The Technology Behind Fireworks Spectaculars

By CBS News

Published 07/02 2014 08:20AM

Updated 07/02 2014 08:23AM

No Fourth of July celebration is complete without a fireworks show. While the audience oohs and ahhs over the dazzle in the sky, they might not realize all the technology, old and new, that goes into producing such a spectacular.  Go behind the scenes at one of the biggest fireworks shows in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The pow and pop of a fireworks show relies on some technology that hasn't changed in centuries.

"When this ignites, it lights all the black powder -- as ancient as can be -- and creates gas pressure which pushes the shell out of the mortar at about 400 feet per second," explains Dan Ramsauer, operations manager for Pyro Spectaculars in San Francisco.

But to choreograph a big-scale production like this one at the Oakland Coliseum with synchronized music, you need a burst of new tech to pull it off.

Jeff Thomas is a show producer for Pyro Spectacular.  "The technology as far as firing systems has really improved over the years, allowing us to use computers to help us with the show design as well as the launching of the display shells."

 Weeks before the big spectacular, Thomas assigns specific fireworks to each moment in the show's playlist. In this case, it's music from Nintendo's Super Mario Brothers.  "Fun songs, we'll put the happy faces in."

Then it's up to the crew to lay out the shells in the correct order.
"This is the main body of the show. That's from the beginning until the finale," Ramsauer explains.

While the fireworks show itself might only last 15 minutes, it takes hours and hours for the pyrotechnic crew to fill all of these canisters.

Each one is then connected to a firing module with specific addresses, Ramsauer says. "They are all synchronized with this time code. When the time codes received we say ok go we're in sync we just fire the show."

Happy faces in the sky...and in the stands.

(Kara Tsuboi, for CBS News)

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