Seb Lee-Delisle is a programmer from Brighton, he's also the genius behind PixelPyros, a fully interactive digital firework display. We caught up with him to find out what you can expect from the event in Nottingham tomorrow night.
Hi Seb, What exactly is PixelPyros?
PixelPyros is a fireworks display. But it’s no ordinary fireworks display! It’s a digital fireworks display that you control. The computer generated fireworks are projected onto a screen 60 foot wide with the biggest projectors we could get our hands on. And new for this year, we’re also using lasers!
We’re with you for the Nottingham leg of the tour. What can people expect from the event?
The show is roughly 25 minutes long and comprises of seven different themes. Each theme has a different piece of music, and different styles of fireworks. Some look like real fireworks and some look deliberately more digital. And I’ve been working on one or two surprises that tie in with the GameCity event too.
New for this year is the addition of lasers. The projectors are bright, but with the addition of powerful laser light we can actually compete with the brightness of real fireworks. We’ve been working hard to figure out how to control the lasers in real time with our software, and it’s finally paying off – the results are so spectacular. I can’t wait to see it full scale as part of the show.
What are the main aims of the PixelPyros tour?
Well that’s quite easy – fun! But I guess it’s a special type of fun that comes from engaging people in a big outdoor installation. There’s the spectacle and the scale, but it’s also that while people are playing, they forget themselves. My talented friend Joel Gethin Lewis calls it “putting people in the moment”.
It’s a truly unique project. Where did you get the idea for it and how long has it taken to make a reality?
I first got the idea about 6 years ago, when I saw GRL’s LaserTag – I’d never seen anyone projecting onto a building before, it was before architectural mapping had become popular. It seemed pretty obvious to me to want to make fireworks with a system like that.
I knocked together a quick prototype around 5 years ago and although it was super simple, it remained one of my favourite projects. So last year I applied for Arts Council (funding) and I completely rebuilt it for the launch of the Brighton Digital Festival.
I spent a fairly solid 3 months getting it ready for last year’s event, but this year I’ve been working on it pretty much all year.
Why did you choose Nottingham as one of the places for PixelPyros?
I’ve had my sights on the Old Market Square ever since New Adventures in January – it’s such an iconic location, and why wouldn’t we want to be at the largest city square in the country? The show works really well in these urban spaces where real fireworks just wouldn’t be an option. And to open the amazing GameCity festival? Well we couldn’t be happier – it’s such a perfect match.
This sort of thing takes digital technology out of the office. What are the benefits of taking technology on tour like this?
I’m a programmer, right? So I spend most of my time at a desk in front of a screen, and most of the interactive projects I build are for other people to use at a computer, or on a phone or tablet. I can’t tell you how brilliant it is to take those exact same skills and scale them up 5000%. But it’s not just about the scale, it’s also about creating an atmosphere, an event that gets people’s attention, and is intriguing and exciting. To be able to do that with computers is unbelievably thrilling.
I should point out though that things get hugely complicated when you take things out of the office. Most of the work we’ve done this year is work on structural engineering for the screen, negotiating with equipment suppliers, crowd management reports, event insurance, not to mention the funding application. And it’s still risky. Let’s just hope the weather holds out!
Will we see more of this kind of thing in the future?
Undoubtedly, especially now I’ve figured out how to work with lasers. You can cover a huge area with a single laser, I’ve already got a few ideas about pointing lasers at buildings.
You were listed as one of the most prolific speakers in our events infographic. How do you keep coming up with more material to talk about?
Well rather embarrassingly I don’t have a hugely wide variety of talks, but I concentrate on venturing into new areas, so hopefully people are interested to hear what I’ve been working on.
How important are events and conferences to designers, developers and other web professionals?
Very. It’s about meeting people, seeing what is happening outside your window, and getting inspired. It’s the difference between someone just doing a job and someone who cares about their job.
How did you get started in your career?
It’s such a convoluted route, that I still haven’t figured out a succinct way to answer that. In general I’ve followed things that interest me with no real plan. I spent most of my 20s as a musician. The last ten years or so I’ve concentrated more on technology.
What advice would you give for someone looking to launch an event of their own?
What sort of event? I guess it doesn’t really matter. My advice is the same – make it happen, it’s always worth it. Even if it’s just a small gathering it doesn’t matter. You made something exist that didn’t previously exist. You facilitated a community, and good things always come out of that.
Thanks Seb! We're sponsoring the Nottingham leg of the PixelPyros tour tomorrow night. The show starts at 7.30pm, so if you can make it, it'll blow your mind!
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