July Fourth fireworks chief sees himself as an artist in the sky
When talking about his work as a pyrotechnician, Jeff Thomas is quick to address the misconceptions.
"Still have all my parts," he chuckled, holding up his hands as evidence.
Having spent the past 41 years launching fireworks over the Bay Area, Thomas is just as quick when it comes to talking about the explosive craft he describes as an art form. As he and his crew with Pyro Spectaculars by Souza prepared Friday for their biggest show of the year — the Fourth of July spectacular over San Francisco — Thomas spoke of an artist's process of lighting up the sky and an entertainer's vision for dazzling millions.
"We're painting the sky with color and effects and pyrotechnic devices," he said, as crews loaded the explosive shells and mortars onto a barge at Pier 50 in San Francisco. "The way you send it up in the air to match the feel of the music, the different sequences you choose, it's very much an art form, and you try to outdo yourself every year."
Planning for next year
The 25-minute show, set to begin along the Embarcadero at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, culminates a year of planning and testing, Thomas said.
"We pretty much begin planning this show the day after," he said. "All throughout this year, we'll get the orders placed, they start getting shipped over, we do testing of the products, see what they look like, get a feel for them — and that fills our palette of paint for the next year."
Saturday's show will feature 10,000 effects, with "every color you can think of and every shape you can imagine," he said.
Much has changed in the industry during the time that Thomas has been putting together the fireworks shows. What used to be just random effects fired here and there into the sky is now charted on computer software, with technicians taking into consideration how high to shoot them, whether to compensate for the fog line and when to bring out the big guns.
With fireworks, "it's easy to entertain," Thomas said. "They're great on their own. But this just allows us to take the art form to a higher level. It's not just about making noise."
'Hurry up, let's go'
Many of the dozens of people sweating in the sun as they loaded the barge Friday said they shared Thomas' passion for the craft.
"I was always the kid saying, 'Hurry up, let's go, I can hear them!'" said Lisa Conley, an operator for the show. "I always wanted to participate in making this experience for people."
Saturday's show will be 27-year-old Alex Jessup's first foray into the pyrotechnics industry.
"I'm nervous because it's my first show, but I'm excited," he said. "My mom is nervous, but I told her I'd take pictures."
Though he never expected to participate in a show, he said he is happy for the experience.
"As a kid, you say, 'I want to do that,' but you don't really expect that it's going to happen," Jessup said. "I've always been the one watching, and now I get to see what goes into it."
Thomas said viewers should expect some surprises in Saturday's show, which he is dedicating to his mentor, Al Souza, who died this year.
'We are entertainers'
"There are a whole lot of people besides myself that are working on this stuff, and there's a sense of accomplishment," Thomas said. "We are entertainers for that 25 minutes and although we're behind the scenes, not the ones up in the sky doing the dancing, it's a good feeling knowing people are enjoying what we're doing."
They won't have much time to celebrate once their work is done Saturday — Thomas says as soon as the show is over, the crew is focused on cleanup. And then the next day, the planning begins again.
And he wouldn't have it any other way.
"I can't sing, I can't dance, but I'm able to entertain," Thomas said. "Each show is different and unique. I get to change it up and put some of my style into it. I enjoy it and I can do it, so I will keep doing it."
Vivian Ho is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @VivianHo
Attention fireworks lovers: This is your dream job
Original Article -- http://goo.gl/Lz9Vvb
Attention fireworks lovers: This is your dream job. Fireworks may be your family's tradition on July Fourth, but dazzling explosives are in Jim Souza's blood.
He's a fourth-generation fireworks master and CEO of his family's business, Pyro Spectaculars. You've seen the company's displays at Super Bowls, Olympic ceremonies, Disney World, Kiss concerts, the Statue of Liberty, presidential inaugurations and, of course, Macy's Fourth of July show in New York City, the country's biggest. It is set to conduct 400 major fireworks shows this holiday weekend.
Basically Souza gets paid to create colorful explosions. Sound like fun?
"It's like producing a movie. You try to evoke emotions, drama, pride," he said.
The art form's history can be traced back thousands of years to the Han dynasty. The Souzas' fireworks legacy began more than 100 years ago with Jim's great-grandfather, "Papagaio." The Souza family's imprint on the industry is a big one.
Jim Souza started working on shows with his father as a teenager. After graduating from the University of Portland with a business degree, Souza set to work on one of the family's biggest achievements.
