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…


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