Light and Sound
5:48 am
Sat July 5, 2014

The Art of Fireworks Displays

Wet weather in the forecast prompted some Connecticut towns to postpone their fireworks displays. Among them is the town of Westport, which moved its event to July 7.

Westport’s program is designed and will be presented by Fireworks by Grucci, a six-generation family business that’s world-renowned for its pyrotechnic artistry. WNPR’s Diane Orson spoke with Phil Grucci, president and CEO, and asked about the kind of creative inspiration that goes into designing explosive displays.

The Grucci Family
Credit Fireworks by Grucci

Phil Grucci:  The creative part of our art form, if you will, is the fun part, frankly. As you realize with fireworks, it's an explosive. There’s a tremendous amount of logistics and engineering that goes into any one of our performances. But the creative part is really inspired by whatever the celebration is.

One beautiful thing about our art form is it's surrounding a celebration of some sort, so it’s always a happy event, for the most part. The creative aspect and the inspiration come from what that event is.

Then we work with the stage, whether it's on a building, fired from a floating platform out in the middle of a body of water, [or] a beautiful land mass. That’s our stage. We generate the soundtrack [and] choreograph the fireworks. Each of our fireworks are our performers, if you will. They’re the palette that we work with to paint the canvas, the canvas being the night sky.

It used to be that you’d see guys running around setting off fuses for fireworks, but that’s not the case anymore. Can you talk about how computers have changed fireworks?

We utilize the technology as a tool in the discharge or the firing of the firework displays. In the past, you did see the pyrotechnician lighting the fireworks with a red railroad flare. We use many of our programs this Fourth of July. We'll have laptop computers out there, with electronic interfaces that’ll connect to the fireworks themselves, and shoot the fireworks at tenth-of-a-second tolerances. Then we have the computer, where we’ll utilize it as a tool in the design stages.

Fireworks by Grucci in Las Vegas
Credit Fireworks by Grucci

In the design phase, are you able to simulate what it will actually look like eventually?

Yes, we can do that to scale, and in a modeled atmosphere, which would be, for example, the rooftop of a building. We perform out on roof of Caesar’s Palace out in Las Vegas every year on the Fourth of July, so we have a model of what the building looks like. We place, digitally, the fireworks on the roof of the building. Working with a soundtrack -- for Caesar’s Palace for example, it’s a 16-minute soundtrack made up of a number of patriotic and contemporary music scores -- we can visualize the particular firework effect we’ve selected, for example, a golden palm tree during "America, The Beautiful" during a segue scene, we can visualize what that looks like, in scale, coming from the roof of the building.

What is it about fireworks that so captures the imagination of people of all ages?

I think it’s the excitement; the power. Certainly, any firework display, it's very strong; it’s bold; it's also beautiful. It's elegant. There’s danger involved in it, so there’s attraction to something that’s that powerful and that dangerous, but yet harnessing that power to make it beautiful and creative, and being able to put a performance together. I think that excites most people.

You turn around, and you look at any audience, and they may be seven years old; they may be 47 years old, or 77 years old, and in those moments during the program, they all react the same way. That’s a great beauty, to be able to have the ability to do that.