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Yeah, I know, it’s been a while…

Posted by Office-Bob on 02 Mar 2016 | Tagged as: The Church of Pyro, FX

Sorry for the looooooooong time between entries…it’s not because I don’t love you (okay, some of you I like but don’t love, and others I perhaps love too much) but things have just been cruising at a relatively normal pace so I haven’t had much to say until now.

Here’s a catchup post for those of you in the cheap seats:

  • I worked on a number of projects including FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, ONCE UPON A TIME, STAR TREK BEYOND and DC’s LEGENDS OF TOMORROW;
  • I did my usual summer fireworks shows (Canada Day, Celebration of Light) as well as other events like Motley Crüe and New Year’s Eve (the first NYE fireworks in Vancouver in ten years!);
  • I made my annual February pilgrimage to Lake Havasu City, AZ for Western Winter Blast and ended the trip with a few days in Las Vegas (I heartily recommend the Happy Half Hour at the High Roller; 30 minutes of open bar while getting an aerial view of the Strip).
  • I’m now in the process of prepping to teach a Special Effects Pyrotechnics course on March 17th and then, during the Easter long weekend, I will be attending Norwescon 39 and taking part of the Hellbender Filmmaking Workshop along with the usual suspects and a couple of new partners in crime.If you’re at the con please track me down and say hello and I’ll give you a special badge ribbon (limited quantity)!

    That’s all for now; I will try to write more often but don’t hold your breath (unless you’re into that sort of thing - but remember to auto-asphyxiate responsibly).

    Popularity: 12% [?]

    Bright lights and late nights

    Posted by Office-Bob on 07 Jun 2015 | Tagged as: The Church of Pyro, FX

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s a safe bet that anyone who talks about “the glamour of the movie industry” has never actually worked in it.

    I recently worked two nights on an upcoming TV show which, because of an NDA that I had to sign, I won’t go into detail about because I’m not sure if my own personal blog falls within their definition of “social media.” Here’s how each day went:

    DAY 1 - call time 3:00 pm, wrap at 4:48 am the next morning.

    DAY 2 - call time 3:30 pm, wrap at 6:00 am the next morning.

    Considering that the money one makes on a union production is pretty damned good, especially when you factor in regular rate, overtime, double OT and meal penalties*, all things considered I’d still rather work on fireworks displays or do live theatre. Why, you ask? Well, because:
    Continue Reading »

    Popularity: 17% [?]

    Tomato Catch-Up

    Posted by Office-Bob on 03 Feb 2015 | Tagged as: Rants, The Church of Pyro, FX

    It has been a while since I’ve posted anything, for which I apologize. Life has been in a state of flux and thinking of witty things to say hasn’t exactly been high on my to-do list, but from now on I am going to try and be more regular than a well-fibered colon.

    I’m still not working on a full-time basis and while that’s allowed me to take on more pyro and FX work, this whole “not having a steady paycheque” thing is getting old and I’d be happy to get back to the daily grind of sitting at a desk slaving away for a regular wage….oh my dog, did I just write that?

    I don’t know what’s worse - dealing with job applications where you don’t ever hear back or dealing with recruiters who tell you they’ve got the perfect position for you but they never call you back after you start dealing with them; of the two I’d say the recruiters are the worst but of course that’s just my opinion.

    Okay, that’s enough of a pity party for now.

    As I mentioned earlier I’ve been able to engage in more pyro and FX work these days, including three TV shows and a TV movie, as well as a number of fireworks displays which not only included the usual suspects of Canada Day and Celebration of Light, but the Port Moody Centennial and last year’s Port Moody Days…though that had the downside of having to set up my firing control panel next to the stage where an ABBA tribute band was playing. The group was great, it’s just that I’ve never really been an ABBA fan.

    I’ve also worked a few BC Lions home games and was part of the Grey Cup 2014 FX crew, and I got to be the “local license” for Motley Crue when they came to Vancouver. Other pyro gigs included a wedding, a city hall opening, a casino opening, a couple of “private” displays (so called because they’re not advertised, but as you can guess once the first shell goes off it’s difficult to keep them a secret) and a New Year’s Eve show for a client who was so secretive, the only person who knew who was paying for it was the guy in charge - and he had to sign an NDA and couldn’t even tell the rest of us. I also did some consulting work on a few plays and made some breakaway vases for another play.

