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16 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Plastic Surgeons

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Our culture is pretty obsessed with what it sees in the mirror: Cosmetic procedures have risen an astounding 115 percent since 2000, with nearly 16 million procedures performed in 2015 alone. Breast augmentation, buttocks lifts, and minimally-invasive “injectables” have all conspired to literally change the shape of the male and female form.

For insight into the highly skilled hands that make these transformations possible, mental_floss spoke with several accomplished plastic surgeons about the living sculptures they create.

1. THEY SEE BEAUTY AS A MATHEMATICAL EQUATION.

Early in his career, Donald Kress, M.D., a plastic surgeon in Baltimore, Maryland, would find himself puzzled when encountering facial features he found unappealing. “I couldn’t figure out what it was,” he says, “until I’d match the face with the Golden Ratio.” The Golden Ratio, or Golden Mean, is a formula first articulated by Greek mathematician Euclid and later used to theorize that the most pleasing appearances in art and nature are created at a ratio of 1.618:1. In the 1970s, surgeon Stephen Marquardt, M.D., began to study commonly appreciated beauties like Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren and found the ratio applied to many seemingly universal standards of attractiveness.

Visualizing the formula using a “mask” designed by Marquardt in 1992 (above, middle) can reveal where a face is asymmetrical, though experienced surgeons can make a similar evaluation intuitively. “It comes up when you’re younger and don’t have a good eye for things,” Kress says. “After a few thousand patients, you can see it in your head.”

2. THEY HOST “BROTOX” PARTIES.

OnabotulinumtoxinA—commonly referred to by the brand name Botox—has been used for decades to paralyze muscles at a local injection site, which can prevent the contractions that cause wrinkles and frown lines. Some practices have taken to hosting the increasing number of male patients coming in by offering “Brotox parties,” where a number of friends will schedule at once to make the treatment a social event.

Z. Paul Lorenc, M.D., F.A.C.S., a plastic surgeon in New York City, says that “Brotox” is a result of men who have had a good experience recruiting their friends. “It’s kind of a support group,” he says. “They can interact in the waiting room. Men used to do this at parties, but that’s become passé. It was always a bad idea. You should never have alcohol involved.”

3. THEY’RE DRAWING LANDMARKS ON YOU.

Watch enough reality television and you’ll eventually spot a plastic surgeon taking a black marker to the bare torso of a patient. Matthew Schulman, M.D., a plastic surgeon based in Manhattan, says that surgeons are basically acting as topographers, marking areas of the body that may change shape or become less visible when a patient is lying down. “We’re drawing landmarks for ourselves because a person looks different when on the table,” he says. “I might circle where the fat is thickest, or where the nipple is while standing.” No special medical ink is used: It’s just a Sharpie.

4. BREAST IMPLANTS CAN CREATE “MOTION ARTIFACTS.”

There are several ways to insert breast implants, but Kress says that one in particular can create problems for patients who do a lot of jumping up and down. When an implant is inserted in a subpectoral incision under muscle tissue, it can give off the appearance of remaining stationary while the rest of the breast moves during physical activity, creating a visual ripple effect. “If there are big arm movements, or if they’re in front of people teaching or on television, I advise them of the potential consequences,” Kress says.

5. THEY CAN’T MAKE YOU LOOK PHOTOSHOPPED.

Schulman says that social media—especially the popularity of impeccably-proportioned Instagram models—has created a few headaches for his practice. “The problem with pictures is that they’re just a guide, but it’s not like picking a body off the shelf,” he says. “Half of the Instagram models are Photoshopped, so when you say you want to look like this, I can’t do it. I can’t give you an 18-inch waist.” Though Schulman does like having a visual reference for what patients have in mind, he prefers they understand it's a starting point, not a preview.

6. THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO LOOK GOOD ON THE TABLE.

“Everyone,” Schulman says, “looks great lying down.” But trying to achieve aesthetic perfection in the operating room is a recipe for disaster. “One of the first things we learn as plastic surgeons is that just because something looks good on the table doesn’t mean it’ll look good six months later. We want to make the result less than ideal to account for healing.” Breast implants, for example, might be placed higher than desired so they can “settle in.” Making them perfect during surgery means they’re likely to drop too low once the body recovers.

