Interview with Team Atlas Pyrovision Productions

I met with Stephen Pelkey and Matt Shea, joint designers of Atlas Pyrovisions Productions, and representing the United States for the third time, their previous displays being in 1995 and 2003. The company was established in 1979 with Stephen taking over in 1986 after returning from miltary service. At the time, the company was putting on around 80 diplays per year; now they are the largest display operator in New England, headquartered in Jaffrey, NH, and now putting on over 800 displays per year. Stephen noted that his daughters now work for the company.

Ramp 5

Close Proximity effects installed on a ramp 5 platform

This display is the most complex Atlas have ever designed and will hold the record for the largest number of cues ever fired in Montreal. Initially they had scripted it at 8000, but with careful editing thanks to the use of VisualShowDirector, the final cue count is 7396. It is being fired with 430 FM16 16-cue firing modules as well as twenty nine 45-cue modules in the PyroMate NightHawk line. The PyroDigital setup will be using Patrice Guy’s wireless interface, intelligent splitter and IsoBoost system as well as five field controllers (with 2 extras as backup).

In terms of pyrotechnic material, manufacturers of shells include Vincente Caballer of Spain, Vulcan, Sunny and Ang Ping of China as well as an American manufacturer, Grand Fireworks of New York, who produced special crossettes and salutes laced with a special type of titanium. Low level effects are from Vincente Caballer and Vulcan for outdoor material and a lot of indoor specialFX from Western Enterprises, NextFX and Vulcan – most of which will be used on ramp 5. Ramp 4 will include a special “pyro arch” that features 15 firing positions and almost 800 cues! I noticed some large mines on ramp 2 and Stephen told me these are 6″ studata mines! Stephen said he’s not a big fan of nautical effects – and ramp 5 often precludes large calibre devices – but he said he had decided to bombard the lake once ramp 5 was no longer needed. For aficionados of large shells, there will be seven 12″, around thirty 10″ and seventy eight 8″.

Ramp 3

One half of ramp 3

For the design of the show, Stephen and Matt both worked on the music selection as well as the scripting, spending a total of nine months. They entered the script and then used VisualShowDirector to refine it – Matt flying to Seattle to spend time with Infinity Visions head honcho, Alberto Navarro (whose company produce VSD). Matt noted that the used of VSD allowed them to refine the show and perfect the angles and effects they wanted to achive. He also noted that, with 21 positons on ramp 3, they were planning to do some interesting effects where the ramp is subdivided into 3 sub-sections that can play with each other.

The music is based on the Disney Classic, be re-worked with a modern twist. Both designers noted that it’s important to achieve a WOW factor and that the Montreal audience, having witnessed so many displays, makes this hard to achieve, but they would try their best. The theme of the display is that of a pyrotechnic apprentice putting on their first display in Montreal, giving a pyrotechnic twist to the classic Disney tale. Stephen noted in a press handout that:

The design we are seeking is to parallel the story of Fantasia, capturing the similarities of a young pyrotechnic choreographer whose dream is to achieve the ultimate prize of mastering his skills of music, design and pyro-orchestration…the ultimate achievement is what we thought to be as “Thunderstruck” which of course is a play on words with our intro for the Grand Finale.

Stephen said he’d been disappointed not to win a prize in 2003, but enjoyed the challenge of competing in Montreal and so had decided he wanted to return. He also noted that all the competitors put their hearts into their displays and that the local crew are wonderful to work with.


Stephen Pelkey (L) and Matt Shea (R)

There are a couple of surprises up their sleeves and both designers hoped the weather would be fair, especially with some many indoor pyro effects in their arsenal. As much as competing in Montreal is very hard work, they both noted that they were enjoying the experience.

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