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Tue 5 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Fireworks frenzy

The success of Dubai's New Year's Eve (NYE) fireworks festival marked a small but significant step in the emirate's ambition to rival the likes of Sydney as one of the world's number one New Year's tourism destinations.

The success of Dubai's New Year's Eve (NYE) fireworks festival marked a small but significant step in the emirate's ambition to rival the likes of Sydney as one of the world's number one New Year's tourism destinations.

Boasting an extensive cutting-edge fireworks and pyrotechnics display, Dubai's NYE fireworks festival shadowed the emirate's most famous landmark, the Burj Dubai.

After a successful showing in 2006, French pyrotechnics experts Groupe F returned to manage the technical aspects of the event.

You have to light an icon. Sydney has the Harbour Bridge, London the Eye. [We must] fully incorporate the Burj into the Dubai event.

Realising the inherent commercial potential of the region, the company established a permanent base in Dubai last year, manned by two full-time fireworks and pyrotechnics technicians.

"We have worked with several events companies in the region as well as directly with clients such as the Jumeirah Group and Dubai Heritage Vision," says François Montel, general manager of Groupe F.

We have been involved in some big one-off shows including the UAE National Day celebrations, and we also coordinate the nightly fireworks spectacular staged at the Al Sahra Desert Resort.

The Dubai NYE fireworks festival is hosted by the Jumeirah Group and was originally intended for the benefit of guests staying at the iconic Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah Beach and Madinat resorts.

"This was the second show I have designed for them now and we will be here again next year. Originally, the projectiles were fired from two barges either side of the Burj Al Arab.

Two different shows, designed by two different companies were happening at the same time in close proximity. I suggested that one single, larger show overseen by one company operating from three barges, should replace this scenario," says Montel.

"Last year was the first time we had a barge in front of each hotel and it received a great response. As a result, we received the contract for the 2007 NYE show and we'll be back again this year.

"I suggested to [the general manager of the Burj Al Arab] Luc Delafosse in January 2006 that we work to put together a spectacular event, not only for hotel guests, but also for the public.

"The Burj Al Arab is iconic to Dubai and I thought this would help to create a link between the Jumeirah hotels and the people of Dubai. Overall, I believe it's been a huge success.

The display has fast become a favourite among the city's NYE revellers and has expanded its audience far beyond the Jumeirah Group's hotel grounds.

Montel launched Groupe F in 1990 in the south of France and has since worked on some of the most ambitious pyrotechnics displays ever attempted.

Among them is the now famous millennium firework display involving the Eiffel Tower in Paris and both the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games and the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics.

The company has also managed the NYE fireworks presentation in London for the past four years.

"The London show is very different from the one staged in Dubai. In London, the client is the city authority rather than a hotel group. This means that the aim of the show is very different," explains Montel.

When I design a show, the first thing I need to know is; what are the aims of the customer? The aim of the London event is create a spectacle mainly for TV audiences, not just those actually watching from around the Thames.
Montel says the technical aspects of a particular show are largely constrained by the physical nature of the site.

"Even with an unlimited budget I couldn't put a show on for 200 people on the same scale as the one we designed for the Athens Olympics. It is not just about displaying the most spectacular fireworks available.

For me it is about prompting an emotional response from your audience. You have to consider this before you begin planning for an event.

"For example, the fireworks presentation we designed for the closing ceremony of the Dubai International Film Festival was primarily designed for a television audience, but we approached it differently to the London NYE event, for example.

We were looking to create lots of movement. This means lots of small units fired from many positions. A good show doesn't necessarily require a large number of projectiles."

The Dubai NYE show boasted five synchronised elements with a soundtrack and three barges of fireworks, while a lighting control mechanism managed the Burj Al Arab's lighting installation, which combined blue, red, yellow and green LEDs.

Simon Ransom, technical coordinator for the Dubai event, was charged with the task of ensuring the show went off without a hitch.

"The sound reinforcement system was managed by a team from the three hotels and staff from Gearhouse productions," says Ransom.

Gearhouse also provided a 7m x 3m Lighthouse LED screen and a 15m x 7.5m Thomas ground support stage.

L-Acoustic Dv-DOSC speakers, L-Acoustic sub bass SB218, L'Acoustic 115XT speakers and amplifiers battled it out with the noise of the fireworks.

"Our focus was the playout of the music and its synchronisation with the fireworks and of course the lighting scheme on the Burj. We had a new system custom-built for us, which was also employed at the London NYE event.

It's a system that uses GPS satellites to coordinate all the different sites with the true Greenwich Meridian Time (GMT), corrected for the UAE of course.

"The sound controls and a hard disk player containing the soundtrack were connected to GPS receivers.

The lighting control position also had a GPS unit installed with a timecode display. Fireworks control computers located on each of the three barges were directly interfaced with the GPS receivers.

"The result was that we were tied exactly with the GMT clock at all locations meaning everything happened simultaneously.

We no longer have to worry about cabling or maintaining a line of sight or radio frequencies.

As long as you can pick up about six GPS satellites, then you can achieve perfect synchronisation," Ransom explains.
Ultimately, this system will have a profound effect on our ability to stage ever more sophisticated large outdoor shows in the future. It allows us to achieve absolutely seamless timing.

This could also have applications for multi-site events like the Olympics, where venues may be spread across an entire city, Ransom says.

"Lasers, lighting, audio and fireworks all use time codes in slightly different ways," he explains.

"The programme can manage all of these technologies and send all the different time codes required.

"You could tie up as many technologies as you want. You are only limited by the number of boxes you have."

Montel and his Groupe F team have already overseen one expansion of Dubai's NYE firework festivities and he is eager to supervise another.

"I hope that in two or three years the event will boast around five or six barges worth of fireworks. We would also like to use the Burj Al Arab itself as a firing point.

"I was on the barge during the display but I have been told that the streets around the site were absolutely choked with spectators. It's very satisfying to provide such a large number of people with a memorable experience on such a festive night," says Montel.

Ransom is confident that the NYE spectacular can develop further and suggests the 10th anniversary since the opening of Dubai's sail-shaped, landmark hotel would prove an ideal time to take the event to the next level.

"Groupe F's ambition is develop Dubai's NYE fireworks festival so its on a similar scale to landmark events in Sydney, Paris and London," he says. "To achieve this you need more than just a simple fireworks show - you have to light an icon.

Sydney has the Harbour Bridge, Paris uses the Eiffel Tower and London has the Eye. The next stage for us is to fully incorporate the Burj Al Arab into the Dubai event."

Global New Year’s Eve festivitiesAs impressive as Dubai's NYE fireworks festival was, the event still has some way to go before it can rightfully claim to rival the best NYE fireworks events worldwide.

The top three NYE fireworks events of 2007 were:

1. Sydney, Australia
Sydney rightfully consolidated its reputation as the world's number one NYE fireworks tourist destination with an incredible pyrotechnics display costing in excess of US$2.5m.

2. London, UK
The London Eye was again used to extraordinary effect in the city's NYE 2007 fireworks display.

3. Times Square, New York City, USA

The original and same still argue best NYE fireworks display attracted more than a million revellers in 2007.