Fireworks With A Difference

Pyrotechnics! Fireworks With A Difference!

Pyrotechnics Versus Fireworks

Traditional gunpowder based fireworks originate from Chinese designs dating back thousands of years. These fireworks provided simple effects distributed through aerial shells, rockets and fountains. Firework shows, using these run-of-the-mill fireworks for their displays have become the one common thing at many different events, rather than the one very different thing that should make a single event memorable.

Pyrotechnic Displays on the other hand includes many components and a variety of explosives and flammable materials, only one of which is gunpowder. Pyrotechnics involves combining chemistry and physics with advanced technology to create a substantially greater range of effects and colours than is possible with traditional fireworks, together with a substantial increase in safety, and then combining these effects in an artistic manner.

In addition to the show fireworks, the Chinese have always manufactured an enormous range of small backyard fireworks that often produced unreliable, smoky and often unsatisfactory effects. Modern advances in science and technology have, however, led to innovations that enable similar fireworks to be incorporated into public displays.

In Europe and the USA these advances have seen the emergence of professional pyrotechnics companies applying new technology to this ancient art form. ACT Fireworks' now recognised as an international leader in the industry, is one of these companies. Led by a new breed of pyrotechnics professionals, who have actively embraced new developments and technology to change the face of their profession, these companies no longer rely solely on traditional fireworks. They integrate them into modern, choreographed displays that encompass a full range of innovative pyrotechnic effects.

These advances in pyrotechnic technology have seen another change. To remain competitive and leading edge, people in the industry are discovering they need to be better educated and more up-to-date in order to understand the science and technology behind their craft.

The Importance of Professionalism

With the reliance on science and technology to create new and innovative displays in a competitive environment the modern pyrotechnical professional must have sound business and academic skills as well as proper, professional pyrotechnic qualifications. Internationally, leading Pyrotechnicians are now university educated with sound analytical, technical, and business skills in addition to their formal pyrotechnic qualifications.

The modern Pyrotechnicians at ACT Fireworks have these skills and qualifications and are fully adept in combining them to provide truly spectacular pyrotechnic displays. Furthermore the team of consultants at ACT Fireworks includes the world's best professional Pyrotechnicians, scientists, and multi-media technicians from Australia, the UK, Europe, Asia and the USA.

The Psychology of a Pyrotechnic Display

The Length of The Display

How long did the last really good pyrotechnic display you attended last? Ten, fifteen, or maybe twenty minutes? The chances are that if you really remember how long it lasted it was probably not a good display. The average public fireworks show in Australia lasts less than ten minutes and multi-million dollar spectaculars, such as Sydney New Year's Eve, only last about 20 minutes.

When the audience becomes engrossed in a spectacular pyrotechnics display, time becomes suspended, their senses take over, combining to create an experience they become part of, rather than an event they are watching. This is referred to as the "Wow Effect". This can result in people firmly believing that the display they experienced lasted up to 50% longer than it really did!

ACT Fireworks recommends that clients make use of this phenomenon to help balance their expenditure against enjoyment levels. By ensuring that the audience is totally engrossed and entertained for the duration of the display the perception is created of a much longer display. Despite what our competitors may try to convince you of we recommend an average display length of between ten and fifteen minutes for most events. For major sky shows and large spectaculars this figure increases in proportion to the budget.

This does not mean that the audience gets less for their money; in fact the opposite is true! It means that the display is designed so there are no pauses or breaks and the audience is continually enthralled. We guarantee to create the most spectacular experience the audience will have ever experienced in a maximum of fifteen minutes. We also guarantee the length of the display will match the agreed time, and we encourage our clients to time us - just to keep us honest!

We do this because our competitors do not. It is common practice, even amongst large operators, to provide shorter shows than promised. Few clients, if any, actually time the shows they have paid for. ACT Fireworks recommends you do.

