Special Effects on Events... Impressive, but Safe?

Special effects can give the visitors on your event a wow-effect. But what about safety? Can you use special effects always and everywhere? And what are the latest trends?

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Special effects can give the visitors on your event a wow-effect. But what about safety? Can you use special effects always and everywhere? And what are the latest trends?


Hi Tom, welcome in our studio.  


I'm glad to be here. 


Today's topic: special effects. But what exactly are we talking about when we talk about special effects? 


It all started in the movie industry. We know all the effects; things that explode. Things that catch fire. And also on big concerts. Because that time, with only outdoors, needs to be big and you don't have to control it that well. So that's the beginning of special effects. 


It changed a lot over the past few years. In the beginning, like you say, it were some explosions and some fire, but now it's much more than just that. 


Yes of course, we all know the confetti effects, because we can control them now. We have of course the flames. Big flames, little flames, liquid flames, gas flames. All well controlled. All, let's say, safe. But again: fire is and will be fire. 


There's always a risk. 


Of course, you have to know what you're doing. Then we have the CO2 effects. The cooling down effects. We have water effects, we have whatever effect you want. 


And what's the newest thing?  


Well, as you know, people always want a step forward. They need it bigger, they need it more special, and they all want to create that moment where everyone says: "wow, I've never seen that before". Well, we now have a fountain, so we can control the height between 0 and 10 meters high. But we can inject a flame, and the flame goes up and stays on top of the fountain. 


You were mentioning big festivals, because it's outdoors, but can you also do those things for example in an indoor location? 


Yes of course, but not all effects, because we have a roof. Things are more combustible than outside, of course. People are also closer to the special effects. So you need to think before you act indoors. 


And you mentioned that it's always getting bigger and more spectacular. Does that also mean that it's becoming more dangerous?  


Well, yes and no, of course. The bigger you go, the more risks you have. The more flames you put on stage, the more risk to get burned or to set something on fire. 


But then how can you keep it safe?  


Well, first of all you have to know what you're doing. You have to tell the client what's possible and not possible, that is one of the most important things. Tell the client: "this is a no-go, because there is too much risk". 


Does that happen a lot, that you have to say to your client: "this we won't do, because it's too dangerous?" 


Yeah, it happens. It happens quite often. You have to imagine: those guys are organizing a festival or a big show. And they are very creative and the fantasies are unbelievable. And then you have to say: "well, this is not possible". For example, you can't put fire between your audience. Because we know what we're doing, the system is really safe, but we are not controlling the crowd. People are drinking, and they want a picture with the flame. And at that time, we don't have full control, so we try to avoid it. 


Now are there also other measures you need to take to keep it safe? 


Well, of course we have emergency systems, to give a full stop to the show. We can place them wherever we want. They are fool-proof, even if you disconnect, the show stops immediately. Fire extinguishers, all those precautions to avoid accidents, of course. 


Very recently there was an accident in Taiwan with some colourful powder they threw into the audience. To create an effect, but then the powder got into a flame or a hot lamp, or whatever, and it exploded with about 500 casualties as a result. Those are things that can be prevented, I think.  


Yes, of course. First of all, I think you have to know your product. If the product is not tested and if it's a product... Normally you don't throw things into the audience. Okay, for confetti it's okay, and for some water, it's okay. But if it's a powder, even flour can damage your eyes. So you have to be careful with those things, and if it's not tested well enough, the powder could contain something that will ignite, with halogen light, or with certain things in the air. So always be careful. The investigation is still running, but I believe it's just a cheap product and cheap things. 


Is that also the biggest problem in the industry? Because there are very cheap products and then the good safe products cost a lot of money. 


Yes, it's a big problem. It exists even in Belgium. We get a lot of calls from customers, saying: "hey, we did find a cheaper solution". And okay, it exists cheaper. But then it's the product that's cheaper. It's not tested. Is the product aggressive? Will it ignite by itself? What if...? So those products at a tenth of the price: it's possible. But we never know what the mixture of the product is. 


But even with regulations, can you still buy those products over here? 


Yes, the Worldwide Web. It's an open world. It's an open world, you can buy those things. You can order them by mail and you have it. But it's not something you would recommend to any organizer to do so? No, never. Just ask the specialist to do it.  


To make things more concrete: maybe some examples. 


Well, this is not involving flames or pyro, but it's snow.  


Snow? Okay.  


We can make a lot of different sorts of snow, from real snow to the fake snow. But we did the 1418 spectacle in the Nekkerhal in Mechelen. 


It's from Studio 100. For the viewers who don't know this show: it was a very big impressive technical show. 


Yes, with the people actually driving into the show, on the huge platform. And there is a certain scene, and at that moment it snows. So they asked us: "can you make it snow?" But... 


Oh, then there's the 'but'. 


Then there's the 'but'. Making snow is easy, with paper or some foam. But we have horses on a slippery underground. It was just concrete and foam is slippery. You know that when you wash your hands. It's slippery. And we have all the guests with their nice clothing. We have the actors with their clothing, and all the special props. 


Yeah, you can't damage those.  


You can't damage those things. And the snow needs to evaporate in let's say 15-20 minutes max. 


That's quite a challenge. But you found a solution? 


Yes, we used our Snowboys. It's a snow whisperer, and with some tubes we launched the snow onto the scene. 


Tom, thank you very much for coming over.  


No problem. 


And you at home: thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week!