, ramp 1 had been fully installed and tested and ramp 2 test was completed on the morning of the final day. Most of the final day was spent completing the remaining wiring on ramp 3, setting up the pontoons (ramp 5) and then checking and adjusting. Several crew members check that every one-shot “pod” was correctly oriented to the audience and that everything marked “left” was pointing left – same thing for “right”. A dedicated team then spent several hours on their hands and knees adjusting the angle on every single one-shot and candle – around 1500 of them, using a digital angle gauge. The slope of the ramp itself was taken into account and every angle adjust to within a tenth of a degree. And what a lot of angles: 30, 40, 45, 50, 53, 55, 60, 63, 65, 68, 70, 73, 75, 80, 81 and 90! Such attention to detail is one of Jubilee’s hallmarks.

Panorama of ramp 3

The days were long – meet for breakfast at 6:45, collect the packed lunches at 7:30, start on site at 8am. Thirty minutes for lunch around 12, finish each day at 6. Rush home for a shower and change of clothes then meet for dinner and finally get home for bed around midnight (or after 1am on the day of the Macedos show). Weather was perfect throughout the setup.

And then it was time for the ceremony and the show. We had a couple of small technical problems, but the display went well with just enough wind. I think it was the best one of the year, but I’m biased.

Portugal – July 26th – Macedos Pirotecnia

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

The Portuguese Odyssey

Designed by Diogo Vasconcelos; FireOne firing with ~3000 cues – Macedos-developed visualization software.

A threat of light rain gave way to excellent conditions for this display fired on the 30th birthday of the designer, making him the forth youngest designer in the history of the competition (Yanick Roy was 29 when Royal won Gold in 2003, Eric Cardinal was 27 when Ampleman won Silver in 1999 and Nikola Koletic was 23 when Mirnovec Pirotehnika won Silver in 2013).

This display was unusual in that it contained embedded narration throughout the display to help tell the story of the Portuguese and their voyages of discovery to different places, which were reflected in the music, hinting at Asia, India, Africa and South America.

Favourable wind conditions allowed the audience to see vibrant colours throughout the display, with sequences of blue comet mines used from time to time to represent sea voyages. A fairly wide variety of material was used, including Portuguese specialties such as relampagos (a type of photoflash shell) as well as a form of scrambling comets. However, there was some repetition through the middle of the display of more basic shells such as peonies with dahlia comets. The same is true with variety of firing angles. The first part of the display was good, then there was some repetition before we got to the closing segments.

Unfortunately, there were a couple of positions knocked out of service on ramp 3, but this didn’t detract too much. One very positive feature of the display was its density – a large volume of material was used which gave a rich and full feeling. All of the space available was made use of with ramp 5 as well as large nautical shells, though it was a pity the girandolas largely refused to fly, appearing to be tethered to the ground.

The build up to the finale was really well done with typically Portuguese silver “breaking glass” comets – these are sometimes referred to as “dripping comets” as the trail appears to form a sort of waterfall in the sky. Then a transition to gold comets, volleys of whistles and final thunderous volleys of salutes, bringing the display to a close to cheers from the audience.

This was definitely Macedos most powerful display in Montreal and was thoroughly enjoyed by the audience. Most definitely a contender for a Jupiter!

France – July 22nd – féérie

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

Evolution of Music

Concept by Joël Harmon and Yvonnick Dugast, pyrotechnical design by Rodrigo Oyarzp Contador. FireOne firing with ~3500 cues.

An almost perfect summer’s evening with pleasant temperatures and a favourable wind direction was the backdrop to this anticipated third participation by féérie in Montreal.

The thematic concept of the display was the evolution of music and it did begin very rhythmically with a narration explaining how we progressed from banging rocks together to adding voice etc. to the music. Very quickly we ended up with rock-and-roll, jazz and reggae, but there was nothing much about any other music between caveman times and the early 20th century.

On the pyrotechnic side, with favourable wind conditions we could enjoy the vibrant colours Igual products are renowned for. There was a good variety of effects, but rather fewer special effects compared to the Italian and Polish shows (so no studatas or effects such as the now popular ghost shell). We did get some interesting horizontal wheels as well as horizontal firing mines on ramp 3.

The link between the fireworks and music was good on the whole but I got the feeling that there was sometimes a bit of a disconnect between the lyric of a piece and the effects used. For example, in Blue Suede Shoes, the fireworks did, indeed, start out blue, but not for long. In other places we had girandolas where the music was quite rhythmic, something of an odd choice in my opinion. At the start of Bob Marley’s One Love, a sequence of comets fired a large I, then a heart and then a large U – this was well done but we only saw it once and it was easy to miss.