7. IT TAKES EXACTLY 90 DAYS TO GET USED TO A NEW FACE.

According to Kress, there’s a tremendous difference between a facelift and a procedure that radically alters the face. “In a facelift, you’re turning back the clock and people can adjust to it quickly,” he says. “But a new nose, a new chin, taking away a bump, you’re creating a person they’ve never seen before.” In his experience, it takes patients almost 90 days exactly to get used to the image in the mirror. “On day 87, they’ll see someone else’s chin. On day 91, it’s you. It’s freaky how accurate it is.” Kress will normally refuse to remove an implant (chin, cheeks, breasts) prior to the 90 days to account for this phenomenon.

8. MORNINGS ARE BEST FOR DETAIL WORK.

If you’re opting for cosmetic surgery and have a nose job scheduled for late in the day, you may want to reconsider. According to Kress, procedures that require fine motor skills like nose jobs, facelifts, or eyelid surgeries are best performed in the morning, while gross motor work like breast implants and liposuction can come later. “You don’t want to reverse the order because it can take between 45 minutes to an hour for fine-touch motor skills to return. I start with the most delicate surgeries first, have a good lunch, and do bodies later.”

9.  THEY CAN MAKE YOU LESS ANGRY-LOOKING.

Not all cosmetic surgery is focused on restoring the appearance of youth: Some people just want to look happier. “Many of my Botox patients coming in say that everyone thinks they’re angry all the time,” Lorenc says. “They want to correct a frown or a heavy brow.” Kress has also seen people ready to go on the job market for the first time in years who want to appear more awake—or sober. “Sometimes eyelids can make you look like you drink, or don’t get enough sleep,” he says.

10. THEY WORK WITH WITNESS PROTECTION.

That gangster-movie cliché of having to modify your face to avoid being spotted after offering damning testimony? It’s true. Kress has operated on several government witnesses, and they can forget about follow-up visits. “I’ve had Federal Marshals come in and tell me, ‘This is the only time you’re going to see this guy, so give him whatever instructions he needs,’” he says. Kress has also worked on covert military operatives who have had their name and image published in media and run the risk of being recognized. 

11. THEY HAVE SIGNATURE NOSES. (AND BUTTS.)

Many surgeons get into the cosmetic field because of an artistic impulse: They don’t want to perform cookie-cutter procedures and like to improvise. But a certain segment can also offer procedures with a dependable aesthetic outcome that becomes a kind of signature. “Some doctors are known for noses I can spot across the street,” Schulman says. “I do a lot of butt-lifts and make them look like an upside-down heart. Patients come in because they want that result.”

12. CALF IMPLANTS ARE A THING.

And not just for men, either. Lorenc regularly sees patients of both genders who want to rectify their genetic misfortune and sport shapely, powerful-looking calves. “I’m one of the few surgeons who does them,” he says. “The stereotype is that it’s only bodybuilders, but that’s not true. They make up only a percentage. Some people just can’t develop them in the gym no matter what they do.”   

13. BEING A SMOKER IS A REAL NO-NO.

One universal truth of cosmetic surgery: Operating on a smoker is never a good idea. Nicotine constricts small blood vessels, which can delay healing and open up the door for complications. “Every good plastic surgeon will require a patient stop smoking before a procedure,” Schulman says. His patients sign an agreement requiring them to cease any kind of smoking four weeks prior and for eight weeks following an operation. “They agree I can nicotine-test them [via urine] and if they’re positive, the operation is canceled and I keep their money.”

14. THEY’LL WORK ON KIDS FOR ONE REASON.

There are very few cases of surgeons electing to work on anyone under the age of 18 for purely cosmetic purposes, with one key exception: protruding ears. Kress says that ears that stick out too much can become a psychological burden and that there’s a sweet spot to get them pinned back. “Around age 5 or 6, the ear has gotten big enough to work on and see a lot of the underlying structure,” he says, “but it’s also before they get into grade school and the taunting really starts.”  

15. THEY THINK TRANSPLANTS ARE THE FUTURE.

While fat transplantation is an increasingly popular and effective alternative to artificial fillers—adipose tissue can be harvested from unwanted areas and injected into the butt or face—Schulman sees the future of plastic surgery being far more radical, and less focused on aesthetics. “I think in the next ten years, we’re no longer going to be doing reconstructive work for trauma,” he says. “If you need breast tissue after a cancer operation, it will be from a donor. Things like face transplants and hand transplants are being led by plastic surgeons, by microsurgeons. I see full limb transplants. The possibilities are endless.”