    Next week I head to Lake Havasu City, AZ for Western Winter Blast. there are a few seminars that look interesting this year, especially one on gas mines, and I’m hoping to come away with some new knowledge that I can put to use soon.

    2015 should be interesting because I am now officially certified by the Explosives Regulatory Division as a pyrotechnics instructor and I will be teaching my first course in March. It’s being held in a town that’s about 4 hours away from here but I guess you have to start somewhere, and I’m hoping to have more courses set up soon in the Metro Vancouver area as there seems to me a lot of interest in becoming licensed. If by some chance you, Dear Reader(s), are in the Vancouver area and are interested in taking either the Display Supervisor or Special Effects Pyrotechnic courses - or both - leave your contact info in the comments and I’ll let you know who you need to contact to express interest.

    That’s all for now…Stay Green!

    Popularity: 23% [?]

    Year in Review: 2012

    Posted by Office-Bob on 12 Jan 2013 | Tagged as: General Craziness, The Church of Pyro, FX

    Now that enough time has elapsed that I feel like an utter jerk for neglecting my blog for so long, it’s time to look back at the past year. With the exception of the startup I’d been with since 2007 apparently going under in December (I say “apparently” because while they’ve gotten rid of everyone who was working there, the site itself is still online for now), it was a pretty good year.

  • I got to see the Mythbusters Live! tour when they came through Vancouver…although I missed out on the chance to get an Adam Savage bobblehead because I figured they’d have lots available and I’d buy one after the show, only to find they’d run out.
  • While I attended Western Winter Blast per usual in February (where I got to see my first oxygen lance), this time I flew out of Bellingham because even when adding the cost of the shuttle to/from the airport it was still over $100 cheaper than flying out of Vancouver (Hey, Canadian airline industry, are you paying attention? I’m not the only person doing this) and due to a combination of lack of sleep and coffee, and the unfamiliarity of a new/much smaller airport, I managed to screw up when trying to go through security. Despite the horror stories you hear about the TSA, the staff at BLI were very nice and helpful and even had a sense of humour, which made what could have been a major hassle into nothing more than a minor hiccup in my travels.
  • I made my reality TV debut on an episode of PYROS and I came out surprisingly (for me) well.
  • I did a consult for Metro Theatre for a production they were mounting which I’d done FX for previously – unfortunately due to scheduling issues I wasn’t able to see the show itself.
  • I had lots of pyro gigs this year, including the World Model United Nations conference in Vancouver and my first New Year’s Eve show since 2007 (which may turn into a recurring gig, huzzah!), but two shows which stand out for me were Rammstein (flamethrowers, giant cooking pots, and a foam machine painted to look like a penis – what’s not to like?) and Skrillex (bad point: backstage politicking, good point: being able to take home all of their unused pyro as it was the last stop on the tour, and they didn’t want the hassle of trying to take the product back across the border into the US). After reviewing my calendar I figured out that the total number of shows I worked on in 2012 was 12 – which I’d say is a respectable number for someone who isn’t doing pyro as a full-time gig.
  • For those of you who are into such things, here’s what a show looks like before it’s fired and here’s what it looks like as it’s being fired (Yes, Mom, I was wearing all of my safety gear and I had something to duck behind if there was a problem).
  • I also learned how useful pyro pokes are, and that I should have purchased a set long ago because not only do they make it very easy to insert e-match into tight quickmatch, or when you’re e-matching directly into a lift charge, but they’re a great way to make friends when you see someone from Team Brazil trying to use a piece of wood as a poke, and you loan him one of yours. I suppose I should add “International Relations” to my resume…
  • I created my first scripted show this year using the Cobra system; even though the show suffered from heavy rains which knocked out a bunch of product (I thought I had everything properly protected, but I obviously didn’t - but now I know for next time!), it was nice to not have to pay attention to a stopwatch and cue list while trying to push the right buttons at the right time.
  • Shows I attended but didn’t work on included John Fogerty, John Prine, Bonnie Raitt, the Chieftains, Don McLean and the Vinyl Café Christmas Concert…and while it wasn’t live I saw the latest “arena tour” of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, which has cemented my man crush on Tim Minchin.

