Innovation is exciting. Especially in the special effects industry. Thinking up new effects, creating mind-blowing designs and challenging ourselves to bring client visions to life – it’s exciting stuff, and it’s why we’re all part of this fast-paced industry. But innovating in this industry also involves a lot of heavy lifting to ensure that everything has been covered. Because even the most advanced innovations will be thrown aside without a second thought if they can’t be pulled off safely and reliably, every single time. And for good reason, too. To the audience, it all just looks like magic, but in reality, high-impact special effects run on gallons of propane, water and other elements, and one wrong move can truly mean life or death.
That’s why it’s critical to work with a special effects partner that not only focuses on safety in execution, but lives and breathes it from the very beginning – from ideation all the way through to execution. And it’s something we take very seriously at Pyrotek.
Our VP of Innovation Konstantin Kraz and our Manager of Product & Technical Support Brian Panther provide a behind-the-scenes look at what it really takes to bring live alive, safely and reliably.
Q: What are the most critical considerations when it comes to scoping a new concept?
Brian: Above all, it’s critical that every safety standard and regulation is taken into consideration before a product or application is brought to life.
And with safety regulations growing stricter with each show, ensuring that everything is done to code can be an intense job. Industry regulations can vary by country, state or province, city, and even venue to venue – and they change regularly. Fire code regulations alone can be upwards of 100 pages long, with a checklist of 75 different safety-related considerations that come into play.
The best companies will not only follow all of these stringent regulations; they will also aim to go above and beyond what the law requires in most cases – from initial planning all the way to show time. Because in an industry so focused on blowing things up, we know it’s just as important that we’ve got our regulations down.
Q: What does product development and testing look like at Pyrotek?
Konstantin: It takes a large team of people with specialized skill sets and a well-defined process to first decide if a new design is even worth pursuing.
Once a concept is given the green light, it’s tested and tested again. We’re constantly challenging new concepts throughout the product design phase, from CAD drawings, all the way to the final build and execution. And we’re not only testing for safety and reliability; we’re also looking at functionality, durability and, of course, whether it provides the impact and response we’re looking for from our audience.
Like any industry, we also know things can and will go wrong. That’s why we plan for everything. And we mean everything. We push products and applications past their limits and through every possible scenario. Then we test again. That includes testing for things like wind, rain (for outdoor effects), power failures, emergency shut-downs and even performer missteps, because all of these can and do happen. And in doing so, we’re able to stay confident in what we’re capable of doing for our clients, and they can have the confidence that their teams and audiences are in safe hands.
Of course, in order to test products in this way, a specialized facility is needed. That’s why we specifically created a unique environment where things can go sideways, safely. The Lititz shop, located on the Rock Lititz campus, is a 12,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility that mimics real-life circumstances with all of the necessary safeguards in place. Without access to this kind of space, building, test firing and simulating the challenging scenarios of special effects design wouldn’t be possible.
For bigger and badder effects, we take to the 30,000-square-foot Rock Lititz Studios: a clear-span production rehearsal space with a one-million-pound rigging capacity, where we’re permitted for pyrotechnics and flame testing 24/7, 365 days a year. There really is no effect we can’t test here.
Q: How long does it take to create new products or designs?
Konstantin: For what seems like such a lengthy process, turnaround time in the special effects industry can often be remarkably quick. Extensive research is always done, but while some of the more complex effects require months of research, experimentation and engineering to develop effectively, others can be executed within a matter of weeks, or even a week depending on the project.
Take, for example, the multi-canister fuel system that we developed for Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s 2019 show in Nassau. The entire system was designed and manufactured in three weeks. That includes mechanical design, electrical integration, procurement, assembly and testing. Similarly, the Cryo Jet body that we designed for Taylor Swift’s Reputation tour went from concept to delivery in one very short week.
On the other hand, our exclusive, patented AquaVisual FX display system, which forms custom graphics with a programmed sequence of water droplets, spent over a year in development to ensure the system was completely customizable and performed exactly how we needed it to. In either case, underneath the fire and smoke, there’s an immense amount of work that goes into ensuring our designs are safe, consistent, well documented and maintainable.
Cutting-edge effects, without cutting corners
Although our criteria and processes are well defined, when it comes to the specifics of trialing and testing new innovations, the tests, parameters and challenges will always vary by product and purpose. This is why it’s important for new clients to bring us in early, so we can collaborate and develop the best designs possible from the beginning.
As a leader in the special effects industry, Pyrotek has no problem pushing boundaries to deliver the most reliable and innovative solutions for our clients. And while innovation is always a driving factor, safety and reliability are at the core of everything we do. With this focus on safety and constant collaboration right from the get-go, clients can spend less time worrying about regulations and more time creating those magic moments.
About Konstantin Kraz
Konstantin brings to Pyrotek more than 20 years in product development and pyrotechnics. Leading the Innovation team, he is responsible for the creation of Pyrotek’s next-generation special effects. Konstantin’s team has developed flame, pyrotechnic, atmospheric and water effects for Metallica, U2, Twenty One Pilots, Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift and others, and is pioneering new technologies to help our clients enhance the live show experience.
About Brian Panther
Brian Panther leads Pyrotek’s Lititz, PA facility and has extensive regulatory experience, which helps our logistics and operations departments with compliance matters relating to show execution. His extensive experience in research and development of new special effects and electronic firing systems helps support our road crews, product development, and training teams. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the American Pyrotechnics Association and is a principal member of the NFPA Technical Committee on special effects. Brian has designed and produced effects for countless live events and has toured with bands such as Aerosmith, Godsmack, Nickelback, and the London symphony.