16. THEY’RE NOT REALLY STRESSED.

Lorenc finds it amusing when friends or acquaintances remark that being a surgeon must be one of the most stressful jobs you can have. “When I step into the operating room, it’s like nirvana,” he says. Barring the rare complication, no one is in critical condition, bleeding to death, or under any extreme duress. Surgeons tend to work at their own pace, sometimes with a soundtrack. “I listen to Pink Floyd, the Allman Brothers, Jimi Hendrix. Sometimes reggae.”  

All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise credited.

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11 Secrets of Romance Writers
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Some readers may snicker at book covers featuring aerobicized men and titles like The Firefighter’s Woman or The Bull Rider’s Christmas Baby. But if it weren’t for the steamy, escapist fantasy of romance novels, a healthy portion of the publishing industry would cease to exist: According to the Romance Writers of America (RWA), romantic fiction brings in $1.08 billion annually and accounts for 13 percent of all fiction sales in the marketplace.

What keeps readers coming back for more? We asked some of the genre’s top authors for insight into the “secret baby" trope, why pen names are necessary, and the one rule of romance that can never, ever be violated.

1. THEY WEAR PERIOD CLOTHING.

Novelist Shelley Adina (A Lady of Resources, A Lady of Integrity) writes historical, Amish, and steampunk-themed fiction, just a few of the many sub-categories that appeal to niche audiences. To better understand her characters, Adina dresses in period outfits to gather what she calls “tactile details.”

“I like to feel how a heroine would feel in the clothes,” she says. “I’ve been laced into a proper corset and you realize what kind of dance steps you can do, or why a lady’s back never touches a chair—a tight corset won't allow it."

2. THE REASON THEY USE PEN NAMES ISN'T WHAT YOU THINK.

Covers of two romance novels by Shelley Adina
Shelley Adina

The authors of romance novels don't use pen names out of embarrassment. Adina (a.k.a. Adina Senft) says that pseudonyms—many authors have more than one—help readers compartmentalize writers who generate multiple series. “People who read Amish fiction may not read steampunk,” she says. Another, bigger reason: Bookstore software can use “kill orders” on authors who don’t sell a certain number of titles. If they fall below parity, retailers will automatically stop ordering more copies from that author. “If that happens,” she says, “you have to reinvent yourself with a new name.”

3. THEY’LL DIGITALLY REVISE THEIR WORK AFTER PUBLISHING IT.

The analog publishing model has traditionally been one of permanence: Once a book is in print and in readers' hands, there's no going back. But romance novel readers are a very particular clientele with certain expectations about how they’d like their protagonists to behave—and the self-published digital distribution model that's popular within the genre allows for a little customization. Author Heather C. Leigh (the Famous series) found that out when her first books featured a heroine who was a little too acerbic. “My first three books sold well, but there were critiques that my female lead was too sarcastic,” she says. “I understood and took it out. I don’t mind making work better based on feedback.”

4. COVER MODELS OFTEN LOSE THEIR HEADS.

The covers of two romance novels by Heather C. Leigh
Heather C. Leigh

Despite seeing hundreds of new titles published every month, the romance genre still manages to find new ways to visualize their shirtless male protagonists. In many cases, though, the beefcake winds up getting decapitated. “A lot of times, the man will be turned away or cut off at the forehead,” says author Eliza Night (The Conquered Bride series). “Readers want to imagine his looks in their own mind.” Grooming is also a necessity. “I had a cover with chest hair once. My readers did not like it.”

5. THEY HAVE BONUS SCENES.

Self-published authors (who make up about two-thirds of the total romance e-book revenue on Amazon) spend much of their time marketing their work. To help maintain interest from their existing readership, some send out email newsletters with updates on new titles and include exclusive passages that can enhance the experience of a previous book. “My first book was about an actor who had to do a love scene with a woman he hated,” Leigh says. “It was never going to be in the book because that was from his girlfriend’s point of view, but I got a chance to write it as a bonus.”