Overall, the firing patterns were a little bit on the simplistic side and, despite the larger number of cues compared to their previous display, I didn’t feel that they did as much as the theme had promised.

All in all, though, it was a very well executed display that did make good use of all of the space, though it did lack a certain density and sophistication from time to time. Definitely a contender for a Jupiter, though.

Germany – July 19th – Innovative Pyrotechnik

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Pyro Rhapsody

Designed by Joachim Berner. PyroDigital firing with ~5500 cues.

A hot a humid summer’s day was supposed to give way to perfect conditions for evening fireworks, but Mother Nature decided otherwise. A dying thunderstorm crashed the party at around 7 pm, leaving air that was still and very humid – what little wind there was, unfortunately, was directed towards the audience.

The display began dramatically with two large 21-bombette shell-of-shells studatas. This set the tone for a powerful opening segment with many very high quality shells used.

All of the material used in the display was of excellent quality, from the magnificent Italian studatas through the very high-firing one-shots on ramp 3 as well as the many nautical effects used, including some that rose quite high in the air after their launch before landing in the lake and transforming into nautical effects (similar to “tapieta” effect used by Parente in 2003).

The precision used in the firing was excellent both spatially and temporally, with perfect angles and perfect timing. Unfortunately a position failed intermittently on ramp 3 which occasionally spoiled the symmetry.

A good range of music was used, from serene modern-classical through to well-known classics by Bach and Pachebel. I had hoped that some of the piano music would have been note-synchronized in a way similar to the brilliant segment by Ricasa last year. Unfortunately, even though synchronization was always perfect, it somehow missed out on being connected to the music. Indeed, this is a criticism that can be made of the display as a whole. Some of the sequences were just too simplistic and repetitive and sometimes lacking in connection between the different levels in the display. Despite the large arsenal of very impressive shells, the sky was used more narrowly than we’ve become accustomed to in the recent past. I had noted in 2007 that the IP display that year reminded me of the glory days on the late 1990s. Unfortunately, this was the case with this display. It was very well executed but was missing some of the evolution in firing styles that have occurred in the very recent past.

The display ended with an impressive finale and, despite large smoke accumulation from time to time during the performance, the audience reacted with great enthusiasm and gave the team a well-deserved standing ovation.

I enjoyed the display, especially the really high quality products (from all manufacturers) but it didn’t quite meet my expectations. I’m sure the smoke didn’t help and this is always a risk and frustration in Montreal.

Poland – July 15 – Surex

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

Just Fun

Designed by Jaroslaw Suzdalewicz and Sebastian Cwajna. FireOne firing with ~2500 cues.

A larger audience were treated to a summer-like evening in order to witness the Polish team’s second appearance in Montreal. Wind strength was moderate but directed somewhat towards the audience, though less so than was the case with the previous week’s Italian show.

The display began with angled mines and some photoflashes and was essentially non-stop through the entire 31 minutes 20 seconds. The soundtrack was flawlessly executed with twenty nine main pieces of music seamless and artistically edited together, sometimes with a theme from another song that wasn’t even listed as a way to bridge two segments together. This approach was much more artistic and creative than the one used by Surex in 2010. There was a good range of tempo throughout the display but it might have benefited from a few quieter moments to allow the audience to catch their breath.

The pyrotechnical material used was largely of high quality, with many effects shells such as studatas, farfalles, shells of serpents and mutli-colour changing shells. However, there was some repetition of “filler” shells, especially of the colour-dark-colour type. The firing angles used for both shells and ramp 3 ensured the sky was filled and appropriate space was given to the high-quality large-calibre shells used. The thirteen towers across ramp 3 allow horizontal shots left and right to be made close to the lake. A couple of flights of single and double-ascension girandolas were also well received by the audience.

To tie the fireworks into the soundtrack, large volleys of titanium salutes were fired during the “Titanium” segment and a fantastic “eye” made of sequenced one shots rose from ramp three as the lyric said “all eyes on us” during “Scream and Shout”, to amazement from the audience, though it only occurred once.

"Eye" - with thanks to Carl Desjardins

Many nautical effects were used as was the firing of bombette candles low over the lake directly towards the audience. The finale was very powerful and brought the audience to their feet at the end to give the Surex crew a well-deserved standing ovation.

This was an excellent display and a big improvement on their 2010 debut. Great use was made of all of the space, though there was a bit of repetition of effects from time to time and not the most creative firing sequences on ramp 3, though rather better than last week’s Italian entry. Given there are only six competitors this year, Surex are already a contender for a Jupiter – though there are still four strong competitors remaining!

