Behind the explosions of a firework show

Thursday, July 3, 2008 | 8:43 p.m. CDT; updated 6:06 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Paul Worsey helps Premier Pyrotechnics Inc., a pyrotechnic company that specializes in professional large firework displays set up for Friday's Fire in the Sky firework show.

COLUMBIA — On Friday night, many Columbia residents will celebrate American independence as they enjoy a 21-minute display of colors and lights in the sky above Memorial Stadium.

For Marty Gillette, the lead pyrotechnician for Columbia’s 57th annual Fire in the Sky, the fireworks are more than just a celebration.


What: ABC 17 Fire in the Sky 2008 Where: Memorial Stadium, 600 East Stadium Blvd. Times: Gates open at 6:30 p.m. The first performance will start at 7 p.m. with the blues-infused rock band Primitive Soul, followed by the rock and blues band Henry Clay and Full Grown Men performing at 8 p.m. The Missouri Symphony Orchestra will begin its pre-show at 9 p.m. The symphony will preview select pieces from its Patriotic Pops performance, followed by a choreographed fireworks display at 9:30 p.m. Cost: The event is free and open to the public. Attendees are asked not to bring coolers, alcohol, weapons or fireworks into the stadium. Parking: Parking is available and free at the Hearnes and Memorial Stadium parking lots and the Maryland Avenue Parking Garage.

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“It’s an art form,” Gillette said. “Doing them marks a special event. It adds impact to things.”

For spectators, the firework display will last less than 30 minutes, but for Gillette the process from beginning to end will have taken more than 72 hours, with the largest portion invested in choreography.

“For a 20- to 21-minute performance, it takes 40 hours to sit down and choreograph it,” Gillette said.

Gillette works for Premier Pyrotechnics Inc., a pyrotechnic company that specializes in professional large firework displays. With a budget of $20,000 on fireworks alone, Gillette has been able to use the science of explosives to create intricate displays that utilize technology into the art of firework shows.

The displays are made up of various forms of explosive shells that each produce its own patterns and colors. Explosions can produce illuminated stars and rays or transform into letters and numbers.

“The fireworks are designed and run by computer,” Gillette said. “It’s designed on a PC with a program called Fire One.”

The pyrotechnician uses the computer program in conjunction with a database of Premier’s products that tracks their inventory and links the explosives according to size, color or effect. Gillette can then coordinate and arrange various shells in sequence to formulate a script that follows a sound track to the event.

That sound track is courtesy of Kirk Trevor, maestro of the Missouri Symphony Orchestra.

“We make them a CD,” Trevor said. “They then choreograph the fireworks with this CD, most of it patriotic marches.”

According to Gillette, the display will follow the patriotic theme with lots of red, white and blue effects with a very explosive finale.

“The finale is going to be big,” Gillette said. “There’s going to be a buildup. There’s going to be a lot of stuff in the sky.”

This year the display will feature two sites from which fireworks will be set off. One will be inside the stadium along the east stands featuring close proximity fireworks, with the other display outside the stadium setting off the larger explosives.

The Fire in the Sky celebration was coordinated by ABC 17. ABC 17 General Manager Randy Wright expects between 20,000 and 25,000 people will be in the stadium, with at least 1,000 more watching the event from other locations around Columbia.

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