Heightening Audience Enjoyment

In order to heighten spectator enjoyment ACT Fireworks uses four psychological principles when designing their pyrotechnic spectaculars. We do this whether you are spending less than a thousand dollars or over half a million

The first of these is a practice that the world's leading musical composers have used for centuries. It involves varying the intensity of each component of a display to improve the experience. The type of effect and the quantity of simultaneous effects can also be used in a similar fashion. ACT Fireworks ensures your show will be a well-structured roller coaster journey, building to a spectacular and emotion charged finale. Often 20% to 30% of the budget is directed towards the finale whilst other sections of the display lasting the same length of time may only need to use 5% of the budget to achieve the designed or desired effect.

The second is to have the audience use more than one sense to experience the display. It is important that the audience becomes part of the display, not just see it or hear it. As Confucius said - "I Hear and I Forget; I See and I Remember; I Do and I understand". Full participation of all the senses is required in order to experience totally any event. ACT Fireworks have conducted numerous daytime pyrotechnic displays that include a range of non-visual special effects in order to utilise fully the strengths of non-visual signals.

The third is the skill of using colour creatively to enhance the mood and heighten the emotional experience. It is now accepted that different colours and their intensity are associated with different moods and emotional states. This psychological association is used by ACT Fireworks when designing displays. We use colours in a similar fashion to their use in art: in an imaginative and suggestive way as part of the choreography, to provide a unique experience.

The fourth principle is the ability to reinforce the individuality of the event through the use of themes and signage. Most major events have a theme or sponsor and this should become part of the emotional memory the audience takes home with them. The ability of ACT Fireworks to provide the sponsor's logo, icon or event theme as an integral part of the pyrotechnic display and for a longer duration than traditionally possible will ensure they remember it, consciously or subconsciously. If this effect is smoothly incorporated into an emotionally charged experience future recognition will occur more often and more positively.

Original choreography from ACT Fireworks will ensure that our pyrotechnics display is a unique and integral part of your event rather than a fireworks show at the end of your event.

Designing a Spectacular Pyrotechnics Display for You

The Importance of Design

Pyrotechnic research has demonstrated that there are a number of critical design requirements necessary to create a truly spectacular, balanced and emotionally charged display that genuinely excites and entertains.

Correct design of a display depends on:

  • the safe manufacture and construction of all components of the display
  • the inclusion in each display of the full complement of pyrotechnic effects available.
  • devising suitable artistic choreography to support the effects,
  • the use of specialist equipment to both guarantee audience safety and the correct performance of each component, and
  • the implementation of faultless risk management and safety practices.

Creating A Balanced Sky

ACT Fireworks research has shown that the design process must start by dividing the skyscape into three distinct arenas or 'canvases'; The High Sky Canvas, The Middle Panorama Canvas, and The Lower Ground Canvas. A wide variety of effects are then carefully choreographed, to cover these canvases in a balanced and orderly fashion. The last thing the audience wants is a display where "holes" and "black spots" appear in their vision due to a less than optimal coverage of the whole sky.

"The High Sky Canvas"

The High Sky Canvas covers the onlooker's high central vision. Scientific studies have shown that, due to a combination of physiology and psychology, when you look up your peripheral vision narrows and your eye focuses on the long view directly in front of you. By making the best use of the high sky ACT Fireworks creates the impression that the whole sky is alight. In addition to this the highest of the sky is filled with the largest fireworks helping to create the impression of a full sky.

"The Middle Panorama Canvas"

In contrast, The Middle Panorama Canvas covers the wider vision created when onlookers lower their view and therefore broaden the area of the sky they see. In order to fill this successfully, ACT Fireworks creates spectacular middle panoramas by simultaneously producing a series of individual effects that are carefully spaced across the full range of vision. The aim in this canvas is to create a perception similar to that in an Imax theatre where the effects are wider than the spectators' vision ensuring that they become part of the experience.