"In 1975 when the nation was preparing for its bicentennial celebrations, we were preparing for the fireworks show at the Statue of Liberty. That's when fireworks really began being recognized as entertainment," Souza said.
Another of the industry's crowning achievements came in 1986 at the Statue of Liberty's 100th anniversary celebration and, of course, the Souza family was involved. According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, the show included 22,000 aerial fireworks, 30 barges, 22 miles of wires and 777,000 pounds of mortar tubes.
Much of Souza's time is spent traveling the world in search of the best fireworks. He buys much more than he needs for a show because everything is tested, and tested, and tested again near the company's headquarters in the California desert.
"During the tests, we log color, hue, shape, effect, pattern, launch time, burst and effect duration all down to a split second. Then I head to my computer to choreograph the whole thing and decide how I want my fireworks to perform in the sky," Souza said.
Next he creates a simulation, which used to be a sketch before the technology developed. Then it's on to the operations side where the plan is put into motion. It takes Souza and his teams about a year to plan a big show.
The fireworks business is booming. Last year total revenue was more than $1 billion, up from 2000 revenue of $610 million, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association.
So, how do you get in on the action? Julie Heckman, the association's executive director, said she sees a pattern among the greatest talents in the fireworks industry: They're artists. Souza happens to be a painter and photographer.
"Jim has that creative gene that helps him visualize how he wants to paint the sky," Heckman said.
Pyro Spectaculars has 50 full-time employees and about 2,000 operators and crew members on July Fourth weekend alone. It offers training at the trademarked Pyro University.
"Just send me an email and we'll talk," Souza said in his familial tone. "There's lots of opportunity. This is show business!"
The big payoff for Souza is hearing the "ooohs" and "aaahs" during a show.
His favorite effect of all time?
"The 'Golden Camaro' has been my favorite since I was a kid. The entire sky lights up with gold weeping willow and twinkles that come down and just touch the water," Souza said.
Keep an eye on the sky this weekend during Macy's Fourth of July fireworks to see the "Golden Camaro" and maybe even some new tricks.
89th Annual ‘Americafest’ 4th of July Spectacular
Original Article -- http://goo.gl/cZsvSA
Rose Bowl Hosts Largest 4th of July Fireworks Show in Southern California
Recognized as one of the nation's largest and longest running 4th of July fireworks shows, the Rose Bowl presents its 89th annual AmericaFest™ celebration on Saturday, July 4th with a spectacular nighttime display of more than one ton of fireworks.
Thousands of special effects fireworks will be launched from the stadium as part of the Rose Bowl's daylong family-friendly entertainment extravaganza featuring live motorcycle stunts, a musical performance by the Grammy-nominated "Liverpool Legends," the ultimate Beatles experience that was hand-picked by Louise Harrison, sister of Beatle George Harrison. Also joining the musical entertainment will be Brandon Bennet as Elvis Presley. He stars as Elvis Presley in the Tony Award winning musical, "The Million Dollar Quartet."
To celebrate the golden anniversary of when The Beatles met Elvis, both Elvis tribute artist Brandon Bennet and Liverpool Legends as The Beatles will perform their biggest hits from the mid '60s to the early '70s including an epic grand finale which will showcase both Elvis and The Beatles performing together. Following the fireworks extravaganza, a screening of Despicable Me 2 presented by Universal Pictures will be shown.
AmericaFest™, presented by Honda, is a Rose Bowl tradition celebrating its 89th year as the longest running 4th of July show in California. The Rialto-California based company Pyro Spectaculars by Souza will once again produce the Southland's largest fireworks show at the Rose Bowl.
"AmericaFest™ has been a family-themed 4th of July tradition and celebration for southern Californians for nearly nine decades," said Darryl Dunn, general manager of the Rose Bowl. "Each year the Rose Bowl strives to provide families with the best fireworks show in the West, and this year we will surpass anything we've ever produced for our Independence Day celebration."
Pyro Spectaculars by Souza has been family operated for five generations and has provided fireworks entertainment at the Rose Bowl Stadium for more than 35 years. Known worldwide for extraordinary firework displays, Pyro Spectaculars produces shows for the NFL Super Bowls, the Olympic Games and major events throughout the world.
"You really get to be part of a larger-than-life show that transforms the evening sky into a shower of explosive lights and colors," said Paul Souza, Pyro Spectaculars' Rose Bowl show producer. "This year we have some surprises that will deliver many 'oohs and ahs'."