    All in all, 2012 was a good year. 2013 looks to be okay as well – I already have 3 shows scheduled and I expect at least 3 more - but I guess we’ll see how it turns out.

    Popularity: 45% [?]

    Fun flies when you’re doing time.

    Posted by Office-Bob on 05 Jan 2012 | Tagged as: General Craziness, The Church of Pyro, FX

    Happy 2012, everyone! Don’t let that whole Mayan calendar thing get you down, ’cause it’s all a bunch of hooey - however, if you’re really looking for a sign of impending doom, consider the fact that Rob Schneider is getting his own TV show.

    Sheesh, and I thought reality TV was bad.

    Speaking of reality TV, it looks as if I’m going to have to lift my embargo against The Donald and watch Celebrity Apprentice because George Takei is going to be a contestant on the upcoming season. DAMN YOU, TAKEI!

    New Year’s Eve was pretty quiet; I haven’t had a NYE fireworks display since the economy tanked, although I almost had an indoor gig this year…they decided against pyro, however, so instead we went out for an early dinner and then I went to watch a show put on by a fellow pyro that I’m sort of mentoring. I loaned him my firing system, though, so I guess that sort of counts as having a show, amirite?

    In other pyro-related news:

  • I’ll once again be attending Western Winter Blast in beautiful downtown Lake Havasu City, AZ in mid-February. I’m really looking forward to getting away from the cold and wet of Greater Vancouver, even if it is only for a week. This year I’m flying from Bellingham, WA because even adding in the cost of a shuttle from Vancouver to Bellingham I’m saving around $100 over flying out of Vancouver - every bit helps.
  • I may have mentioned it before but I’m already booked for Canada Day - hell, I was booked before last August (it’s good to be popular).
  • Celebration of Light is supposed to announce the 2012 dates sometime in January; while there are never any guarantees I’m reasonably certain that I’ll be asked to crew again, though it’s going to be interesting how the logistics of not having Benson and Hedges (the two fireworks barges, which have been sold off) will work.
  • I’m both anticipating and dreading seeing myself on TV when PYROS finally airs on Discovery Canada.
  • That’s all for now…I wish each and every one of you a fantastic 2012…

    …at least until the Mayans and Rob Schneider are done screwing it up.

    Popularity: 49% [?]

    Long Time Gone…

    Posted by Office-Bob on 11 Oct 2011 | Tagged as: General Craziness, The Church of Pyro, FX

    I just did a quick check to see when I last posted something, and holycrapIhaven’tpostedsinceApril?

    Wow…I guess I have some catching up to do.

    Okay, let me think for a minute…what’s been going on?

    In May, I:

  • Built a silk flame effect for a play and assisted the production in brainstorming some “bullet coming through the window” effects;
  • Did a “local license” gig, which was aborted because the giant robot suits, which we were to rig with pyro, didn’t make it to Vancouver in time (I still got paid so it wasn’t a total loss).
  • In June, I:

  • Did some prep work for Celebration of Light involving moving a semi trailer full of mortars from the trailer onto the fireworks barges;
  • Made a weekend trip to Edmonton to visit relatives and get eaten alive by mosquitoes;
  • Saw The Odds in concert.
  • In July, I:

  • Travelled to Vancouver Island to crew a Canada Day show;
  • Stayed on the Island an extra day to crew a show on July 2nd;
  • Began crewing on Celebration of Light;
  • Was asked to crew for someone next Canada Day (yes, I’m so popular that people want to book me a year in advance).
  • In August, I:

  • Finished Celebration of Light;
  • Attended the wedding of two friends from my fencing class;
  • Entertained a fellow pyro who was visiting from the U.S.
  • In September, I:

  • Worked a convention which involved installing over 30 confetti bombs in the Vancouver Convention Centre and then setting up (and firing) a barge show which was part of the same convention. Part of the process involved being filmed by a camera crew, which I’ll cover in more detail later (probably next year when the show is scheduled to air in Canada).
  • This brings me to October, where so far it’s been pretty quiet and I:

  • Started fencing again (I took the summer semester off because with all the shows I did, I’d have missed too many classes);
  • Started getting things ready for my regular Halloween fireworks display at a Burnaby school.
  • That should keep your curiosity sated until after Halloween, when I hope to have more updates.

