Pyrotechnics

Although many aspects of technical theatre can be dangerous sometimes, it’s worth remembering that pyrotechnics are dangerous all of the time!

  • Always check with the venue administrator that it’s safe for you to use pyrotechnics in a specific location.
  • Ensure that all scenery and costumes are effectively fireproofed.
  • Follow the manufacturers recommendations for safe distances and heights. It’s imperative that there is plenty of room above the pyrotechnic device’s maximum height before the ceiling surface.
  • Ensure that performers or the audience cannot get too close.
  • Always ensure that the pyrotechnics operator has a clear view of the pyro device, AND the area around it at all times. Do not fire the pyrotechnic if anything or anyone is out of place.
  • The pyrotechnic device must not be fired automatically by any system unless it’s in the hands of training, certified and properly insured professional pyrotechnicians.
  • Never use any home-made pyrotechnic device.
  • Use a cartridge-based pyro system when possible.
  • Always carry out a ‘test firing’ of each type of pyro you plan to use in the show, with all cast and crew present, so that they can see the effect under controlled conditions.
  • If in any doubt, seek advice from local fire authorities or the supplier of your pyrotechnic devices.
  • Only use devices specifically made for indoor theatrical use.
  • Ensure the floor is suitable – some pyrotechnics should not be fired on carpet. Hot fallout from some effects (e.g. gerbs) can damage vinyl dance floor surfaces, so ensure the area around the pyrotechnic is protected. 
  • Always have a suitable fire extinguisher on hand in the event of any problems.

Flame Projectors – Warning

Gas-fuelled flame projectors are available online, some of which use DMX512 (lighting control protocol) to control the flame. These are not recommended for use. Some of them have insufficient safety devices, and would continue to produce flame if the device was knocked over, and do not have safety cut-offs if the gas leaks. DMX512 does not have a robust-enough error-checking system, and it’s possible for errors / glitches in the control signal to trigger the flame without warning. Every pyrotechnic system must be operated by someone who has a clear view of the pyro location, and is able, in every instance, to confirm that the pyro can be safely fired. 
If it is controlled by DMX512, there’s a chance that the flame device could be mistakenly triggered just by calling up the wrong number from a lighting desk. 
Seek advice from a certified pyrotechnician before buying or using any such devices. 

Cold Spark effects – suitable for any indoor use

Sparkular is advertised as a gerb replacement, but uses expensive Titanium granules (around $100 per packet, which produces 8-10 minutes of sparks) to produce the effect, and produces a relatively loud whoosh sound in operation. However, the effects can be controlled far more easily than traditional pyrotechnics, can be re-used many times in the evening and are absolutely safe for indoor use, as close as you like to actors or event guests. The units are expensive, and the operators require training and certification with the manufacturers before use.

See also

Books

2010
2007
1997

External Links

Makers

Artem Props, Special Effects, Illusions, Set, Practicals, Pyrotechnics [UK]
Creating the Impossible Props, Scenery & Magical Illusions [UK]

Manufacturers

Le Maitre Pyrotechnics Stage Pyrotechnics [UK]
Rainbow Confetti Streamers & Confetti [China]

Practitioners

Groupe F Events [France]
Pyrovision Large scale displays
SkyHigh FX [Kent, UK]

Suppliers

Amabilino Pyro Displays [UK]
Firework Events Fireworks & Special Effects [UK]
HFM Pyrotechnics Ltd Consumer & Professional Pyrotechnics [UK]
MTFX Pyrotechnic effects [UK]
Sonic Fireworks [Devon, UK]
Special Effects Suppliers / SFX Supplies Hire and Sales [UK]
Star Fireworks [UK]
Strictly FX [IL, USA]
Theatre Effects [USA]
Ultratec Special Effects [USA, Canada, Germany]

Training

Just FX Stage Pyrotechnics Training [UK]

Unions / Associations

British Pyrotechnists Association [UK]
Association of Stage Pyrotechnicians [UK]
Pyrotechnics Guild International, Inc. [USA]
Pyrotechnics Industry Association of Australia [Australia]