Italy – July 8th – Vaccalluzzo Events SRL

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

Bellissima Sicilia

Designed by Alfio and Alessandro Vaccalluzzo; PyroLeda firing with ~3500 cues; ShowSim visualization.

Torrential rains early on Saturday morning lead many of us to fear there could be technical problems with this first on-competition display. Large pools of water could be seen on ramp 2 and, with so many one-shots, there’s always the fear that moisture will get in and damage them. The wind direction was also a factor in that it was towards the audience for most of the display, leading to less than ideal viewing conditions.

The display began with what I believe is the longest narrative segment of any display in the history of the competition, at three minutes and twenty seconds, fully occupying the entire first soundtrack. This is always risky as there is the possibility of anti-climax after the countdown and this was initially the case as the display started with just red flares. Fortunately, it came to life with candles and shells as the narration described in detail what we would see in the rest of the display.

The overall soundtrack was very well executed and powerful, though it wasn’t exactly clear what connection it had to the theme. The pyrotechnic material used was of an exceptional quality with vivid colours and many interesting effects, including very well done “ghost shells” with sequenced colour-changing stars. Lots of multi-break and studatas as well as other composite effects that made for a very diverse display indeed.

Some negatives, unfortunately, were that, despite using all five ramps, the firing patterns used for the low-level one-shots and candles, were rather simple and repetitive and were unfortunately marred by quite a few errors where the wrong angle would be used. These were doubly unfortunate as once you have one that’s wrong, you have another in the case where there is a module address transposition. I was expecting to see a Mount Etna effect made with comets, but I didn’t see one – or, maybe there was, but it was spoiled by these kind of errors. I’m not sure if the general audience would have noticed, but attention to details like this make the difference between a very good display and one that is outstanding.

The finale was long and powerful and very much enjoyed by the audience, but the 15 seconds of dark sky before it started (apparently deliberately to allow smoke to clear) caused many of us to fear a technical problem. It reached a thundering crescendo, with a final volley of massive salutes that shook everyone in the chest but, surprisingly, unlike in 2012, no nautical shells.

All in all, this was a very good display be Vaccalluzzo and it may just make it to the podium, but there are some very strong competitors ahead.

The qu

Opening – July 1st – Rozzi’s Famous Firworks / Panzera SAS

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

Celebrate Montreal 375

Soundtrack selected by populate choice and crafted by Paul Csukassy; design by Michael Lutz; PyroLeda firing with 136 32-cue modules and ~4300 cues

Warm and wet weather for most of the day finally cleared late afternoon as the sun came out, though  the added distraction of Canada Day celebration the 150th anniversary of Confederation sought to keep the crowd on the low side.

This off-competition display used music that had been selected by a popular vote from the public and then distilled down by the competition’s technical directory, Paul Csukassy, into a soundtrack of 18 songs representing the diversity of Montreal. Presumably due to the Canada 150 celebrations, a US company was selected to turn this soundtrack into a display and it was fitting that Rozzi’s Famous Fireworks (who most recently competed in 2015 with an inventory of almost all Panzera SAS products) again teamed up with Panzera for this display. Since the competition’s inception in 1985, Panzera had performed most of the closing shows and a couple of opening shows (usually when there was a special year) so it was good to see them represented for this special display.

The soundtrack was very well put together, with a ride variety of musical styles as well as intensity levels. The transitions between the songs were done well, either seamlessly transitioning from one to the next of, where appropriate, a pause that gave time for the audience to applaud.

The display featured a large “375″ set piece in red, though this lit up before the countdown had started. With the programmable illumination system in place on the Jacques Cartier Bridge, we wondered if this would be included in the countdown sequence (where the lights on the ferris wheel are turned off in sections on the count). We were not disappointed as the special red and white Canada Day light show on the bridge transitioned and took part in the countdown, leaving the bridge with just streetlights on for the duration of the show (and a return to the Canada Day theme once the display was over).

The display was well executed, with a great diversity of products used and the famous Panzera Roman Candles. The timing on these is so good that it was sometimes hard to determine which shots were from candles and which were just one-shots. Some excellent multi-break shells were used where the breaks were also timed to the soundtrack. A particularly memorable sequence was during the Loca Locas “Le But” song that is famous as it celebrates Montreal’s Canadiens hockey team. A red cross lit up, representing the red cross of the Montreal coat of arms flag – then sequences of one shots spectacularly drew each of the four flowers from the flag: a blue fleur-des-lys, a red rose with green leaves; a purple thistle and a green shamrock – these representing the four communities that built Montreal (French, English, Scottish and Irish). A red heart also rose into the sky in a similar fashion.

