A waterfall is formed when a river's bed is made up of a combination of soft and hard materials. Erosion causes the softer part of the bed to be worn away more quickly, resulting in a sudden change in the gradient of the river. Over time, a steep drop can be formed, sometimes with spectacular results. Angel Falls in Venezuela is the world's tallest waterfall, with a drop of 3,212 feet. Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe, is the world's largest waterfall at over 6,500 feet wide. Of course, Niagara Falls, between New York and Canada, is perhaps the most famous waterfall of all.
In fact...oh...wait a minute.
Waterfall gerbs have become a popular effect for both concerts and sporting events. The look of the effect is the same "fountain of sparks" that one sees from a gerb, only the sparks seem to rain down upon the performers from above. Sometimes the waterfalls form a curtain that covers the entire width of the stage.
The similarity between the look of waterfall and standard gerbs is not coincidental. The main difference being that the waterfall contains no choke -- the part of a gerb that forcefully shoots the sparks into the air. Without the choke, the sparks from a waterfall can spread a bit wider than they normally would, and fall a bit more gently to the stage.
So, what do you need to know if you're thinking about using waterfalls in your next event?
First, and obviously, a waterfall is a pyrotechnic device. This means that you'll need to take all the necessary precautions, and get all the applicable permits, that you would for a flash or smoke effect. If you do not own the space in which the effects will be used, check with the owners to make sure that they're comfortable with you using pyrotechnics. Also, you or the owner of the space should contact the local fire safety department to inquire about any permits that may be needed. Nothing can kill a great pyro display faster than a fire marshall upset about being "left out of the loop".
Waterfalls are bare-wire pyrotechnics. The effect is ignited by an electric match that is inserted into the waterfall tube. As the name implies, the bare wires of the electric match are visible, and you attach a control cable directly to these wires. You may purchase pyrotechnic control cable, or construct your own - all that's needed is a cable capable of safely conducting a low-voltage signal to the electric match.
The best way to provide this signal is with a firing controller made specifically for that task. Theatre Effects offers several such controllers, ranging from battery-powered handheld devices to large multi-channel "desktop" firing panels capable of controlling multiple effects and complex sequences; there are even wireless controllers for situations in which running control cables is not practical.
It is strongly recommended that you purchase your firing controller from a reputable dealer rather than construct your own. While it may seem more cost-effective to create your own low-voltage controller, you will be assuming all of the responsibility for firing your effects safely and reliably. Bear in mind that some fire inspectors may frown upon "home made" equipment.
When mounting a waterfall effect, you will need to place them so that there is a minimum of 20 feet between the end of the waterfall tube and the tops of any performers' heads. It is recommended, however, that you allow for a 25 foot drop to get best results. You should, of course, keep your performers from standing directly beneath the effects if at all possible. Spacing of the effects will depend upon the width of the stage, how dense a "curtain" you wish to create, and the budget for the effect. Start by estimating one waterfall every one to five feet, and work from there.
When firing the effect, you will probably want all of the waterfalls to ignite simultaneously. To achieve this on one control channel, you will need to wire the effects together in series. This means that the first leg of the first waterfall is connected to the controller, the rest of the effects are "daisy-chained" together, and the second leg of the last waterfall is connected to the controller. If you are unsure about how to do this correctly, contact Theatre Effects for a free wiring diagram.
While you may not be able to go over them in a barrel, waterfall effects are certainly as dramatic as their counterparts in the natural world. When used as part of an introduction, or at the high-point of a live concert, they create an impressive effect any audience will respond to.
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