    Popularity: 46% [?]

    This post is brought to you by the Acme Company, makers of fine anvils.

    Posted by Office-Bob on 13 Mar 2011 | Tagged as: The Church of Pyro, FX

    I guess it has been a while since I’ve written anything. It’s easy to let things slide, and for that I offer my abject apologies.

    In the hope of making it up to you, today we’re gonna watch some movies. Put away your textbooks, it’s time to let the A/V dorks run the projector.

    First, here’s video from a car gag I did a few weeks ago. It was nothing much - just some medium “robotics,” aka spark-producing devices, and a smoke machine - but I hope you like it.

    Car Robotics from Office Bob on Vimeo.

    (I told you it wasn’t much)

    Next up are a couple of videos I took at Western Winter Blast, the annual convention of the Western Pyrotechnic Association. I missed going last year because of the Olympics, so I really enjoyed being able to spend a week in Nevada and Arizona where the weather was warmer and (mostly) drier than in Vancouver - there was some rain on the weekend but it stopped well before the big public display on Saturday.

    Both videos are of anvil shooting and while the first anvil was hand-fired with a fuse, it should be pretty obvious why the second anvil was fired electrically:

    Anvil Launch from Office Bob on Vimeo.

    High altitude Anvil Launch from Office Bob on Vimeo.

    (Sorry about the noise; it was windy that day and my phone doesn’t have a wind sock)

    That concludes the entertainment portion of the evening. Next time, I plan on giving you a review of one of my latest soundtrack purchases: SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO.

    Popularity: 49% [?]

    Don’t slam the door, you’ll ruin my balloon!

    Posted by Office-Bob on 07 Mar 2010 | Tagged as: The Church of Pyro, FX

    In addition to doing pyro for the opening ceremonies, I was assigned – along with another local pyrotechnician – to work with 3 Finnish pyros who were involved in the Russian part of the closing ceremonies…the “handover,” if you will. The pyro itself wasn’t very spectacular as it consisted of helium balloons, 4 foot in diameter, which were loaded with confetti; where it got interesting was in the number of balloons required – 150, plus spares – and how we reused the flare wands to trigger the effect.

    When I arrived at BC Place the day before the show, I was introduced to the Finns who had been spending the last 4 days getting confetti into the balloons using a combinations of funnels, empty pop bottles and sticks - and, no doubt, a lot of cursing. They were (top to bottom) Markku, Kimmo and Teppo:

    Once that was done, the balloons had to be inflated. To accomplish this, we had banks of helium tanks.

    In order to avoid overinflating the balloons and popping them, we set up a rig consisting of two vertical poles set a specific distance apart (you can see one in the picture); once the balloon’s diameter reached those poles, we stopped inflating them. After inflation the neck was tied off and a pre-made harness, consisting of two e-matches connected together by a length of wire, was tied to the balloon. The wired balloon was then connected to the firing system, for which we used the flare wands from the opening ceremonies (See? I told you I’d be talking about those again). It took 7 hours to inflate and connect 160 balloons – 150 for the show, 10 spares, plus 4 that popped during inflation (they weren’t over-inflated; we suspect manufacturing flaws).

    The two e-matches were taped to the surface of the balloon at opposite sides of the “equator;” the idea was that the spark and flame from the e-matches would be enough to pop the balloon and let the confetti flutter down. There were a few tweaks that needed to be made to the system, however, mostly because the number of balloons in play – 150 – meant that there was a distinct possibility the head of the e-match could be knocked out of position, thus reducing the chance of a successful firing. The solution to the problem was to wrap a length of flash string around the head of the e-match before it was taped to the balloon; this ensured that as long as the match fired, there’d be enough flame and spark to pop the balloons.