This year's celebration will take place on Saturday, July 4, with opening ceremonies, including the Presentation of Colors and the National Anthem, starting at 7 p.m. AmericaFest™ will feature live motorcycle stunts by TNT before the Liverpool Legends and Brandon Bennet as Elvis perform.
A Family Fun Zone outside the stadium will open at 2 p.m. and offers food vendors, entertainment, crafts, exhibits and inflatable rides for the kids.
Tickets for AmericaFest™, presented by Honda, are on sale now at Ticketmaster (800) 745-3000 or at www.ticketmaster.com and are priced at $13 for general admission and $25 for reserved. Children 5 years and under are admitted free. Event parking is $25 per car vehicle at all lots. Veterans who present a valid Military ID will gain free admittance; those tickets can be obtained from the ticket booth near Gate B beginning at 3:00pm on July 4th only.
For more information on AmericaFest™, presented by Honda, visit: www.rosebowlstadium.com.
5000 Explosions: Behind The Scenes At San Francisco’s 4th Of July Fireworks Display
Technically, it is not true to say that the city of San Francisco will be lighting off fireworks at Pier 39 for the 4th of July at Pier Fireworks celebration on Saturday night. Instead, a firework show production firm called Pyro Spectaculars by Souza has been contracted to shoot more than 5,000 fireworks from the decks of two barges floating on the Bay. While the show will last around 25 minutes, the planning for SF's July 4th Fireworks display has spanned several months, multiple continents and miles of bureaucratic red tape.
We spoke to a couple of Pyro Spectaculars show producers about all the work they put into your fireworks. Rialto-based Pyro Spectaculars has been handling San Francisco's July 4th fireworks for more than 40 years, also producing other high-profile displays like the Macy's 4th of July Fireworks in New York City. The planning and testing for these shows has been underway for months.
"It really starts back in the fall," Pyro Spectaculars show producer Matthew Gilfillan said. Gilfillan produces numerous other northern California cities' displays, first setting a budget with each city's officials. Pyro Spectaculars then designs a custom show for each city, draws up insurance and transport arrangements and then travels the globe to find the most kick-ass fireworks they can find. "We usually visit China a few times a year, and other countries around the world where fireworks manufacturing is widely prevalent," Gilfillan said. "We import from all over the world: Europe, Asia and also North America."
Pyro Spectaculars must then prove regulatory compliance locally with the SFFD, on a state level with the Department of Transportation and federally with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives to get permits and licenses for possessing, transporting and setting off their professional-grade fireworks. "We develop and test our products to make sure that they meet the highest safety specifications," Gilfillan said, "as well as all of the regulations provided by the dozens of different regulatory agencies that have their hands in making sure that the fireworks that are used are safe, they're transported in a safe manner and that the equipment that we use to discharge our fireworks is also safe."
The San Francisco show producer is Pyro Spectaculars' Jeff Thomas, who is personally producing about 60 cities' fireworks shows this weekend. The San Francisco fireworks are not set off manually, but instead via elaborately wired computerized ignition systems on board the barges. This Vimeo video shows his crew loading and wiring the fireworks onto the barges for San Francisco's 2014 4th of July display.
"That process doesn't start until late in the afternoon [Friday] or first thing in the morning on 4th of July," Thomas told SFist. "There are two barge locations. One at Aquatic Park, and the other one is positioned near Pier 39. Fireworks are launched from barges out in the water."
San Francisco's display will also be choreographed to music. "There is a musical score that's broadcast locally down at the Aquatic Park area and along the streets," Thomas said.
And yes, Pyro Spectaculars is prepared for the possibility of fog.
"San francisco has had fog for — haha! — ever," Thomas told SFist. "It's not always foggy on the 4th of July but there is a possibility . We're aware of that so we try to shoot products that have a range of heights and altitudes so that we can hopefully get around that fog."
"We shoot different style and altitude products specified to go at certain altitudes, knowing that some of the higher ones might not be seen. But we have a good complement of middle-range ones and lower ones," Thomas said. "We've got a nice variety of altitudes in the case that there is fog."
Whether or not there is fog, the San Francisco 4th of July Celebration fireworks show is Saturday, July 4 at Pier 39. The display is best seen from Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39. Early arrival is highly encouraged, with Tainted Love playing at 5 p.m., a laser light show at 9 p.m. and the fireworks display beginning at approximately 9:30 p.m.