All five firing ramps were used with a good diversity of angles and effects, including nautical mines, flares and fountains as well as flights of whistling girandolas and spinning wheels of various types across ramp 3. The finale, to rocker Éric Lapointe’s Hymne À Montréal (Ville-Marie), was dramatic! Some members of the audience said to me that, to their minds, this was designed by the Italians – a definite compliment to Michael Lutz’s design skills!

All in all, an excellent off-competition opening display that was an appropriate tribute to Montreal’s 375 anniversary. Moments after the display had finished, the heavens opened!

Sweden – July 27th – Göteborgs FyrverkeriFabrik AB

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

The Joy of Life

Designed by Martin Hildeberg, Simon Svennon and Andreas Helle. Pyrodigital Firing with 238 16-cue modules and ~3500 cues; Finale Fireworks visualization.

A hot and humid summer’s evening was the backdrop to the final competitor in the 2016 season. Wind threatened to blow smoke at the packed audience (probably the largest of the season so far), but the weather gods cooperated and conditions were very good for this outstanding display by the renowned Swedish team.

The display featured a complex setup, with all five ramps in use, as well as extension on ramp 3 and a 42m high “Sky Ladder”. Ramp 5 was interesting in that the centre pontoon of the five was twice as large as the rest. There were also firing positions mounted on poles across the front of ramp 3. The sky ladder had nine vertical positions that allowed firing left and right at various angles, as well as on top of each position. At the top, a module with 360o slices as well as another position firing upwards. The sky ladder was used throughout the show and, due to its height, was very effective, adding an unusual vertical dimension to the firing patterns.

The display itself began very powerfully, leading to great cheers from the audience after the first music ended. It was immediately apparent that this was going to be a very good display indeed, with massive shells, fast sequences and really vivid colours. I found myself shouting wow many times during the first half of the display.

Many different effects were present and all ramps played their part – though, occasionally, it was difficult to see the action as there was so much happening at different levels, especially with some of the horizontal mine sequences from the poles on ramp 3. Ramp 5, being close to the audience, added to the feeling of fullness as all positions in the sky were utilized. The sky ladder worked well, though I missed seeing the smiley face fired from the top of it (and this only appeared once). Martin Hildeberg’s signature style of fast sequences of flash pots and mines was seen many times. I was surprised by the power of many parts of the display as we had quite a few endings to songs that were almost finales in their own right.

In the second half of the display, though, I found the pace of the first half was not maintained. There was one point where I wondered if there was a technical problem as there were no low-level effects present at all for some period of time. I also found that similar effects such as horsetail / waterfall shells and large kamuros were repeated just a little bit too much. That said, the many different kinds of horsetails used were all very high quality and I particularly liked the shell-of-shells type. Martin had promised that his 12″ shells would be used to we could see them and this was certainly the case as they filled the sky and trailed to the lake, with cheers from the audience.

One stand-out feature of the display was how colourful it was. I had the impression that it was probably the most colourful of this year’s competition, though it’s hard to judge as the smoke conditions didn’t help with some displays. The colours were particularly vivid and there were certain portions of the display when the sky was filled with bright colours from all levels.

I enjoyed the music, as did the audience, with many people swaying in their seats. The finale was also excellent with probably the loudest barrages of salutes used this year, the whole finale building in an impressive way. I was surprised there were no nautical shells used there, though. The nauticals that had been used during the display were of various types of bengals, fountains and small mines, but no really powerful shell-types. It was a pity there were a few minor firing issues, with some positions on ramp 3 not always working and part of ramp 5 being switched off towards the end due to a fire on one pontoon. There were a few mis-placed items here and there (the wrong one-shot or shell), but these were very minor.

The audience gave the team a well deserved standing ovation, but the reception in the Salon des Artifciers was not quite as intense as that given to the Spanish team. Afterwards, Martin said he was pleased, but disappointed that the error rate in Montreal is always higher than his company is used to seeing. GFF will definitely have a place on the podium and it’s very hard to say if they will get the Gold or the Silver.

Spain – July 23rd – Ricasa

Monday, July 25th, 2016


Designed by Ricardo Caballer; Pyrodigital firing with 565 16-cue modules, 15 field controllers, 9000 cues, 11330 items.

It’s difficult to know where to being with a report on this outstanding display. The most complex (by many measures) ever fired in the history of the Montreal International fireworks competition.