"The Lower Ground Canvas"

A special feature of our displays is to ensure that a closer, lower level display is included when designing the effects. This display includes a combination of individual as well as wider effects, carefully placed to increase the enjoyment and scale of the audience's experience. A range of new and exciting special effects have been developed by ACT Fireworks especially for this arena. These include a special way to highlight your theme or sponsor's name or logo on a fire sculpture with our unique Gold Fire Rope Sculptures.


As with all world class artistic performances, placement and timing are as important as the actors are, or in this case, the effects. How, when and where each effect takes place must be carefully arranged. This is achieved by choreography: deliberately focusing the audience's visual attention on low, wide, high and narrow effects in differing sequences for differing lengths of time.

To cover these canvases in a logical and balanced fashion in order to ensure maximum use of all the available skyscape requires careful choreographic input. The display must suit the physical location, suit your budget and, hopefully, exceed your expectations of the display itself. ACT Fireworks designs start with a broad vision, or story-board, of the proposed display and inserts into it the required visual, audible and physical effects.

The visual effects are those we see. They include: movement (slow, fast, up, down, sideways, spinning, twirling, exploding, expanding, falling, contracting); colour (bright, sparkling, intense, fading, changing, flashing); position (high sky, middle panorama, lower ground); and duration (long, short, repetitive, alternating).

The audible effects are those we hear. These sounds, such as whistles, explosions, bangs, crackles, whooshes (movement through the air), may vary in duration (long, short, intermittent, repetitive), intensity (gentle, intense, loud, quiet, dispersed), and position (high sky, middle panorama, lower ground).

The physical effects comprise the other important senses, such as smell (faint, strong, pungent,) and emotion.

Individual effects, required to meet your particular display requirements, are then specially designed and incorporated.

Choreography is a powerful tool that allows us to create the pyrotechnic affects you want, within your budget, while making the most of the geography of your proposed display site.

Pyrotechnic Effects

Aerial Shells

Aerial and large aerial shells provide the "ooh" and "aah" element of any display, whilst special effect shells add an unexpected or surprising element to it. The primary effect of these is to burst and fill in the 'high sky canvas'. A secondary effect can be attached to them in the form of a tail that looks like a comet or rocket racing into the sky.

  • Standard aerial shells fill the 'high sky canvas', bursting up to 150 metres above the ground, with some effect in the 'middle panorama canvas' as the bursts fall. Each individual effect lasts approximately three seconds. They come in a full range of colours and a range of effect types, including chrysanthemums, peonies, go-getters comets, willows, crackles, strobes and salutes.
  • Large aerial shells are also designed to fill the 'high sky canvas', -the very high, narrow part of the audience's vision from 150 metres to 400 metres above the ground. They require a greater safety distance than most other effects and are mainly incorporated into medium and large displays. They also come in a full range of colours and effects; they can provide multiple colours, colour changing and multiple effects, such as crossettes, spider's webs, palm trees and kamurus.
  • Special effect shells bring unique effects into the 'high sky canvas' from 200 to 300 metres above the ground. They include unusual highlights such as serpents, whistling bees, cascading waterfalls and pattern shells such as hearts or smiley faces.

These effects usually account for only 50% of an ACT Fireworks display budget.

Other Pyrotechnic Effects

Special effects, multi shot cakes, multi shot box items, big ball candles, mines, ground-effects and signs account for the remaining 50% of the budget.

