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Bedford Festival of Fire and Light

The brief

  • The fireworks display and show was for the festival of fire and light culminating with the turning on of the Christmas lights by Father Christmas.

  • The Festival should be large scale, spectacular and innovative using the natural geography of the area and river.

  • The festival should be visually entertaining and spectacular for spectators and any participants alike.

  • The local environment and location of the festival should be used to its full potential.

The site

The main crowd area is 200 meters long looking directly across the river towards the island. Estimated crowd size is over 25000. The crowd barriers are positioned along the tree line leaving about 5 meters to the rivers edge. The river is about 25 meters wide, with a beautiful suspension bridge, crossing the river to the far left of the crowd area. The spectators will be standing only 3 meters away from the bridge.

The other side of the river has line of large mature trees nearly all the way along the display area.

Our approach

Our theme for the festival was based on the latest Narnia film, we used this as Father Christmas was involved in the story; allowing us to tie the whole show together with Father Christmas in the finale. We also liked this theme, as the children in the audience would hopefully relate to the music and characters, in the show.

We designed two river crafts, one to carry the Pevency Children and the other to carry the White Witch and her Evil Dwarf.

For the White Witch we copied the chariot used in the battle scene in the latest Narnia film, which is pulled by polar bears. Instead of Polar Bears we used an outboard engine and river pilot, kindly supplied by Bedford Council.

We could not have involved so many characters in this production without the supply of the river craft, outboard engines and pilots to man these boats during the show. With this level of support and help from the client it was possible to go for the biggest design, and therefore get the most out of the budget supplied.

The fireworks

The pyrotechnic elements, of the show were divided into six areas;

The first area
was only five metres from the crowd line. The fireworks in this area are normally used 50m from the audience. We wanted to use these particular fireworks as they launch coloured fountain effects directly on to the water. If we were going to use these fireworks so close to the crowd we needed to protect the crowd from the firework in case of a malfunction. I gave this problem to our fabricators and after some testing they returned with bespoke metal shields to house these fireworks, and we used sand bags to help them in position. This made sure that even if the device was to fail in the worst possible way then the effects would still only launch out into the safety area. We tested these to confirm they were suitable and we had our first area fixed.

The second area
was the boats, as the river edge was only 5 meters from the crowd and our performers were 3 meters from the effects on the boats. We used close proximity stage pyrotechnics and propane torches for these effects. We arranged for these effects to be fired manually from the boat as we could not guarantee where the boat would be in relation to the other boats during the show. This allowed the operator on the boat to assess the area before he fired the effects.

The third area
was the Suspension bridge; again we used close proximity effects to create the waterfall effect from the bridge. We also used one boat to travel through the water- fall effect. We designed one of the shields on the boat to be removable and the performers held this above their heads while they travelled under the bridge. The idea was to create the effect of the boat appearing through the wall of water. For extra protection for the performers they used close fitting eye ware and all the costumes were sprayed with fire-check (which is a fire proof protective spray).

The fourth area
was the opposite bank; in this area we used five elements of propane effects during the show.

The first element was standard flaming lanterns, the second was our flame wall and the third was our flame generators. Our flame generators have been designed to interface with our firing system This means we could choreograph flame and pyrotechnic effects together with the music. We could then control all the effects from one position during the show. With our Special Effect Men, Aslan the Lion and Father Christmas in the middle of all this, effective control was very important.

The fourth element was flame-throwers used by our Special Effects Crew. These were used when Aslan, our Panto Lion, appeared and roared at the crowd (it still makes me chuckle now, seeing this Panto Lion waving his arms as we played a lion roar over the soundtrack). We also used it to light the flame wall, and to illuminate the Narnia sign. This sign was cut out of sheet steel with a plasma cutter, and erected on to a scaffold frame above the middle position in the show.

The fifth element was a small flame unit built in to the sign itself to help illuminate the word Narnia.

The fifth area
was situated to the rear of the site parallel to the river. These positions comprised of roman candles, single shot Candles, Cakes and Mines. We used 11 positions, as the crowd line was very long and we wanted the display to spread all the way along. Our proposed location for these positions was just behind the line of trees parallel to the crowd area. This would put the area 60 meters away from the crowd. We chose effects with limited fallout so not to go near the crowd.

We also try to remind ourselves that the front row is usually where the children are standing, so they have a clear view of the show, this tends to help focus the mind on the safety issues. To increase safety we also used our shields which were placed in front of all the lower level fireworks to protect the crowd and performers from any malfunctions.

On this occasion the forecast was for wind gusting towards the crowd area. Rather than omi-t+ +9ooithese effects from the show, we moved all the positions to the rear of the site. This would reduce the overall visual effect of the fireworks in what was the main part of the show. Before the show was to start the wind died away and changed direction. I do not regret our decision to move the display area; safety will always be the first and last building block to our shows. As we had designed this factor in to the show from the beginning safety was part of our process in rigging this show. We knew at what time we needed to make the final decision on the weather, (wind direction), as to allow enough time to rig and test.

The sixth area
was over 100 meters away from the crowd area and was our shell launching area this was for the finale that started when Father Christmas signalled with a firing of a pyrotechnic effect into the sky and the turning on of the Christmas Lights.

Due to the location, (proximity of the crowd), we only used shells up to 4inces in calibre, (but lots of them). To control the safe launching of the shells we used our trailer-mounted metal racking system.

The Equipment

We regard our firework fixing, racking and shielding systems as the most important element in this type of close proximity firework show. We dynamically test all this equipment with practical, worst-case scenarios.

When we couple this with the firing system, which allows us to assign the effects used from one to sixteen for their safety aspects. We can then isolate these effects while the show is underway, as the wind can change at any time and does not always agree with the Met Office forecast.

Our flame effects are also directly controlled with the system so we can isolate any of the units along with any firing position during the show.

We use Google Earth Mapping where the image quality is good enough. This helps us design and set out the show on-site and gives us a direct North - South bearing to check wind directions for rigging.

The Crew

We are very lucky to have very talented fabricators and Special Effects crew. This means we can, for example, ask for a copy of the Ice Queens Chariot to be built around a boat, and a 150-meter fire run and hey presto.. we get what we want!

We all believe in our company motto

... To Entertain and Inspire With Fire ...

and this is why our crew has developed its skills to tackle any type of event or brief ....

... and any sandwich ever invented!



Festival of Fire and Light (Bedford)
Noah explaining the Festival of Fire and Light,
with its special requirements, being set on water and a "close proximity" show, only 30m from the audience.