Back in  2001, Pyro Spectaculars By Souza attempted an ambitious display with 390 FM-16 modules, 5200 cues and 7738 items, including a segment to the music Lord of the Dance, sequenced by Alberto Navarro, that used 1011 cues in 45 seconds. The Souza display broke two records at the time, but did not garner a Jupiter that year. In 2008, Pyrotecnico won the Gold Jupiter with a display featuring 460 FM-16 modules and 6600 cues. In 2012, Atlas Pyrovision Productions also won gold with a display that featured a massive cue count of 7396. The ultimate record being that established by Pyroemotions/PyroDigiT team in 2013 which featured 7900 one-shots and a total of 8727 cues fired with the PyroDigiT system and also winning a Gold Jupiter.

Over the years, then, there has been a move away from traditional multi-shot devices, such as Roman Candles, to the use of precise one-shots, supported by firing systems that have the capacity and speed to fire these in creative ways. The Pyroemotions display in 2013 was the ultimate expression of this in the context of the Montreal competition, with some people complaining that it was a bit unbalanced with respect to the use of shells. However, this type of display is a different way to create a pyromusical and deservedly won the Gold Jupiter that year.

So now, in 2016, we witnessed a record breaker in two ways – the largest number of one-shots and the largest cue count though, arguably, not the largest ever “device count”. Some of the closing displays by Panzera in the late 1990s featured more than 1500 10-shot bombette candles, easily giving equivalent device counts over 15,000. No matter how precise, though, Roman Candles cannot compare to the precision that can be created with one-shots or the special “multi-shot” systems used by Ricasa.

There are many areas where displays with such high counts of one-shots can fail. Amongst these are incorrectly set angles, the wrong product in the wrong place or items not firing at all. Of course, the same can be said for a display featuring a lot of Roman Candles, but the more physical positions that have to be installed, the more chances there are for errors or mis-fires. Other issues where one-shot dominated shows can fail is if the timing is not really precise – this can create a feeling of juddering or not-quite-synchronized firing. Also, if the products are not consistent, these shows fail with the effects not rising to the same height or having the same duration.

Much has already been written about Ricasa’s show and I am indebted to Fred Bastien for his astonishing analysis posted on the forum. Fred gives a great analysis of the structure of the soundtrack and really shows how complex the display was. For my part, I’m interested in some of the technical questions. From my perspective, the display was close to flawless. There were perhaps one or two tiny errors, but I cannot remember where they were. All saxons and gerbs fired properly; all wheels (including the gorgeous gold spangle ones) turned without problem (this is, unfortunately, not usually the case). Angles were precise and correct throughout. There was great support from a great variety of excellent quality shells.

The almost five minute sequence to the Piano Concerto Number 1 by Tchaikovsky was both a technical and an artistic triumph. It greatly exceeded my (already high) expectations. Composed of around 2500 cues, 22 firing positions represented the 88 notes of the piano. Through brilliant use of different products, from small mines, comets and photoflash, we could imagine the pianists fingers running along the keyboard. Shells and bigger comets provided the representation of other instruments in the orchestra. The sequencing was so fluid it was a joy to behold – no jerkiness or shuddering. This, to me, was the most impressive piece of pyrotechnics I’ve ever seen in Montreal (and I have seen a lot).

The rest of the display was also excellent, including the finale. Unfortunately, I missed the letter mines spelling out M O N T R E A L and then 2016 right at the very end, but winds had been towards the audience and there was quite a lot of smoke. Some minor criticisms – I would have liked a broader colour palette. Whilst the colours were excellent and vivid, they tended to be more to the warm end of the spectrum with blues and purples seemingly under-represented. I know Ricasa makes dazzling blues so this was a tad disappointing – though the smoke accumulation could also be a factor here. Whilst there was little repetition, we did see the photoflash shells and mines used more than once (brilliant though they were). The nauticals were good, but I would have liked some more (and brighter ones) in the finale.

The audience gave the team a well deserved standing ovation, as did everyone present in the Salon des Articiers after the display. Ricardo was visibly relieved that everything had gone well. To setup such a complex display on-time and have everything fire correctly is a major technical and logistical achievement and the large team should be congratulated for this. Ricasa should definitely be on the podium, but with one strong contender still to go, it’s impossible to say what their final position will be, though they are number one at the moment.

United States – July 20th – Western Enterprises

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

Dance to the Colours of Life

Designed by Gary Caimano, Pyroseeking firing with 165 32-cue modules ~5000 cues

Perfect weather greeted the American team for their return to Montreal. Bitten by heavy thunderstorms during their inaugural presence, it looked like the night was set for a flawless show. Despite it being a Wednesday, a large audience were in attendance to witness this colourful display.