6. THEY WANT READERS TO BECOME WRITERS.

While resources for aspiring writers of all genres are plentiful, the romance field makes an exceptional attempt to recruit new talent. Industry interest group RWA doubles as a conduit between established writers and novices, hosting conferences and panels on the best ways to break in. “We don’t live in a competitive hierarchy,” Adina says. “There are so many readers with so many diverse tastes. It’s a big community where we support one another.”

7. THEY GET HELP FROM THE AMISH.

An Amish woman walking in a field
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While the Amish sub-genre has received media attention for its peculiarity, Adina doesn't believe it's so unusual: She says readers are attracted to a pastoral environment “without having to leave their wired-up house.” For accuracy’s sake, the author has enlisted an Amish reader to vet her titles for details. The popularity of the books “mystifies them,” she says. “They don’t understand the interest. They just hope the books might be able to point people to God.”  

8. THE “SECRET BABY” TROPE IS A READER FAVORITE.

Readers like resourceful women and skilled, wealthy love interests—and they especially like it when the former keeps their baby a secret from the latter. “The trope is that the hero and heroine have an affair, she gets pregnant, never tells him, and he comes back around five, 10, or 20 years later and finds out,” Adina says. “Reunion stories are popular. It’s the appeal of a responsible man.”

9. THEY’RE HISTORY GEEKS.

The cover of a romance novel by Eliza Knight
Eliza Knight

Knight cringes at the idea romance authors do little more than transcribe their own lurid fantasies. A self-described “history geek,” she travels frequently for research into Scottish history. “Most of us who write history nerd out on it,” she says. While once writing about a zeppelin-riding heroine, Adina jumped into one that offered rides over Silicon Valley to see how it would feel. She also got her motorcycle license for the same reason. “We’re serious about it,” Adina says. “We’re not sitting around in housecoats with barking Pomeranians.”

10. THEY’D APPRECIATE NOT BEING ASKED ABOUT THEIR SEX LIFE.

Many romance authors have at least one story to tell about people in their private life finding out they write for the genre and subsequently losing any sense of boundaries. “Strangers have asked me, ‘Do you test out scenes before you write them?’” Leigh says. “It’s like they lose a filter. It’s not real life. J.K. Rowling isn’t a wizard.”

11. THERE’S ONE RULE THAT CAN NEVER BE BROKEN.

While writing instructors invariably have all kinds of techniques for nourishing a story, the romance genre spells it out in an unequivocal manner. According to the RWA, nothing can be considered a “romance novel” without a central love story (naturally) and what authors have come to refer to as the Happily Ever After ending, or HEA. “Romance is a courtship story,” Adina says. “Readers expect the bond will be created at the end of the book. If not, it’s Nicholas Sparks or Romeo and Juliet. It would be like having a mystery where the detective doesn’t solve the case.”

This story originally appeared in 2016.

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15 Secrets of Fireworks Designers
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The Fourth of July just wouldn't be the same without the colorful peonies, waterfalls, and comets that burst across the night sky above wowed crowds. But designing fireworks and their choreographed displays is a labor-intensive, dangerous job that requires the imagination of an artist and the precision of an engineer. Mental Floss talked to two experts in the field to learn how fireworks designers plan their shows, the history and the chemistry behind their displays, and why you don't necessarily want more bang for your buck.

1. THE ROOTS OF THEIR PROFESSION GO BACK OVER A THOUSAND YEARS.

Humans have been adding bright, noisy explosions to their celebrations by setting fire to chemicals since at least 9th-century China. The very first fireworks were little more than quick orange bursts emanating from bamboo rods packed with charcoal, sulfur, and potassium nitrate and tossed into bonfires. Slowly, these contraptions progressed into flares cannon-fired into the sky by “firemasters” in medieval England. By 1830s Italy, the use of metal salts such as strontium, barium, copper, and sodium added vivid reds, greens, and blues to firework displays—a precursor of the brilliant hues we see today.

2. THEY CONSIDER THEMSELVES ARTISTS.

“Fireworks are our paint or our clay, and our canvas is the night sky—or a building, or a bridge, or a waterway,” says fifth-generation fireworks designer Phil Grucci, CEO and creative director of the Bellport, New York-based Fireworks by Grucci. The company has created fireworks displays for seven consecutive U.S. presidential inaugurations, Olympic games in Beijing and Los Angeles, and commemorations such as the centennial of the Statue of Liberty, among other events. “Working with space, understanding color and the dynamics within the fireworks, what moves very quickly, what sounds very loud, what sounds very soft, what is subtle and elegant”—all of it takes an artist's touch, Grucci says.

