Flash Pots & Pans
Last week, I compared some of the essential components of pyrotechnic effects with the staple ingredients found in any good kitchen. As I thought more about that analogy, I realized that even the best-stocked kitchen is useless without something in which to prepare the ingredients. The same, of course, holds true for special effects. Just as a good cook needs a few good pots and pans to prepare a meal, so too does a special effects technician need the proper hardware to prepare his effects.
The most basic and essential piece of hardware in any technician's kit is the flash pot. Flash pots come in a variety of styles, but all feature the same two basic components a "pot" or chamber to hold the powder, and some means of delivering a spark or flame to that powder. Old home-made pots were often nothing more than a coffee can with a large fuse in the bottom. Powder was placed inside the fuse and when current was applied the fuse would blow, delivering a spark to ignite the powder. While this type of pot may still be found in some places today, the availability of inexpensive, quality hardware coupled with the increased vigilance of fire and safety inspectors has caused a steady decline in "do it yourself" pyrotechnic equipment.
Theatre Effects offers several different flash pots of varying styles and prices. While they all do the same basic job, each has specific applications in which it shines above the rest. The pot you choose will be determined by the demands of your show and your budget. This week, I'd like to focus specifically on the Electronic Flash Pot featured in the weekly special.
The Electronic Flash Pot was designed for performers who want to create a flash effect on stage but don't want the bother of running cables and finding an operator to run the effects. Basically, the flash pot and firing controller are combined into one device. A six-foot control cord is wired onto the flash pot, with a simple footswitch attached. Power is provided to the device from two "AA" batteries. With this set-up, all a performer need do is place the pot on stage, locate the footswitch in a convenient spot, and load the pot. No technician to fire the pot (or miss a cue) and no running power cables off stage.
Because the Electronic Flash Pot uses "AA" batteries instead of line voltage for its power, it cannot fire standard igniters. Instead, this pot has a glo-plug -- basically a miniature heating coil -- that can ignite Flash Cotton. The Flash Cotton acts as a fuse, burning into the powder and setting off the effect. The glo-plug is a reusable device, but it will need to be replaced every 20 - 30 shots; for this reason, we generally recommend buying a spare glo-plug when you purchase your pot.
The Electronic Flash Pot can fire almost every powder that Theatre Effects carries, except for Sonic Flash Powder. Sonic Powder is a powerful, fast-burning powder that creates a loud report when fired. Because of the force with which Sonic Powder combusts, it should only be fired in the Ultra Color Volcano, a flash pot designed for loud report effects. Powders that do work in the Electronic Flash Pot include White, Photo, Red and Green Flash Powder, and Smoke Powder, which is available in a wide range of colors. Additionally, Electric Sparkle Additive can be added to Flash Powder to add crackling silver sparks to the flash effect.
Finally, we've had some inquiries about increasing the length of the control cord on the Electronic Flash Pot. Simply put, we don't offer a longer cord, and it's not a great idea to do it yourself. We use a six-foot cord because it allows the operator to be at a safe distance from the effect without causing a drop in voltage to the glo-plug. When you increase the length of the cord, you increase the resistance in the system, causing the voltage to drop. It doesn't take a big drop in voltage to cause the glo-plug to stop working -- remember, you only have 3 volts to begin with! If you find that you want to have a performer on one side of the stage while the effect goes off on the other, you probably should consider the Standard Electric Flash Pot, or the Ultra Flash Pot, both of which use line voltage and can be plugged into extension cables of almost any length.
The Flash Pot you choose will be a reflection of what you as a performer or technician need and expect from your special effects. While money will always be a factor in any purchasing decision, it should almost never be the deciding one. Take time to determine what you plan to do with your special effects now, and over the next year. With that knowledge, and a little help from your friends at Theatre Effects, you should be able to pick the device that is best suited to your needs.
Theatre Effects Customer Service Department
Theatre Effects, 1810 Airport Exchange Blvd. #400, Erlanger, KY 41018
Phone: 1-800-791-7646 or 513-772-7646 Fax: 513-772-3579