Gary had promised the display would start “hard”, and so, with a techno mix for the opening musical segment, dazzling flames erupted from ramp 5 as comets and mines flew up from ramp 3 with multi-break shells bursting above. And so the stage was set for a soundtrack that proceeded with nary a pause throughout the almost 32-minute display.

The quality of the low-level effects as well as the matching shells above was really superb. Bright colours with up to four or five colour changes. Possibly due to the wind, the display seemed very tall, with all of the shells rising to great heights. The close proximity of ramp five also enhanced this perception. The interplay between the ramps was good and the sky was often filled. Firing patterns were quite unique, again emphasizing the vertical area. Less use seemed to be made of outward-facing angles, though arcs of bombettes and smaller calibre shells often filled in horizontally. Ramp 5 contained more material than any other display I can remember, with, again, the close proximity magnifying the effect.

There were some interesting firing patterns used, particularly the horizontal gold mines that were fired from ramps 3 and 4 at one point. Sadly, though, these more interesting patterns were typically not repeated. The variety of shells used was quite large, though there was a lot of repetition of shell type, made variable more by colour than anything else. The multi-colour changing stars were very impressive, though, as were the other effect transitions used in the comets. Some nice pattern shells, particularly butterflies with rings of crossettes, as well as some nice “ghost shell” effects. Some of the colour changes were also synchronized to the music – this was particularly evident in David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” piece where red stars transitioned to blue at just the right moment. One other stand-out product was what Gary had called “plumes”. These were also used in their 2010 display and are form of sky-mine that transitions to a horsetail effect. Firing these left and right at angles produced some nice visual angled mine effects in the sky.

Synchronization of this display was different from others I’ve seen. Note-sequenced mines were used in the famous Reflections of Earth piece (composed specially for the fireworks at Disney’s Epcot park), but in other places it was less evident. Gary had said in the interview that he didn’t synchronize shell bursts to the beats in the music.

I was surprised to find that the soundtrack was not as engaging as I thought it might be. Most of the transitions between pieces were immediate, hardly giving a moment’s pause before the next track was already playing. This lead me to think the variety of the soundtrack was somewhat lacking, giving a feeling of the same pace and intensity most of the time, though there were calmer segments. There were a few surprising places where not much was firing, leading me to wonder if there were any technical issues as these seemed out of character with the rest of the high-energy display. This, unfortunately, lead to an anticlimactic finale of gold, which seemed to end suddenly with less intensity than the more energetic moments earlier in the display, where we had had many salute barrages etc. The audience also seemed surprised, although they cheered the team, they did not give a standing ovation. Later, when I returned to the salon des artificiers, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that many racks on ramp 2 seemed to still have their plastic coverings in place.

All in all, this was a very good display by Western Enterprise and was of a much higher quality than their 2010 debut. The quality of their Skyworks own-brand material was really excellent. I enjoyed the display overall, but felt there was something a little bit lacking – I think the design style gave more the impression of a sequence of snapshots rather than a sequenced holistic work, though there were many enjoyable scenes created. The anticlimactic finale turned out to be due to a technical issue, as I found out the next day, so at least it made sense as I’m sure the real finale would have been of the appropriate calibre to fit with the rest of the display. So far, this display is in the top 3, though was my least favourite soundtrack. With two more hot contenders still to come, it is going to be an interesting fight for the podium this year!

Switzerland – July 16th – Sugyp S.A.

Monday, July 18th, 2016

Switzerland E-motions

Designed by Nicolas Guinard with technical design by Jean Pascal Guinard; Galaxis firing with 45 modules and ~3000 cues; Finale Fireworks visualization

Almost perfect summer weather ensured the grandstands at La Ronde were packed for the return of the Swiss team to Montreal, after making their debut in 2012. And the grandstands were the perfect place to witness this complex display which included a lot of low-level effects that would not be seen from anywhere else. There used to be many flags around the site at La Ronde (appropriate since the park is owned by Six Flags), but now there’s a death of them, making it difficult to assess the wind strength an direction. Unfortunately, during the flag-raising part of the ceremony preceding the display, it appeared there would be next to no wind at all. This was confirmed during the firing of the salutes, where the smoke could be seen gently drifting towards the audience. But all was not lost, as will be revealed shortly.