    Here are pictures of the balloons which show the e-match positioning as well as the flare wand firing systems. Most of the wire used to connect the balloon was wrapped around the wands so they could be easily moved around; once each performer was in position they unwound the wire and let the balloon reach the correct height before triggering the effect.

    Trivia: Did you know that the sound of a slamming porta-potty door is almost exactly the same as an exploding helium balloon? Our prep area was located behind a bank of porta-potties that were reserved for the athletes so we found this out rather quickly Fortunately, other than a single mishap before handout (I won’t say who did it other than it wasn’t me), all of the balloons survived.

    When the show started, we set up a distribution line with the help of some volunteers; we would bring out a balloon, hand it to the performer, remind them of what to do (keep it close, keep your distance from anything that can pop the balloon, don’t unwind the wire until you’re in final position, remember that the arming switch needs to be pulled out a bit before it can be flipped) and get them into position. After they finished they brought back the wand, with its attached wire and balloon spoor, which we collected and then started the tedious process of disconnecting the wires from the wands and tossing the garbage into cans for disposal.

    Because we’d made spares, most of which hadn’t been used, we now had to deal with the question: how do we dispose of them? We thought about carefully poking a hole in the balloons and letting the helium out in order to try and eliminate the release of confetti…but that didn’t work very well, not to mention it was time-consuming, so in the end we just said screw it and popped them ourselves.

    Of course, we have videos:

    Balloon test

    Kimmo doing two at once

    One of the volunteers having fun

    Yours truly setting one off

    After we swept up as much of the confetti as we could we put the wands in their holders and took them out to the storage container. After that, other than saying farewell to our new Finnish friends (who had an early morning flight) and helping with some additional teardown, my Olympic experience was at an end.

    It’s been a week since I left BC Place and I still feel a bit of a disconnect; part of me has a hard time believing it happened, another part is saying HOLY SHIT, DUDE, YOU JUST WORKED ON THE OLYMPICS!

    However, there will always be a part of me that knows…


    Popularity: 100% [?]

    It’s a nice day for a White Weirding…

    Posted by Office-Bob on 06 Mar 2010 | Tagged as: The Church of Pyro, FX

    If you have worked in any sort of backstage capacity you’re likely to know the term “stage blacks,” meaning the all black clothing worn by stagehands so you can’t be seen by the audience. For an event such as the Olympics, where most of the behind-the-scenes action occurs below the stage itself, blacks weren’t needed – but if there was a possibility that you might be seen by the audience, or (Heaven forbid) be caught on camera, you needed to be wearing all-white. Since I had to keep “my” tappers and fiddlers in sight when they were on the stage it was possible for the audience to see me - plus I was a backup operator for the emergency cutoff switches on the flame bars - so I was issued a set of “Olympic whites.”

    Not only did this just seem downright unnatural to people like me who are used to wearing black, the outfits we were given obviously weren’t designed with pyrotechnics in mind as they were 100% synthetic. In case you don’t understand why synthetics are bad, I can give you two reasons:

  • Synthetic fabrics can melt, or even burn, if exposed to flame.
  • Synthetic fabrics can generate static electricity.
  • Neither of these scenarios is desirable when working with items that are designed to burn, and which you want to have only burn at a specific place and time.

    Fortunately our crew chief had planned ahead in case the outfits hadn’t been provided in time and had given us all a pair of white cotton “painter’s pants.” We wore those instead of the synthetic pants, and I only wore the jacket when I was on the entrance ramp doing the fire watch. If something had gone wrong and I’d had to use my extinguisher, I’d have removed the jacket first.

    Here’s a picture of me in my whites; feel free to laugh – I know I did.

    After donning the outfit, my first thought was that I looked like the guy from the SpongeTowels ad…

    …while a co-worker said it looked like what Admiral Ackbar wore in Star Wars.

    You be the judge.

    Next time, I’ll talk about the closing ceremonies and how I came to hate helium balloons.

    Popularity: 52% [?]

    Hey, leggo my Wago!

