Do you ever find yourself staring at a firework display and wondering what the different effects are called – they can’t all be rockets can they? Watch a pyrotechnicians eyes roll when you ask him/her if he/she has any rockets!
The sky should be filled with an array of colours, patterns and effects. Shhhh! – don’t tell anyone but actually there are only a few different types of firework. There are however many different effects which come from these few types and this is where the skill of the designer is focussed.
In this short piece let’s deal with the different types and what the general impact of them is and therefore how they are generically used in a display.
Roman candles are the staple diet of the firework display, typically lasting for 25 to 30 seconds and providing the continuity. They deliver a wide range of effects including, comets, bombettes, mines, crossettes, butterflies and serpents as well as noise effects like flash reports, hummers, whistles, crackle and screechers. Usually eight shots per candle they are either fired singly at regular intervals across the width of the site, or in bouquets of 3, 5 or 7 and can be angled to create a lattice or various shapes in the sky.
These are one of the most common types of consumer firework and are used to describe everything people see in the air! A rocket motor on the end of a stick propels the pyrotechnic payload in to the sky bursting to create an effect at the trajectory apex. The whoosh of the rocket motor, often accompanied by a gold or silver tail is almost the signature sound when a TV sound engineer wants to depict “BIG” fireworks. Ironically the professional industry uses rockets less and less because the stick and the rocket motor come back down. If you buy a rocket in the shops beware of the large head – it can often be full of air and is designed to attract you to buy it – bigger isn’t always better with rockets!
Combination Batteries or Cakes
Combination Batteries or Cakes as they are more commonly known (because they look like – er cakes!) are a very popular alternative to create continuity
and duration in a display. They consist of lots of individual shorter tubes fused together to fire in succession – sometimes very rapidly and sometimes quite slowly. They are very similar to roman candles in terms of a large range of effects coming from the tubes but they are pre angled so the impact in the sky of fans, z shapes, w shapes and varying speed of ignition create many possibilities. Cakes come in a wide variety of sizes from a small 19 shot crackling willow cake to a large 600 shot rapid fire peacocks tail battery. The first will provide an effect similar to a normal roman candle whilst the second will fire an intensely wide fan of 600 effects within 8 seconds creating a huge peacock’s tail in the sky.
Single Shot tubes
A recent addition to the firework choreographers armoury, single shot items have become popular with the pyromusical display where a wide frontage of single shot effects can be used to emphasis a particular moment in the soundtrack. They are also used to add an extra dimension providing movement and animation in to the display by creating chase sequences, whether it be a chase of comets racing around the Olympic Stadium or one shot comet mines racing around the inside of the London Eye, they can be utilised to create some memorable images. As the names suggests they are a single effect from a single tube although again they will come in a whole range of colours and effects.
Fountains are another popular type of firework and are used to create variety to a display. From small silver fountains to large display coloured chip fountains which emit a huge shower of sparks 8 metres in to the sky. When put together on wooden frames or set pieces they can create beautiful lattice patterns as well as being used as drivers to create Catherine wheels. Fountains last a long time up to 50 seconds sometimes, so they are good at creating a focal point to a display.
These are usually utilised to mark the opening and closing of a firework display. They may also be used in co-ordination with music to highlight a crescendo or a significant change in tempo or key. When fired on mass from a wide frontage they can deliver a huge wall of stars that will wow the audience. Mines come in many different sizes and give a variety of visual and sound effects.
Saving the best till last and strictly the domain of the professional pyrotechnician we have aerial star shells. The professional industry will almost always use these instead of rockets. Fired from mortar tubes, aerial star shells are launched in to the sky and can reach heights of 250 metres in a matter of seconds. The delay fuse is designed to ignite the bursting charge at the apex of the vertical flight and a huge canopy of stars are lit to deliver patterns colours and sounds. The burst from the largest star shell can give a 150m canopy of stars. Star shells come in a variety of sizes and are often fired in sequential barrages.
Why not have a look at some of our videos and see if you can pick out which firework is which according to the description above?