The display began powerfully, with excellent note-sequenced mines and photoflashes, with the same in shells above. It quickly became clear this was going to be an excellent display. The quality of the firing was very high, enhancing the feeling of synchronization with the music and giving a very fluid and “clean” feeling to the display. Brilliant shapes were produced across ramp 3, but the audience screamed with delight as a giant red heart flew into the air, being produced by rows of one-shots firing vertically into the air. Our own Mylèlene Salvas having had a part in the design of this when she visited Nicolas this past winter! These sequence of one shots enhanced the lancework spread across ramp 3 having the forms of various emoticons including hearts, smiley faces, the symbol of the Ville de Montréal etc. These were used to good effect throughout the display.

Sugyp cleverly avoided smoke accumulation problems with some serene segments, particularly the two that used five multi-angled flame projects located close to the audience on ramp 5. Unfortunately, these did not always work perfectly – those positions to the right hand side of the audience were reluctant to fire during the first segment that used them. However, these segments did give enough pause during the otherwise busy display for the low-level smoke to dissipate!

The quality of the pyrotechnical material used was very high, with a good diversity of products, including many excellent Italian shells. Nicolas revealed to me in the interview there were over 1600 one-shots used together with 2000 shells, including several 300mm and many 200mm cylinder shells. Placing ramp 5 so close to the audience allowed use of large nautical shells – the lake being blasted by massive silver comets at one point, together with some bengals appearing to fly from crazy serpent candles at another point and then a return to large nautical gold kamuros in the finale.

The soundtrack was also excellent with good transitions between tracks. After a serious segment, suddenly the music was jovial, accenting the smiley face and Mickey Mouse shells firing above, to great laughter from the audience. Nicolas’s aim of engaging the audience appeared to work well. More flights of one shots forming smiley faces and other patterns also wowed the audience throughout the display. Other standout sequences included the simulation of a thunderstorm, with massive salutes of all kinds and lancework emoticons of rainclouds and lightning below!

Excellent use was made of all the potential of the display area throughout the display, with pretty much every angle being used. The finale was intense, with gold kamuro and crackle filling the sky, as well as the lake with huge nautical shells. To my mind, it was let down a tad by being dimmer than earlier intense sequences in the display, especially where the silver comet nauticals were used. That said, it was an excellent display and the audience gave the Swiss team a rousing standing ovation, one which was reflected afterwards in the Salon des Artificiers. This display is the first one this year that’s a most definite contender for a Jupiter!

Canada – July 9th – Big Bang Fireworks

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

The Wild West

Designed by Dan Roy. FireOne firing with approximately 4000 cues.

Mother Nature threatened to be uncooperative for the debut display of this Canadian company from Calgary. Heavy rains and some thunderstorms during the day on Saturday must have made final setup difficult. However, the weather dried up by late afternoon and we were presented with a cool and damp evening, though with sufficient winds to remove any accumulated smoke. The audience was diminished by the weather, but stalwart fireworks aficionados turn out no matter the conditions!

With a promising and different soundtrack, expectations were high. Unfortunately, the display started off at an intensity that didn’t match the music from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Fearing something was wrong due to some asymmetries, these were somewhat salved as the intensity increased leading me to think these were part of the design. However, this turned out to not be the case.

The range of products used was interesting, particularly those which were obviously from Grupo Luso. Thus we had relampagos (shells of multiple photoflashes), arrestas (shells of timed salutes), “dripping comets” and various kinds of serpent. There were also a lot of different kinds of horsetail effect used, with some really great colours. However, these effects were somewhat overused, with the same overall type of effect (though maybe with a different colour) being used in several places. The design of the firing patterns on ramp 3 was also rather simplistic, without a great range of angles and with very few note-synchronized effects in play. The vaunted 360o wheel mounted on ramp 2, just behind ramp 4, was also used much less than I imagined, though it was better for having being mounted high up on a crane. The flame effects on ramp 5 were close enough to the audience that their heat was welcome to warm up the audience sitting in the cool damp conditions, though it was a shame that one of the projectors was not working.

There were some intense moments in the display that were appreciated by the audience, with great sky-filling volleys, though these made some later segments were there were extended period of either darkness or a paucity of effects all the more vivid. It wasn’t clear if these were caused by technical problems or were part of the design. The doubts about technical issues relating to asymmetry were confirmed in the finale when the right hand side of ramp 3 continued firing for about 15 seconds after the music had finished.

It’s always difficult to do an International-calibre display in Montreal for the first time as a lot of planning and attention to detail is required. Big Bang’s soundtrack was enjoyable and the audience could be seen to be enthused by this. It’s a shame the deficiencies in the display design were a let down, especially as portions of the display were very good. The finale was enjoyable, though the nautical effects were either too dim or did not function properly as they were essentially invisible. Of course, it could be that the weather conditions on the final day of setup played their part in some of the problems.