    Posted by Office-Bob on 05 Mar 2010 | Tagged as: The Church of Pyro, FX

    After 640 dreamstars, 700 flares, 140 (or thereabouts) wiring harnesses, 36 helium tanks and 164 helium balloons, the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics are finally over.

    That’s only the stuff that I was directly involved with/responsible for; additional pyro included waterfalls, airbursts, confetti mines, stage pyro, roof pyro, barge pyro and no doubt other goodies that my mind has decided to blank out. In this entry I’ll try to summarize what went on behind the scenes – or at least my small part of the process.

    My first day on the job consisted of the previously mentioned “induction training” and building airburst harnesses out of CAT5 cable and some nifty devices called Wago clips. I couldn’t find a listing for the specific model of clip we used, but this will give you a general idea of what they look like; imagine a connector with both ends like the clip on the right and you’ll be good.

    The clips are great; you attach one end to the harness wire, plug the airburst lead into the other end and…instant connection! Plus, they’re reusable! We also used them for the flare wands, which were aluminum tubes housing a battery pack, arming switch and firing switch. The flares were a custom formula designed to give a specific shade of red and burned for 30 seconds – they were secured in a foam collar, which fit inside the wand, and the e-match which was taped to the flare was connected to the firing circuit using the aforementioned Wago clips. There were 163 flares used for the maple leaf pattern on stage, plus another 16 needed for the snowboarder’s ramp used at the start of the ceremony. Between rehearsals and performances I calculate that I set up just over 700 flares.

    I didn’t get a picture of the wands as used here but never fear, there will be pictures…later.

    The tappers and fiddlers had a different setup. The tappers had dreamstars (small tube fountains about 4 inches long) mounted on the soles of their boots; a copper tube had been glued next to the raised heel so there was sufficient space for everything to fit yet still allow the tappers to walk and dance. Each dreamstar was connected via e-match to a wiring harness which consisted of a battery pack with arming switch on one hip and a firing button on the other, with wires running down each leg in their costumes. We would attach the e-matches to the harness using crimp-type connectors, which had to be cut off after each performance. There were 27 tappers, each with 2 dreamstars, so when you need to assemble that many devices - plus extras because due to manufacturing variances they didn’t always fit into the copper tubes that held them in place - it adds up to a lot of pieces to be built.

    (Click on an image to enlarge)

    The fiddlers had a different firing system; it was self-contained on the bows so while the dreamstar was also secured in a copper tube at the end of the bow, the wires were connected via screw-down terminal blocks.

    (Click on an image to enlarge)

    The bows were prepped ahead of time in assembly line fashion; one person would do a circuit test on each bow to verify that it was functional (including the safety features), another would slide the dreamstar into the copper sleeve and screw it down; another would wind the e-match wire around the bow, and another would connect the e-match to the firing system. As the bows were readied they were hung on racks which would be wheeled to areas under the stage where the fiddlers would be issued a bow before they made their entrances.

    Prepping the tappers was a bit different; because we couldn’t connect the shoes to the costumes until the tappers were dressed, we did things in stages. The first stage was a circuit check on the firing systems which not only allowed us to verify that everything worked but also gave us the opportunity to extend any leg wires that needed it – since we had to cut the connections off after each performance, eventually the leg wires became too short to use and they needed extensions. We couldn’t use Wago clips because of the amount of movement; there was too great a risk of wires being pulled out of the plugs.

    The next stage was to place the dreamstars in the copper sleeves attached to the soles of the boots; after they were screwed down, the e-match wires were run up the “inseam” side of the boots and taped into place.

    Once the tappers were in costume they’d come our prep area, sit down and put on their boots. Once this was done we’d run yet another circuit test to ensure nothing was damaged when they put on the costumes, and then we’d connect the dreamstars to the wiring harness and tape the wires onto the tapper’s legs so the wires wouldn’t tear loose – and in case you’re wondering, we weren’t taping down to their skin.

    Once a tapper was fully connected they would move to the green room where’d they remain until it was time to go to their staging positions. As they moved from place to place I went with them as their safety person, looking oh so cute in my whites while lugging a fire extinguisher.

    Oh, yes, the whites…that will be covered in my next entry.

    Popularity: 75% [?]

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