Ground effects and signs account for the remaining 50% of the budget

  • Special effects are those effects that are not commercially available and must be specially manufactured in-house. They include 'Hollywood Fire Balls' (pictured above), 'White Lightning', 'Flame Projectors', 'Dam Buster Water Shells' etc. They are incorporated into a display to unexpectedly appear in the 'lower ground canvas' and provide an un-imagined or surreal element that will excite and surprise. Most commonly these effects last for 10 to 15 seconds.
  • Multi shot cakes last from 20 to 45 seconds and fill the 'middle panorama canvas'. As a row of similar fireworks, they function simultaneously to produce a wall of coloured fire, providing a range of unusual and exciting effects such as whistles, swimming fish, missiles, parachutes, loud crackles, aerial spinners etc. Their purpose is to entertain and amuse by providing an impressive display with a great variation of effects. They can be safely placed (with the correct equipment) much closer to the audience. The primary effect starts at ground level and often involves a secondary effect at their apex.
  • Multi shot box items fill the audiences' central and outer vision, both left and right, providing a link between the 'middle panorama' and the 'high sky' canvases. They differ from aerial shells in that they last between 45 and 60 seconds and have a primary effect that often starts at ground level and eventually fills the visual area from the ground up to 150 metres. In larger displays they can fill the entire vision of the audience creating a massive wall vastly larger than multi shot cakes. The effects available range from those of aerial shells to those of multi shot cakes or a combination of both
  • Big ball candles are giant roman candles that have the presence and height of aerial shells but with the primary effect initiating from the ground, often creating images of massive comets. They last 20 to 40 seconds starting in the 'lower ground canvas', travelling through the 'middle panorama' into the 'high sky'.
  • Mines are a short lived effect (3 to 6 seconds) which burst up from the 'lower ground canvas' to a height just below that of aerial shells in the 'high sky'. They provide a surprise element that can be used highlight a specific moment during a display and work well with musical choreography. Mines can also be used to fill the wide vision from ground level skywards with effects that match aerial shells
  • Ground effects are those that occupy the 'lower ground canvas' and include fountains, Catherine wheels, waterfalls and other set pieces. These effects last about 60 seconds and are generally quiet and peaceful. These fireworks are used to provide a gentle or elegant segment to our displays in contrast to the full-on war-like feeling of many other parts of the display.

ACT Fireworks extensive stock holdings and our choreographic expertise will ensure that all these effects can be included in the displays we design and manufacture for you.

Special Techniques To Make Your Display Dollars Go Further

Traditional consumer fireworks are often unreliable when used in professional fireworks displays, frequently miss-firing or not firing at all. This can result in unnecessary breaks in a show or a significantly shortened show. ACT Fireworks has overcome this problem by re-manufacturing the components we use. All explosive components are spark proofed so they cannot accidentally ignite, re-fused so they ignite exactly when required, and water-proofed so that rain and dew will not stop or delay their ignition. All equipment is carefully crafted.

We also ensure that no single effect lasts for more than 60 seconds; excluding, of course, theme signs & corporate logos.

Additionally through our craftsmanship of hand chaining a volley of aerial shells ACT Fireworks can create a similar effect to that of a large aerial shell for about 25% of the cost. Just as impressively by re-manufacturing multi shot cakes we can ensure that the audience gains the same impression created by a series of large aerial shells for less than 10% of the cost.

In simple terms ACT Fireworks can produce significant cost savings by individually re-manufacturing components so they are equivalent to pre-manufactured commercial components costing considerably more.

This attention to detail not only provides excellent value for money but also ensures your audience enjoys far more interesting and safe effects.

Safety - A Must For Responsible Pyrotechnics

Traditionally, fireworks safety in Australia has fallen far behind world best practice due to the lack of qualifications, expertise and knowledge of both operators and regulators. ACT Fireworks use world best practice, surpassing all Australian standards and meeting, or surpassing, recognised international standards. ACT Fireworks are a leader in the area of pyrotechnic risk management, hazard reduction and safety practices. As a result of this research we have been able to write a complete set of competency standards for the Pyrotechnic Industry that will be form the basis for all accredited pyrotechnic qualifications in Australia

ACT Fireworks meet their exacting safety standards by re-manufacturing every single firework and pyrotechnic component we use. This ensures that not only are our pyrotechnic displays safe, because all risks have been minimised, but it also ensures that your pyrotechnic display proceeds as planned without any unwanted intervals, mistakes or unplanned incidents.

An Invitation

ACT Fireworks invite you to experience one of their truly spectacular pyrotechnics displays. We know you will not be disappointed and we know that your audience will cherish the memories.

Australia Day in the National Capital - Canberra 1999