Illuminate your event

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Unless you regularly book pyrotechnics, professional fireworks can seem like a complicated field for an event organiser. Even once you’ve overcome the health and safety issues there’s the fairly major question of cutting through the jargon and understanding exactly what you’re going to get on the night. Most people find it impossible to equate a list of fireworks with an actual display, let alone perceive how they will be choreographed to music, meaning that to quite a large extent firework companies expect you to take it on trust that they will deliver what they promise.

Alchemy Fireworks has recently invested in firework visualisation software, which it programmes to allow clients to preview their shows with realistic representations of the actual fireworks that will be used. The software makes booking professional fireworks intuitive and jargon-free by showing the variety of effects proposed, the intensity and how the display will be choreographed to music: and it’s one less thing for event organisers to worry about, explains co-founder Rob Farrow.

If you are an organiser looking to incorporate fireworks into your event, perhaps think about visiting the British Fireworks Championships. Taking place at Plymouth from August 10-11, and organised by The Event Services Association, it’s a competition between six of the biggest firework companies in the UK, pitting shell against shell to see who can be crowned British Fireworks Champions 2010. It’s a showcase of firework talent as is the World Firework Championships that take place in Blackpool from September 10-12.

According to Mike Roberts, managing director of The World Famous, organisers with specific budgets should consider shorter displays, which pack a dramatic punch, and should not fall in the trap of believing a longer display with the occasional effect is the better option.

“Longer is not better. You get a better display firing the effects in half the time than letting one firework off every couple of minutes. Afterwards, guests have no idea how long the display goes on for if there is so much happening, and that’s because they get lost in the rhythm and become so engrossed.”

The World Famous is utilising a new German firing system on its events this year. 2010 sees the Kent-based company creating bespoke bonfire sculptures for both Camp Bestival and Bestival. Mandy Dike of The World Famous has designed a 17-metre high pedestal upon which sits a large egg for Camp Bestival. The sculpture will be in situ for the entire event before being lit internally. The egg will then pulse, “crack” open, fireworks will be set off and then the sculpture will burn to the ground.

“It’s a craft as much as a science,” continues Roberts. “It’s a sculpture in as much the way it burns. When we design the sculptures, we know where it’s going to burn first and how, with the use of air passages and chimneys. The very nature of these sculptures mean that there are always a one-off. And they are unusual because they create health and safety issues. We have to make sure that the fireworks have gone off before the sculpture starts to collapse.

“At Bestival, we will be presented with similar challenge. The festival has a fantasy theme this year and so we have created a mushroom-shaped bonfire with a fairytale castle on top. The sculpture will have a life of its own over the course of the festival; it will be animated periodically, will erupt with confetti and be lit.”

Much work goes into the bonfires so that Roberts, Dike and their team can be sure how fast the bonfires will burn. Crowded festival sites propose their own risks, and so great care is taken, as bonfire ash is susceptible to wind.

Adds Roberts: “More and more, fire brigades are asking for more technical information such as the radiant heat output so over the next few months we will be taking temperature measurements as the sculptures burn so that we can provide this information.”

Current market conditions, says Roberts, have led the company to witness a trend towards the use of smaller show sites and an appreciation for design-led displays.

Audiences are aware of the big New Year displays, he says, which Jack Morton and Stage Electrics are famed for.

John Wallace, live events operations manager, of Stage Electrics, describes the festival market as strong, with event budgets holding rather than decreasing.

“Organisers do have a wish list but then at the end of the day it comes down to money, and there’s a lot of off the shelf mentality. LED technology provides an environmental statement, and organisers are investing in it because they want to see a reduction in power.”

This is a view shared by Gavin Smith, managing director of Chillspace, who agrees with Wallace: “The market is looking for high quality, off-the-shelf solutions but it’s not about cutting corners or being cheap. Business seems to have taken off in the last six weeks and this morning we received three enquiries. The economy is stronger and people now have a measure on it.”

Smith suggests that there is buoyancy in the private sector, particularly with private 40th birthday parties and dinners for 100 to 150 people. In contrast to the corporate sector, festival organisers are not following the trend and leaving it until the last minute to book suppliers.

“Organisers are spending more money and there is more of a focus. They don’t just want half a dozen PAR Cans. Lighting is now as important as sound.”

Stage Electrics is set to work on the Towersey Festival from August 26-30, providing power distribution, presentation, festoon and tower lighting. As Stand Out is published, it will also have begun the load in for Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts, which takes place from May 27 until June 6, supplying lights, PA and projection. Plus is it also working with Sky Arts, the festival’s broadcast sponsor.