1st Galaxy Fireworks Go To Cannes

Published September 5th, 2011. Filed in: Displays & Events

Lee Smith from 1st Galaxy Fireworks reports on his team’s experience at Cannes in July 2011 firing at the Festival D’Art Pyrotechnique.

Time always seems to fly when you’re having fun, well at least that’s what people say. Personally I think time flies when every day is action packed and for the last few months that’s certainly been the case at 1st Galaxy Fireworks.

It has been an ambition of mine to fire shows abroad for many years and although we’ve supplied many shows far afield we’ve never actually fired one with our own crew… until now.

After a huge amount of effort behind the scenes me and one of my senior technicians Ian Brookes managed to convince the organisers of prestigious festival at Cannes to “let us in” and give us our break. This is no small task or request really as the show is one of the biggest on the calendar and certainly one of the most demanding technically.

In terms of the actual firing site; it’s located out at sea around 300+ metres from the beach, the pyro is launched from a minimum of three floating barges and then the option to use up to eight floating pontoons. We used eight, but had them in pairs at four locations. The barges make the ends and there is also a centre barge, so from end to end the span is 400m which makes this site huge and quite intimidating.

At the time of writing this report I don’t have the absolute figures to hand, as it’s 5.35am and I’m at home writing this up, but from memory there were just shy of 3000 shells in the show (up to 175mm and a 200mm Spanish finale shell collected from a local French supplier); around 800 single shots and a huge quantity of candles. We had seven candle locations across all the barges and pontoons and there were roughly 20 or more frames in each location firing fans of candles. In addition to those effects we also had some bengals and crown wheels and just a handful of cakes… but not too many as the French don’t like them very much!

The setup was carried out over three nights, working from 8pm to 8am, this alone was a huge challenge for us; but it seemed everyone in the team pulled out all the stops and made it work. In fact so well that the crew from France have given us the award of being the best crew they have ever worked with. We used the new PyroQuip racks that we invested in this year and they worked really well on this type of firing surface and certainly made setting up very slick.

The show itself would last nearly 26 minutes, set to music which was pumped out to the audience from three huge sound barges which also floated out at sea. Our theme consisted of a medley of music, all of which can be associated with “Dance”, such as “Singing in the Rain”, “La Freak” and of course the “Kan Kan” which went down very well.

On the final day of preparations me and two crew went out on a boat to the barges to do the final setup and checks, only to be completely devastated to hear the show would be postponed. The wind was too strong to safely drag the sound barges into position so at 6pm the show was pulled. This was quite hard on us as we’d been preparing for the moment for so long that the adrenalin ran out and we basically deflated; on the upside though we all managed a good and long night’s sleep.

There were 20 of us on the crew, four of whom were from France, it was a bit OTT really, but then this was our first trip and we had 40+ crew calling up to ask if they could go to France with us. I had to decide to take those that had served with us the longest and assured the rest that they will get their chance one day. Needless to say moving a truck and three vans to France as well as all the crew was an amazing expense and in the end the show will have run at a loss, but the experience gained has been priceless; so in my view totally worth it.

The new “show day” soon came. Amongst the local paper interviews and a live radio broadcast back to BBC Nottingham, me and two crew – Ian Brookes and Paul Mokes – went back through the routine of connecting the modules, setting up the wireless controllers on each barge and testing the communications. This in many respects was all very last minute because the pontoons don’t go out until 7pm, which in reality became 8.15pm and we were firing at 10.15pm. We all kept our heads and whilst Ian and Paul worked off the boats out at sea I started the first wireless tests through the Toughbook.

We’ve fired a lot of shows wirelessly over the years, but none so big or as far as this, so the task was daunting to say the least. We’ve used Pyromate and FireOne, both of which have strengths and weaknesses, but for this job we used our FireOne equipment and also some kindly lent by Steve at SMart Pyro and Mark at Pyrotex.

We also had a spare system for the show as a back-up, as well as on-barge backups for each of the main three controllers, so if we had a failure at the beach controller or a frequency issue the backups would kick in and carry the show home. We had a feed from the PA crew into each controller on the beach and a backup CD running silently just in case and the time code was fed directly into each controller.

At this point all the testing is done, the system is armed and ready and we’re waiting for the music to start, the introduction bellows out over the PA, and we all stood for our national anthem, which was a very proud but unnerving moment. ”Go Go Go” shouted Jean Marc and I glanced across passed Ian, who had been keeping his eye on things in the last few minutes in the build up to the show and the time code was already counting down in silence, 17,16,15……3,2,1 and BOOM the first batch of 3” mines, 3” shells and 6” shells left and we were all just along for the ride as the hardware took over.

Firing shows often makes me nervous, in fact it’s these nerves that keep me in check, the mind focused and the heart rate higher, but the sensation for this show was like nothing else. The complexity of the show and the reliance on the firing equipment was as extreme as it could be with over 300 metres of sea separating you and your display and 200,000 people less than 3 feet behind you, breathing down your neck because the control site is amongst the crowd.

The show went as near perfect as we could have hoped, it was a massive task and a huge learning curve and me and my team pulled it off, and not only that but in a very relaxed and professional manner which was the most important to me. Our family business which has been going for 17 years now has just come of age, after many thousands of shows and an incredible journey in the last 8 years I’m as happy as a pyro technician on a barge in the Mediterranean in one of the most glamorous firing sites in the world!!



Further information – 1st Galaxy Fireworks

Many thanks to Lee Smith at 1st Galaxy Fireworks for this article. 1st Galaxy Fireworks, based in Nottingham, provide both retail fireworks and professional displays.

Photos and video courtesy and copyright 1st Galaxy Fireworks.

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