How to compute fireworks: tech behind Space Needle’s New Year’s show
While pyrotechnics may be imagined and installed by human beings, the design and execution of the Space Needle’s New Year’s fireworks extravaganza in Seattle spends most of its life inside a computer.
Well ahead of the New Year’s show, Alberto Navarro, the architect of the annual New Year’s at the Needle fireworks show, enhances his libraries of computer-represented effects with the models of the latest pyrotechnic technology. Sometime around September, he receives the playlist of music for the next Space Needle show from radio station KEXP-FM.
Navarro, the owner and lead designer of Bellevue, Wash Infinity Visions, negotiates a bit with the KEXP team after receiving the suggested soundtrack of the show, but they quickly converge on the set list. This is crucial because the beats, riffs and emotions contained in the songs drive the flow, the rhythm and the punctuations that transform what is essentially a playlist into a visual spectacular. Navarro starts painting in his mind with ball rockets, blinkers, comets, crackling crossettes, kamuros and spirals as soon as he starts hearing the music.
When Navarro first started planning shows, he was doing so with a visual handicap: he couldn’t actually see what his mind could imagine until the show actually took place. In 1995, he used a physical model of the Space Needle, and did lot of jotting and entering of information into spreadsheets. Then, in 1997, he created the Show Director choreography software to synchronise music contained in a WAV file, with a table of events things like where, and what, what angles, and how many, at what time, etc.
Then Navarro got really inspired. In 2001, we developed Visual Show Director, the first 3D realtime simulation software for pyrotechnics,â€ he explains. It also does laser and light simulation, along with object animation. This started to change shows because you could visualise what you are doing.
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