Named after its host city in Canada, L’International de Feux Loto Québec (The Montreal International Fireworks Competition), 2014 marked the 30th anniversary of this incredible Canadian pyromusical competition. Even more incredible was that the closing show this year marked the 275th fireworks display presented at La Ronde since the inaugural edition of the competition began back in 1985.
Since 1987, when the competition specifically became a pyromusical competition, L’International de Feux Loto Québec has featured exquisitely professional pyromusicals replete with compelling displays that mandatorily last at least 30 minutes in duration. Held in front of the Lac des Dauphins at a site purposely designed for fireworks displays (along with a grandstand capable of seating over 7,000 people), its multiple firing ramps makes it one of the most technically difficult competitions in the world. It is also one of the most prestigious pyromusical events in the world, and its Gold Jupiter trophies are prized in the fireworks industry like the Oscars are in the movie business.
When Montreal held its 20th international competition back in 2004, for the first time ever all of the participating teams were former Gold Jupiter winners. (The competition annually awards three metallic Jupiter prizes: Bronze [3rd place], Silver 2nd place] and Gold [1st place] as well as a special award for best soundtrack). That year, WECO Feuerwerk won the competition and was awarded a unique Platinum Jupiter, (a one-time only award) since all of the competitors had previously all won Gold.
This year, WECO Feuerwerk was invited once again to perform for the grand opening of the event. Unlike most previous years (except for the one mentioned), all of this year’s participants were prior Silver or Gold Jupiter recipients. Even the popular “jury of nineteen” (a jury comprised of a thoughtfully intermixed compilation of backgrounds, ages and genders) had all been selected from previous juries. Because of the expertise of this year’s participants, having experienced jurors was certainly an important prerequisite. Judging the best of the best is always a very arduous task.
As in every previous competition, all displays were judged according to the following criteria:
|Pyrotechnic pieces:||Diversity and quality of the pieces as well as diversity and richness of colors used;|
|Synchronization :||Precision of simultaneity between the music, fireworks elements and sound effects;|
|Soundtrack :||Selection of music and the mixing from one musical piece to another;|
|Technical design :||Use of space, density of products and the ability to sustain the same level of quality performance throughout the display;|
|Pyromusical concept :||How the music relates to the quantity and the choice of pyrotechnic pieces and the originality and dynamic rhythm of the entire display.|
The way the evaluations were handled this year (as in previous years) was like this: immediately after the completion of each pyromusical, each juror completed their evaluation of the display. At the end of the overall competition, all of the marks were tallied and the prizes were awarded based on the aggregated scores.
This year’s 2014 participating contestants/companies were:
- Pirotecnica Morsani of Italy–winner of the Gold Jupiter in 2011.
- Vicente Caballer of Spain–winner of the Gold Jupiter in 1986 and 2003
- Team Canada: Royal Pyrotechnie–winner of the Gold Jupiter in 2003 and 2009 AND Fireworks Spectaculars Canada–winner of the Gold Jupiter in 2010.
- Melrose Pyrotechnics of the USA–winner of the Gold Jupiter in 2006 and the Bronze Jupiter in 2009.
- Brezac Artifices of France–winner of the Silver Jupiter in 2006 and the Bronze Jupiter in 2010.
- Foti’s International Fireworks of Australia–winner of the Silver Jupiter in 2001 and the Bronze Jupiter in 2006.
As a veteran reporter covering this competition for the past 22 years, I always find it personally interesting to see how the various styles and displays evolve–particularly since computerized firing has become so ubiquitous. (If I’m correct, the last time a display used any manual firing during a presentation was in in Montreal in 2006). Despite all of electronics, though, we still witnessed pyrotechnic time delays used when firing chains of shells with even the highest cue-counts (6,884 by Vicente Caballer) being complemented by a large numbers of traditional devices. At the other extreme, in terms of cue count (1,238 in the case of Pirotecnica Morsani), the complexity of the display was augmented by large numbers of traditional Italian multi-break studatas.
Fact: it is very difficult to judge how a display might look by examining cue count alone. Where once large numbers of Roman Candles were used (e.g., Panzera S.A.S. used 2,000 Roman Candles in their closing show in the year 2000–1000 of which were 10-shot bombettes!), these days, a correspondingly larger number of one-shots are used instead. As a veteran viewer, I couldn’t help feeling that Roman Candles might have been just as effective in many of the displays.
