21-23 Aug 2024
ICC, Sydney

Fireworks in debate: Part 2

Feb 28, 2020

Last month, we discussed various councils plans to hold or cancel fireworks displays among fear from constituents that they could spark new fires. In part 2 of this report, we will look at the opportunity for AV professionals to help alleviate some of the growing concerns through new approaches to production.

Written by Paul Skelton, Connected magazine

This fire season has been undoubtedly one of the worst our nation has ever experienced. And now that the immediate emergency of the bushfires has been scaled down and the rebuilding process has begun, we speak to projection professionals who are looking to create unique productions and celebrations through advances in image mapping technology.


Cindi Drennan is founder and director of illuminart, a projection mapping specialist based in the bushfire-affected Blue Mountains region of NSW.

She says event managers can bring multidisciplinary teams together to create more compelling shows that use the best of all technologies. Projection artists and creative directors should collaborate with pyrotechnicians to produce shows that are more deeply engaging.

As an example of what is possible, in 2017 illuminart partnered with West Coast Fireworks to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Exmouth township in WA.

They outlined the history of the Northwest Cape and Exmouth, the community and lifestyle, and the natural environment including Ningaloo Reef and Cape Range.

“We worked closely with the community to develop the show,” Cindi says.

“At the request of our client, we incorporated fireworks that were designed to precisely match up with the projected image, as though parts of the image were sparking off the building.

“It was a very exciting process because fireworks as a medium for light are powerful, noisy and exciting, and combined with our storytelling, created a sensational production that won best regional event (WA) at the Australian Event Awards.

“Collaborating with West Coast provided us with insights into the work that goes into fireworks, about the craftsmanship of pyrotechnicians and how difficult it can be to change things at the last minute.

“The result, though, was just perfect – and was accomplished with no rehearsals or practice runs – just very effective communication and planning between illuminart and West Coast Fireworks.

“The interesting thing was that the cost of fireworks in this production was similar to a normal fireworks event, but the show ran much longer and the wonder, excitement and meaning for the community were extremely powerful.”

That’s not to say that projection mapping is cheaper than fireworks.

“We’re contacted regularly by people looking to replace fireworks with AV, but they don’t realise that AV may have costs that they haven’t considered.

“A little community show might have seven to 10 minutes of fireworks, but that display probably replicates something that’s been repeated there and in many other places. It’s an ‘off the shelf’ solution. You’re not comparing apples with apples.

“Projection mapping, particularly the first time you do it, is fully customised for the site and it includes many layers of planning and technology, all completely unique for that selected building or environment.

“With fireworks, there are quantities of scale, whereas we’re doing something completely tailored for an individual building. And the value, flexibility, and potential for meaning in AV is much higher than fireworks, so there are huge advantages to exploring this direction.”

Getting into it

Paul Haddad is the business marketing manager for Epson Australia.

“Moving from fireworks displays to AV is very much in line with where we see projection mapping heading in the future,” he says.

“Projection can play a big role in outdoor entertainment in particular. It’s also great for improving audience participation. It re-imagines what you can achieve at a live event.

“AV can be so much more engaging than a fireworks event, where everyone just stands passively to watch a fleeting spectacle.”

Paul has seen a lot of growth in projection mapping in regional towns, particularly in the creation of meeting spaces, at important local events or at a town hall.

But what should nascent projection artists look for in projectors that will cast their work on the facades of buildings, silos and other landmarks?

“For those who know what they are doing, projection mapping can be a fairly straightforward process,” Paul says.

“For first-time users, some software offers quick and easy image mapping of the building. But if you want something really intricate, something that people would go out of their way to visit, then a fair bit of planning and know-how is required.

“When it comes to projector selection, the first rule, and the easiest to follow, is that brighter is better.

“Apart from that, changeable lenses are really important as this gives you more flexibility in projector placement.

“The other important aspect is having a sealed optical engine so it can’t be penetrated by water or dust.”

The future

Cindi says the industry faces a challenge in that technology seems to be dominating the meaning of the work.

“Festivals are exciting to experience, but they can become so big that the reason for their existence is lost – bringing people together to interact, share meaningful messages and feel the power of an important message or cause.

“As a projection artist, I wanted to focus on creating wonder; giving people something to share, inspire and educate with a lasting effect.”

She says the future of projection mapping offers incredible value for communities through long-term installations.

“With AV, people can enjoy the spectacle of something large and beautiful on any night, not just New Year’s Eve.

“That’s where permanent installations are great, because they contribute to the night-time economy of a small town in a more holistic way. And because they’re not just a one-off event, they provide ongoing value.”

Paul says projection mapping could provide a revenue-earning opportunity for local councils.

“There is a commercial aspect to using projection mapping that just isn’t possible with fireworks. Councils can create a revenue stream, which will help to offset the initial cost of the equipment.

“Through projection mapping, can sell sponsorships to local companies and project their details as part of the show.”

For Cindi, there’s hope for both fireworks and AV.

“I believe it starts with collaboration. I can’t understand why more firework displays don’t include projection or laser light shows – it can be such a beautiful result.”

If you would like to help Australia’s firefighters, please consider donating to one of the following groups:
NSW Rural Fire Service – www.rfs.nsw.gov.au
Victorian Country Fire Authority – www.cfa.vic.gov.au
CFS Foundation of South Australia – https://cfsfoundation.org.au/
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