Press Release from Mechanism Digital
Mechanism Digital, a motion graphics and visual effects company, recently completed a graphics package for the television special, SECRET WORLD OF FIREWORKS which premiered on National Geographic Channel on July 2nd at 10pm ET. They employed a combination of 2D and 3D techniques with Autodesk's Maya and Adobe's After Effects taking the viewer on a tour through the internal workings of an in-flight firework, breaking down the complicated combustion and chemical reactions which take place in fractions of a second. They also created a few "what-if" scenarios with Eyeon's Digital Fusion, simulating an accidental explosion of the bunkers in which fireworks are built, which illustrate the danger behind the science.
Production company, Marabella Productions, shot spectacular aerial and high speed footage of fireworks shows as well as detailed footage of the manufacturing process. Capturing the internal workings of fireworks as they explode was critical for the story. Firework shells are complex designs of multiple stages, chambers, timing fuses and materials working in concert.
Unfortunately, black powder burns too quickly and at too high a temperature for any camera to capture images from within the shell itself. For this reason, Marabella hired Mechanism Digital to digitally create a number of animations to illustrate exactly what a camera can't shoot.
The artists at Mechanism are curious by nature and get excited by the challenge of developing innovative graphic solutions that preserve accuracy and clarity, yet maintain a visually appealing picture. Visual Effects Supervisor Lucien Harriot explains, "In order for the animators to explain this precise chain of events, we needed to completely understand them before we could design and present the principles of combustion and the anatomy of the fireworks as explanatory graphics to the television audience." Mechanism worked closely with Marabella and the show's explosives expert, chemist Mike Hiskey to accurately design, build and animate a 3D mortar and shell.
Mechanism's dedication to research enabled them to enhance the story beyond their graphic contribution. Designer, Nate Mulliken spent hours researching fireworks and the relevant chemistry before beginning any actual design work. Preparation like this is so important to Mechanism because it enables artists to be confident that their visual renditions are accurate. For example, when Nate was designing a chemical equation for Potassium Nitrate, he realized he did not have adequate information and collaborated with Marabella and Mike Hiskey to formulate a proper solution that viewers would understand.