Pyrotechnic designers “can visualize exactly how various fireworks devices will burst in the sky,” says Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association. That means they know "how high [fireworks] will reach their apex and burst, how wide they will spread, and how long the effect will ‘hang,' or linger. They can then choose other fireworks to burst above, below, or on each side of an effect to create the image they wish to see across the sky."

Of course, "painting" with fireworks is a little trickier than using acrylics or oils, since the medium is explosive. "The difference [compared to painting] is that we’ve got something that’s dynamic, that moves, it’s constantly moving and it’s very temporary," Grucci explains.

3. THEY START WITH A PAPER SKETCH.

A red and green firework bursting in the night sky
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Old pros like Grucci may know from experience how certain fireworks will look together against a backdrop. But he still sketches out each segment of every show he designs with colored markers on paper. From there, he works with his team to set the show to music, then choreographs it using software called Visual Show Director. Next, his programmers create a script in SolidWorks and/or AutoCAD. “In the past,” Grucci explains, “we scripted it all on a piece of paper, and the pyrotechnicians installed the hardware from that same piece of paper." Now, he says, they can be "taking advantage of the computer age, to visualize [a show] to see whether the product works as you’ve designed it.” Finally, Grucci’s team generates the computer file that will electronically ignite the fireworks at showtime—much safer than the days when a human had to ignite the fuse.

But Heckman says that although the technology is useful, it's made fireworks performances a little more homogenous. "Before electrical firing, computer choreography and a reliance on imported product [mostly from China], I think fireworks companies' unique style was much more prevalent," she says. "Technology has somewhat leveled that out." A few companies do still have distinctive styles, she notes—even if those differences are usually only apparent to true fireworks aficionados.

4. SOME THINGS ARE STILL DONE BY HAND.

A fireworks cartridge contains a series of pellets called stars, which are cubes, spheres, or cylinders about an-inch-and-a-half long filled with explosive materials and color-producing chemicals and metals [PDF]. A star’s colors are formulated via computer, then pressed into a pellet shape by machine. But when it comes to arranging the stars in the casings that will be fired into the night sky, it's usually human hands doing the arranging. The pattern laid out inside the casing determines the pattern of the explosion—a heart-shaped firework blooms from stars arranged in a heart shape—and according to Grucci, automating the task to account for the enormous variety of available patterns would be too expensive. The task can be labor-intensive, since a single shell can contain hundreds of stars.

5. THE VENUE DETERMINES HOW THEIR SHOW WILL UNFOLD.

Fireworks over the Brooklyn Bridge in 2018
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

It's as true in fireworks as it is in real estate: It's all about location. That’s partly for reasons of safety—Heckman says that every show has to follow industry standards for “tables of distance,” which “mandate the size of the largest shell that can be fired safely from a standpoint of fallout distance to spectators, and also public highways, occupied buildings, and public roads.” She says there's a complex regulatory scheme that dictates the type of products that can be used per type of venue, as well as when shows can begin and end.

But the site is also an integral part of the beauty and impact of the show itself. "We’re very aggressive in looking at structures, and trying to highlight their key features," Grucci says. “Whether it’s a tower, whether it’s a bridge, we will be [scouting from] the very highest point of that. If [a structure] is horizontal, I know that we are going to capitalize on the entire width of it. I could be easy and say, 'put some fireworks to the left and right side of a bridge.' But that’s not good enough. We have to take advantage of the undercarriage of a bridge, the steel cables that hold its towers together, and highlight the entire structure.” Grucci says he'll often calculate the entire surface area of a structure, so he can make sure he's taking advantage of every square inch.

6. THEY MATCH THE FIREWORKS TO THE MUSIC.

Not all fireworks displays have music, but when they do, the score and the effects should complement each other—not clash. A delicate classical piece may call for smaller, quieter fireworks, while a piece like the "1812 Overture" might fit bigger, louder bangs.