Speaking of cue counts, it was also open to discussion as to what exactly constituted a “cue.” Was it a specific entry in a firing script? A physical e-match inserted into a device? Here is a good example of the confusion: A firing site may have a “front” of 11 positions. If a comet is fired from each position at the same time, is that one cue or eleven cues? In terms of display complexity, it is very hard to gauge from the raw cue-count alone just how intricate the display was when fired. Despite the wide range of cue-counts used this year–1,238 to 6,884–although they were not the most complex ever seen in Montreal, they were still relatively complex. As Brad Dezotell of Fireworks Spectaculars Canada told me during an interview: the display that’s fired is simply the one that can be successfully setup during the five days assigned to each company. Incidentally, Team Royal/FSC was at the higher end of this year’s cue counts with 5,235, but they used pyrotechnic delays on many of their shell chains–especially the smaller caliber ones.
The firing site at La Ronde [insert one of the photos here] features a large, reflective lake, and the most successful displays usually make the best use of this feature by using nautical shells (floating shells that explode on top of the water). There are four “firing ramps”, each of which allow different types of devices. Ramp 1 is the furthest from the audience, and consists of five blast-protected areas where 200mm, 250mm and 300mm shells can be fired (Ramp 1 also provides an area where 15mm and 175mm shells can be located and fired). At the back of the audience-visible firing area, is Ramp 2: This ramp allows shells of up to 100mm caliber, as well as large candles, girandolas, rockets and other larger-caliber effects. At the front of ramp 2 is the central network room, where all of the patch bays for the firing systems are located. The roof of this building is also used as a launch site, and is called ramp 4. A floating platform in front of ramp 4 provides ramp 3, and this is used for candles, one-shots and mines up to 150mm caliber (rarely used these days, however). Some companies also elect to erect structures here with elaborate set-pieces: wheels and/or other more complex space-frame based firing positions. Ramp 2 can also be used for effects that need to be suspended from cranes. Some companies even use what some contestants call “ramp 5”–five to seven small pontoons that can be located relatively close to the audience. The challenge when using ramp 5, though, is to ensure that the devices fired from it can be differentiated from the low-level effects that are also being fired from ramp 3. Another problem that occurs when using ramp 5 is that it often makes it more difficult to fire nautical devices from ramp 3. In some cases, the nautical shells land on the pontoons!
This year, there were relatively few special structures built and utilized within the displays. More so than in recent years, most of the displays had a more traditional feel to them. An exception to this strategy, however, was the entry from Team Canada which featured five large space-frame structures on ramp three [insert photo here] as well as a large set piece in the shape of a Phoenix at the front of ramp 2. This showed immense creativity in terms of the utilization of the firing site, as the Canadians exploited every possible angle and position–including firing comets horizontally over the lake. Together with ramp 5, Team Canada also used a large number of large-caliber nautical shells exceptionally well during their finale, especially when they fired their 150mm devices. Up to this this point, ramp 5 had not been used, so there was little possibility of any damage to the firing positions.
Weather conditions (which can quickly change or become quite temperamental) were almost perfect throughout the 2014 competition. The wind direction, however, was sometimes unfavorable for the audience causing smoke to obscure some parts of some of the displays. Fortunately, the weather stayed dry throughout, and the excellent weather conditions helped keep the 7000+ grandstands seats perpetually filled.
As you would expect from a competition of this caliber, the technical quality of all the displays were exceptionally high and very few firing problems occurred. Installation accuracy was also very high–something that is always somewhat miraculous given the short timeframe for setup and the monumental number of devices used (over 9,100 in the case of Vicente Caballer!).
Honestly, this year each and every display stood a chance of receiving a Jupiter award in its own right. In a “normal” competition year all of these displays could have won. But this was not a normal year, and this was not a normal competition. To win this year, a competitor had to wow the judges and do something almost superhumanly creative. And Team Canada achieved just that, winning the 2014 Gold Jupiter by wowing the judges and crowd with its creativity, technical prowess and the complexity of its spectacular display. Next, the Silver Jupiter was awarded to Foti’s International Fireworks for their well crafted display, complete with their beautiful soundtrack and their rich, full-scale pyrotechnic interpretation. Finally, France’s Brezac Artifices earned a Bronze Jupiter for their unique theme that paid homage to Nelson Mandela. It was a beautifully touching display and they justifiably earned the best soundtrack prize, as well.
To hear the soundtracks, interviews with each participant or read more complete reports about this 2014 competition, visit the following address:
Photographs of the displays can be viewed at:
Full videos of the displays are available at:
(Thanks to photographer Robert Burch, veteran of the competition since its inception in 1985).
In conclusion, as always, I am very grateful to the competition organizers for giving me access and information. In particular, I would like to thank director Martyne Gagnon, and technical director Paul Csukassy of Six Flags La Ronde for their support. Without their help, my reports from L’International de Feux Loto Québec would not be possible.