Firing Up The Romance: Pyrotek Adds That Special Effect

Rodney Johnson, production manager for My Chemical Romance, and I had several discussions regarding pyrotechnics and how it could enhance the band's Black Parade World Tour. We began with early discussions regarding pyrotechnic effects, descriptions, placement, and ideas envisioned by management and the band. Flame cues were a priority requested from production to add excitement to the overall show design.

When a client presents an idea, our goal is to recreate the concept through the design and placement of customized special effects. It is very time-consuming but rewarding when the concept is accepted and comes to fruition in a show environment. As quotes and budgets were being finalized, crews, equipment, and setup were strategically organized.

We work very closely with the video, lighting, and production designers to ensure different departments understand when certain elements must shine at a particular point of the show. Prior to the tour at rehearsals, we spent a few days going through all of the effects to be used. One of our top pyrotechnic shooters, John Arrowsmith, sat with the band, management, and production teams to ensure that the design and cues were finalized and safety would not be compromised. The most important safety step was to ensure that Arrowsmith had a clear line of sight to all effects and performers and constant communication with pyrotechnic spotters. If, for some reason, a performer is ever in an unsafe position prior to the cue, these effects are either left out or the entire cue is not fired. Our motto is: “When in doubt, leave it out.”

The effects list for the tour comprises four double-headed dragon units to provide large-scale columns and fireball flame effects to a number of combinations, including for the song “Famous Last Words.” In addition to the flaming fireballs, a simulated waterfall effect, created from gerbs, emits a silver spray of sparks cascading from the upstage trussing and dropping 20' vertically by 40' wide across the stage. Stadium flashes are used to create a loud sound blast effect to energize the crowd and emphasize various cues. Finally, a confetti effect is assembled with dragons in the conclusion of the show.

Fiona Thain, our company's production manager, covers many of the responsibilities to ensure that each show is properly registered and meets the local and federal standards. Preparing anything from stage plots, pulling permits with the jurisdictional fire departments, to creating the effects list falls under her area of expertise. Thain's communication and relationships with local fire departments are crucial to the approval process for pyrotechnics. When setting up onsite product demos for the local fire marshals prior to every show, we have to show them all of the effects that we are planning to use during the show, and, of course, they need to give us their stamp of approval to issue a permit. Our shooter will perform match continuity tests to ensure power is being read from the effect to our controller. Setup time varies from show to show. Depending on the complexity of the show, it can take anywhere from eight to 12 hours.

Lorenzo Cornacchia is VP at Pyrotek Special Effects Inc.