© Ralf Kreuels

Partying until the sparks fly

Concerts, festivals and sports events would only be half as much fun without impressive special effects. But since lots of regulations must be complied with for pyrotechnics, Magic FX focuses on other visual effects — as it did with its latest product, the Sparxtar.

The Netherlands enjoy an outstanding reputation among fans of electronic music. Famous DJs launched their careers there, and tens of thousands of people party at festivals throughout the country every year. The fans want to do more than hear beats and melodies, they also want to see sparks, confetti and soap bubbles. This is exactly the part of the spectacle that Magic FX, which is based in the town of Boxtel, specializes in. It produces machines that turn events from concerts to soccer games into special-effects spectaculars. “Our team loves music, festivals and events,” says operations manager Wouter Hoex. “Many of our people play in bands themselves, work as DJs in their free time, or simply like to go to concerts.” A look at the 40-strong team underscores his words; its average age is 29.

Since the Magic FX employees know from their own experience how much special effects contribute to the atmosphere at live events, they focus in their daily work on high-quality products like their latest special-effects unit, the Sparxtar. It sprays sparks at heights of two to five meters, and users can control the duration and rhythm of spark emission. Hoex explains how Sparxtar works: “The unit heats metal powder up to well above 500 degrees. Together with the ­oxygen which works as a catalyst, that causes the powder to spark. A fan blows the sparks into the air.”

Effects without pyrotechnics

For a long time, precise control of special effects from the lighting control board was not a matter of course, as Hoex explains: “Pyrotechnics were often used in the past to generate certain effects at events, but that has been much more strictly regulated since the early 2000s following serious accidents, and rightly so. So nowadays many event organizers use visual effects from other sources. They’re not dangerous, so they don’t require special authorization, and they’re also much easier to control.”

Even when events do without real fire and explosions, the effects should not be any less spectacular. So an important requirement remained a certain height for the effects so that the spark machines would be noticed even on big stages. In the Sparxtar, the RG 128 centrifugal blower from ebm-papst blows the sparks upwards. Hoex and his team chose the product because they had already had positive experiences working with ebm-papst on an earlier project. “We were looking for a very reliable product for this application. Nothing is more annoying than a special-effects machine that fails at a crucial moment. And the blower has to be small because the entire unit has to be compact and unobtrusive on stage,” says Hoex.

On and off fast

Given these requirements, ebm-papst provided various products to Magic FX so that the company could test them in real-life conditions. “The RG 128 won out because in addition to the main requirements, it can also be turned on and off fast,” says Hoex. “That’s important because only precise control enables precise effects.”

Our effects are safe and can be much more precisely controlled than pyro-technics.”
Wouter Hoex, Operations Manager Magic FX

Customers seem satisfied with the result. In the first two months after it reached the market, 400 Sparxtar units were sold. So far it has been used at the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv and at other major concerts. “The Sparxtar is a completely new equipment category and makes safe and impressive sprays of sparks,” enthuses Hoex. “We hope we can provide sparkling highlights for many more events with it.”

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