EYE-CATCHING ATTRACTIONS, from classic fireworks to high-tech visual effects, bring an element of surprise to — and enhance the message of — events.

LIGHT MY FIRE

While newer effects are gaining ground, at Pyrotek Special Effects in Markham, Ontario, pyrotechnics remain the most popular effect, says Doug Adams, president and designer. “The key factors to providing a quality production [are] originality and keeping in mind the theme of the show,” he says. Other factors are “the performance area, audience proximity and line of sight, which all dictate which effects can be used effectively and without incident.”

The company's custom-designed Dragon system, which produces a DMX-controlled propane flame that can reach heights of 30 feet, is a current client favorite, Adams notes. The system can “produce a ‘chase’ effect that engulfs an area, or multiple ‘heads’ can be fired at the same time to create fireballs, flame columns and/or walls of fire,” he explains.

Adams notes that while the West Warwick, R.I., nightclub tragedy in 2003 produced many changes in pyrotechnics, the positive outcome is that “the attitude throughout the industry has now become to hire the safest and most professional pyrotechnics companies” to ensure guest safety.

VISUALIZE IT

At EffectDesign in Novato, Calif., Visual illusions top the request list, says president Geoff Puckett. “More and more our solutions revolve around electronic projection due to flexibility of setup and instantaneous ability to make ‘set changes,’” he explains.

One of his company's newest effects, a 5-foot diameter sphere installed in the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle, allows visitors to view live-action imagery, animation and projected special effects from multiple projectors. “The effects are achieved through a combination of custom morphed image fields and very precise image blending,” Puckett says. “The result has people mesmerized as to how it is accomplished — the comment we hear most often is ‘I never knew projection could create dimensional effects like this.’”

The Versa TILE from Element Labs in Austin, Texas, is another eye-catching product. The video-controlled LED tiles can be assembled like building blocks to create wall or floor displays. Each tile represents one pixel on a computer screen and can display content from graphics programs or from stock imagery to create colors, patterns or moving images, explains Vanessa Durrance, sales and marketing assistant. “Anything used for special effects must capture the audience initially and intrigue them to sustain that attention,” she says, noting that the tiles have done just that at the MTV Movie Awards and for Saab at the North American International Auto Show.

ELEMENT OF SURPRISE

With so many advances in special effects in recent years, it's not surprising that Kevin Bilida, CEO of Los Angeles-based TLC Creative Productions, names multimedia — or combining effects such as streamer cannons, lasers and video projection — as his company's primary service. “Instead of doing one effect for 60 seconds, we now do six effects for 10 seconds each, therefore entertaining people in a dynamic way and elevating the moment,” he says.

Among the products his company is using are disappearing balloon walls, which combine multiple effects leading up to a final crescendo; and moving video projections, which he calls “the latest and greatest and newest” technology.

“Today's effects don't stand on their own — they're incorporated into the show, they're integrated into the event, matching the theme and the messages,” Bilida explains. “In the old days, special effects would stand out and almost seem out of place, but now they're integrated so well that it almost fools you into thinking nothing is going to happen. And then it does, and it's actually more startling because it's a bit of a sleeper.”




RESOURCES

EffectDesign, 415/883-6474; Element Labs, 512/491-9111; Pyrotek Special Effects, 905/479-9991; TLC Creative Productions, 310/822-6790