Chile – July 6th – Pirotecnia SPA

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

A Musical Ride

Designed by Rodrigo Oyarzo. FireOne firing with 95 32-cue modules and ~2600 cues

A hot and humid evening for the first competing entry in the 2016 edition was not marred by the forecast thunderstorms. Despite weak winds, there was sufficient breeze to clear the smoke away towards the crowds on the Jacques Cartier bridge.

Competing for the first time, the Chilean company nevertheless had all the resources of the Barcelona-based parent, Pirotecnia Igual, to draw upon. The soundtrack was immediately the stand-out element of the display. Despite many people’s reservations about it being composed of 37 pieces of music, and further complicated by the distribution of these over more than 100 artists, it was extremely well put together.

The display design was clean and uncomplicated with good use made of the space, though it felt a little bit simplistic at times in terms of sequences and angles used. Unfortunately, the 360 degree “wheel” was occasionally obscured by smoke and probably wasn’t high enough off the ground to be fully appreciated. The products used were very good, with vivid colours and interesting effects. However, after about the first ten minutes, we had seen all of the different types of products that would be used in the display, except for nautical shells, which appeared in the final five minutes of the show.

The choreography worked very well with the complex soundtrack and was clearly enjoyed by the audience. Just enough pauses were present in the soundtrack to give appropriate respite for applause. There were a couple of places where it appeared something was in the wrong place, or was missing from ramp 3, but, in general, the display was very fluid and worked well with the rather intense soundtrack!

I would have liked to see a bit more variety of effects, or, rather, less repetition of the same effects in different contexts. I did enjoy the vibrancy of the colours used, especially when there were colour-changes within an effect. When the nautical shells started to make their appearance, they really added to the display and filled the lake with kamuro and then silver comets in the finale. The finale was well executed and built in pace and intensity right until the end, causing the audience to leap to their feet and give the team a standing ovation at the end!

An excellent debut display by the Chileans with a soundtrack that must be a strong contender for the associated Jupiter. The display itself was good, but I feel probably not complex enough to garner top-spot this year. All that said, a very enjoyable evening indeed!

France – Jacques Couturier Organization – July 29th

Friday, July 31st, 2015

Circus Dynamite

Designed by Joseph Couturier – VegaElec XL3 Firing with 104 16-cue modules

With both the hottest evening (still around 30C at showtime) and largest audience of the season, the stage was set for an interesting debut by the French team.  Based on the interview I conducted with Joseph, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and was apprehensive that the narrative-laden soundtrack might prove to be too distracting or that the somewhat low cue count could mean a less interesting display than some this year.

The display started a few minutes late, though this turned out to be due to the tardiness of some audience members in taking their seats – the organizers requesting a delay to accommodate these people (and not for the first time this year). After the countdown, black sky and manic narration! Then a shell. I was fearful that the stage was set for a disappointing show.

My apprehensions were quickly dispelled, though, as the display progressed. Very creative use was made of the firing site with some very wide firing angles, especially for medium sized shells. This gave the appearance of a much larger display than was the actual case, but, from the audience point of view, was very satisfying. I’m not sure those outside of La Ronde would necessarily have been as satisfied, though.

The soundtrack was extremely well done – Joseph being a film editor was certainly using his talents here in putting together an audiovisual experience in a very creative way. I must admit that I didn’t understand all of the narration and therefore didn’t get all of the jokes, but I was able to appreciate many of them and found that the fireworks really complimented the story. Despite the low cue count, the link between the fireworks and the music was very strong and some creative effects were used, with line rockets being used – something which I’ve only seen a very few times in the past. The inverted T formation of ramp 5 was effectively exploited, though, from where I was say, the bengals actually burning under the water were not as dramatic as they would have been for those sitting higher in the grandstands.

Kudos to Joseph for including some direct references to such things as the involvement of Lotto Quebec, as numbers appeared across ramp 3 representing a draw … and then they just happened to form the date of the display! Other fun parts were the announcement of a grand finale and then only firing a single roman candle and a few shells, the sound track containing boos and cries for reimbursement before we got two real finales, interspersed with an odd Elvis track where he broke down into laughter.

At the end of the day, I was thoroughly entertained and the real finale was really well done. The capacity audience were thrilled and jumped to their feet to give the team a raucous standing ovation. I had a huge smile on my face and would not be surprised to see JCO on the podium. Definitely a different kind of display and a very bold one at that. Simon Turcotte-Langevin gives a very good description of all the humours elements used in his forum report.