The Technology in Your Fourth of July Fireworks Show


July 4, 2016

Independence Day (the fourth of July) is a celebration of the birth of our nation, and that celebration is often defined by its fireworks. From the backyard to Navy Pier in Chicago, firework shows large and small speckle the sky and boom in our chests. Snakes, sparklers, and bottle rockets may not require much choreography to put on a good show at a barbeque, but high budget, high profile productions are an entirely different experience.

In the past, fireworks in large shows were launched from a boat or a remote location manually. A team would ignite the fuses and try to stay synchronized with each other as best they could. An inventory of fireworks would be typed out an arranged into a “set list,” and the pyrotechnicians would follow the plan.

That was then. The entire process today, from planning to execution, is conducted using sophisticated software.


The Firework Choreography Experience

Using software, such as Finale and ShowSim, the choreographer can plan their show in a creative experience similar to film editing.




  • Backdrop: To start, the team will photograph the site of the show. That photograph is then overlaid as a backdrop or 3D render within the software. Now, the choreographer has a canvas on which to arrange their show, and they can get a real-life visual impression of what their final production will look like.
  • Inventory Upload: Every firework show operates with a specific inventory and budget. Whether the choreographer arranges their show with an already-defined inventory or free-form depends on the show in question. Regardless, the software has an inventory tool that presents to the choreographer the fireworks already used and still available during the design process.




  • Music: The team selects music for the show and places it on a timeline within the program. To maximize the visual and auditory experience of the show, explosions are synchronized to the music. For example, a rapid sequences of bursts and booms are arranged towards the end of the song to compliment the crescendo.
  • Visual Representation: The software is sophisticated enough to know the dynamics of every firework on the market. A “Salute” firework creates a small white flash and a thunderous boom that resonates in your chest. When designing the show, that effect is mimic in the program. Alternatively, a “Kamuro” firework has a dense burst that creates long trails through the sky like a willow tree. These too are represented in the program.




  • Safely Launching the Show: The timeline created in the choreography phase is not simply for visualization purposes. It is also used to actually launch the show. The fireworks are rigged to electronic fuses that are triggered by the timeline determined within the program, thereby creating perfect synchronization with the music.


Fourth of July: Safety First

Fireworks are extremely dangerous—there are endless examples of kids and adults burning themselves on sparklers or small pyrotechnics. At the professional level, the danger only increases. Pyotechnicians work with extremely powerful explosives, and a small misstep could be disastrous.

Yes, firework software makes for a better show. It has opened the door for a new generation of visual artists to explore an interesting medium. However, its true value is that it permits these artists to explore their craft safely. The team can watch their show from a comfortable distance and know the entire performance will go off without a hitch.

This Fourth of July, when the firework show lights up the sky, think of the process that went into developing the show. You will be watching the product of a team of artists who predetermined and predesigned the experience to dazzle and delight, enchant and amaze.

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