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Fireworks: How do they do that?

A look behind the scenes to see how the professionals stage a major display.

Ever watched an award-winning display and wondered 'how do they do that?' It's not 'light the blue touch paper and retire'. Today, creating a firework display demands long hours of planning and preparation. This section of shows you how its done. It is not intended to teach you how to become a master pyrotechnician but to give you an insight into the complexity and detail of the tasks involved.

Fireworks display planning

begins with a lot of legwork and long-term planning. There are discussions with the client about budgets, style and timing of the show, site layout and conditions, safety considerations etc. A site survey is always necessary, together with liason with a variety of authorities.

Creating the display.

The Display Director devises the show. All aspects are planned in detail with sequences prepared for all the necessary elements of the show. The opening and closing sequences are usually showpieces which are linked together with speciality feature elements.

Music and fireworks.

Many shows are fired to music and the soundtrack has to be edited, usually from pre-recorded sources, then timed to correspond with the pyrotechnic effects. Finally, the soundtrack is cued and a copy burnt to CD to be played over the showground P.A. system.


All big shows nowadays are programmed onto a computer for split-second precision of firing. The music, firing list, timings and cues are all programmed into the computer.


The fireworks need to be sourced. Although all display companies will keep large stocks sufficient for most displays, fireworks may be bought in specially for a competition or a very special occasion . Crews have to be booked and briefed, transport arranged, and all of the necessary equipment assembled together or built specially.

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Arrival onsite involves unloading the hardware, tools and pyro, and the display layout is marked out. Most of the hardware is mortar tubes and frames for roman candles. Apart from the very large ones, mortar tubes are assembled together into crates and these have to be braced and fixed for security. Candle frames likewise hold multiple elements, often in fan-formation, and need to be secured. Single-ignition units and batteries of cakes are the other main constituent of a large display.

When the hardware is set out according to the display layout the fireworks are distributed to the corresponding item. Next, fireworks are fused together into their correct sequences. This might involve the use of delays or slower fuses to achieve timing but this is often uneccessary if the show is fired using a remote firing box, or by computer.

Only small displays are fired by hand so the next step is to insert a pyrotechnic igniter or electric match at the correct point in each fuse run. The lead from the igniter is connected to the firing box, usually through one or more hubs or distribution points. Throughout this process the fireworks will have been fixed to their framework, or loaded into the mortars.

A variety of different surfaces will be encountered on different display sites. Although fireworks are usually secured by stakes driven into the ground, surfaces such as rooftops and solid concrete need special techniques.

When the circuits are all connected up and ready, the process of testing begins. A tiny electric current is fed to each igniter - sufficient to test that the connection has been made, but not sufficient to actually fire it. As the process of fixing and fusing each firework or battery is completed, the final task is protection. All fireworks need to be protected from pre-ignition by sparks from other fireworks, and from non-ignition because of damp from rain.

The show is now ready to go. The display area is cleared of packaging and other waste, tools are stowed away and vans removed.

The firing technician will be liaising with the sound crew and the event manager awaiting the cue for the big moment!

Photographs of the fireworks displays
when all the hard work has been done.

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