‘Firework, Not Fire Fun’: The Serious Jobs Of Pyrotechnic Pros
Original Article — http://goo.gl/gW2etc Download All Things Considered Interview Designing a vast fireworks show is a bit like composing music. There’s the […]
150,000 people, 10,000 fireworks, 2 nights: It’s July 4th weekend in Atlantic City
Orginal Article -- http://goo.gl/vBccIX
Question: What does Atlantic City call 10,000 fireworks shells shot off from two barges in the ocean and closely choreographed to a 15-minute soundtrack that culminates in a rousing rendition of John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever?"
Answer: A nice little warmup for July 4th.
That's because those 10,000 shells are just what the Atlantic City Alliance is having shot off from the ocean side of the city at 9:30 p.m. Friday — July 3 — to welcome the weekend crowds to town.
The alliance will shoot off that same barrage of 10,000 blasts, and back it up with the same music, at the same time Saturday night, July 4. Only this time, the center of the action — and the noise — will move across the island to an empty lot by the bay in the city's Marina District.
Christopher Souza, a fifth-generation member of the family that runs California-based Pyro Spectaculars by Souza, says it will take a crew of 16 experienced technicians about 4½ days to put the two shows together, shell by shell, grid by grid and wire by wire. And it takes miles of wire to control and synchronize a show with that many shells.
Souza's crew has been working on the barges, which are anchored on Absecon Inlet across from the marina, since Monday. And they won't be finished assembling Friday night's show until Friday, said Souza, whose experience in the family business includes years of being the technical director of Macy's July 4th fireworks in New York.
He's been the "big cheese" in Atlantic City for two summers, and he says the crew here includes a variety of professions — everything from doctors to drywall hangers to electricians to sound engineers — all drawn by a love of working with fireworks.
"Most of these technicians bless me by taking their vacation to come out here and work," Souza said, because to them, pyrotechnics are "a passion, not just a job. ... It's really like a hobby."
Plus July 4th is basically to the fireworks business what Christmas is to shopping in this country. Souza says Pyro Spectaculars is scheduled to put on about 400 shows this holiday weekend, "from sea to shining sea" — and then across some more sea and into Hawaii.
And fireworks can still draw a crowd in lots of places. The alliance's Melanie Sole said there's a range of very unofficial estimates for how many people one of Atlantic City's full-blast fireworks shows can bring out — "I've heard anywhere from 150,000 to 250,000," Sole said. "I think it depends on the weather and the day of the week, that kind of thing."
The casino-funded alliance is "bound by a confidentiality agreement and not allowed to disclose the fees" it's paying for the two shows, Sole said. But she added that the two barges, both locally owned, are "among our largest costs, after fireworks."
Fireworks can make a boom for other local businesses, too. Jeff George, captain and owner of Atlantic City Cruises, was happy to hear about the two nights of fireworks going off over the city this year, because fireworks sell out his tour boat every year.
"Those trips will go out full," George predicted Wednesday, very confidently — although he quickly added that as of right then, some tickets were still available for the Fireworks Cruise scheduled to leave Gardner's Basin at 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
And unlike many other summers, fireworks won't end in Atlantic City this year when the smoke finally clears from the July 4th show.
Tropicana Casino and Resort plans to host free fireworks, shot off the beach every Saturday night from July 11 through Sept. 4, the casino announced recently. Those weekly 10 minutes of fireworks will follow a pair of shows the Trop held Memorial Day weekend, and they're designed to promote the same project — the casino's new "Multimedia Sound & Light Show," which now plays nightly on the Boardwalk, every half-hour from 8:30 to 11 p.m.
Steve Callender, Tropicana's general manager, said the public response to the casino's May fireworks was "huge and positive" — as it has to the ongoing outdoor show of sounds and light.
And speaking of huge, the mortars that Pyro Spectaculars is loading up for this weekend range up to 10 inches in diameter — and are packed with enough gunpowder to shoot almost-basketball-sized shells up to 800 feet in the air, Souza said. But other, smaller shells go up and make their booms and burst their colors just 100 or so feet above the ground.
"We like to layer the show," he said, adding that in his lifetime of experience, the perfect viewing distance for fireworks is about a quarter-mile away from the shooting site.
And even though he has the firepower to send his fireworks 800 feet into the sky, Saturday's second round of 10,000 shells — the ones shot off on land near the Marina District casinos — won't go quite that high.
That's because much of the crowd tends to be closer on a land-based show, and it gets uncomfortable for people who are that close to follow fireworks bursting that high. Souza likes to create lots of oohs and ahhs at his shows, but he'd hate to be responsible for a quarter-million cases of neck strain — especially on his favorite national holiday.