"So many of the [effects] we’re working with, they may have a baroque feel to them," Grucci says. "They’re very bold and strong and very in-your-face, but then you have that very elegant feel to some of the fireworks, that you would never put onto the canvas when there’s a rock-n-roll sequence on. When the product is so simple or so elegant, it would not match that tempo or that thematic."

7. THEY HAVE HIGH-TECH TESTING FACILITIES.

An assortment of colorful fireworks bursting in the sky
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Say you want to create a streaking green comet with a silver twinkling tail. “We’ll make that on a small scale, then we’ll test it at one of our two test sites, in upstate New York or in Virginia,” Grucci says. “Our pyrotechnicians are in protective bunkers and we have high-speed video cameras, wind meters, and dB [decibel] meters for noise. We record everything that we’re testing, so that we can look back on that and analyze it. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve failed. But we failed at the test site—never on the performance stage.”

8. THEY DON'T REPEAT THEMSELVES.

“My desire is to always make something that’s different,” Grucci says. He tries not to repeat a particular scene more than once in a performance, let alone repeat a whole show—although he notes that it helps that the "canvas" is always changing: “Even though we may use a particular beautiful color scheme with a metallic glitter, putting that on the Washington Monument as opposed to [over] an open baseball field—those are two completely different visuals.” One of his newest innovations turned up in the presidential inauguration in January 2017: a 600-foot by 700-foot display behind the Lincoln Memorial, made up of a series of 800 fireworks shells that burst in sequence into an American flag. “The color red [we used] is from a formula that is probably a few hundred years old," he says. "But delivering these little red dots on the sky at these [different] heights is what [allowed us to create the flag].”

9. LESS CAN BE MORE.

Fireworks at the opening of the New York, New York hotel in Las Vegas
JOHN GURZINSKI/AFP/Getty Images

"Sometimes people get caught in the trap of thinking that more is better," Grucci says, but when it comes to the number of fireworks in a performance, it can be exactly the opposite: More shells equals more smoke, which can white-out the night sky. "When you put too much in the sky ... you’re not really allowing the medium to display the beauty of what the product is about," Grucci says. (Plus, the metallic particles in fireworks smoke can pose a health risk for people with asthma or other health problems, which means it's wise to limit smoke where possible.)

10. THEY HAVE THEIR OWN LINGO.

Fireworks designers love to borrow from nature for the names of their displays. In addition to peonies and chrysanthemums, which both burst into circles (chrysanthemums have longer tails), there are willows (bursts with trails of gold or silver stars), falling leaves (glowing embers that flicker as they tumble to earth), fish (which leave little squiggles of light), spiders (a hard burst with straight, flat legs), and palms (which bursts up and out in a shape like its namesake tree). But there are also fountains (showers of sparks, sometimes also called gerbs), comets (several long trails of sparks), crossettes (a comet that breaks into other comets, usually creating a cross shape), dragon eggs (a delayed crackle effect), salutes (a loud noise without a display), and strobes (which burst with a blinking effect).

While creating their show, fireworks designers may work with cake (a single fuse that lights several fireworks in a sequence), whistle mixes (a combination of potassium and sodium benzoate that burns noisily), and dark fire, which is used to allow a star to change from one color to another (it gives off no light as it burns, allowing the new color layer to ignite below it). They hope to avoid flowerpots (which burst prematurely) and stars that are blown blind—or fail to ignite at all.

11. DANGER IS (UNFORTUNATELY) THEIR MIDDLE NAME.

Fireworks manufacturing presents an enormous danger. In 2016, Slate reported on a preponderance of deadly fireworks-making accidents in China—with an average of 400 workers in fireworks production plants dying every year between 1986 and 2005. Elsewhere, fewer accidents seem to happen than one might expect from the mixing and storing of combustible chemicals. According to Heckman, in the U.S. at least, that’s because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) “stringently regulates the manufacturing process, including personal protective gear, and employers must train their personnel on the hazards and the [kind of gear that’s] required.”

“We’re mixing powders to create explosive compositions that have to be handled very delicately," Grucci says. The work has to be done in a non-sparking environment (one with special tools and materials that reduce the risk of sparks), and in a room that has plenty of exits. "[You don’t want to be in a] big, giant room filled with fireworks and there’s only one door to get out," Grucci says. Workers in their factory wear conductive shoes, which conduct static electricity through the footwear and into the ground, "because the environment is very dry and you wouldn’t want to walk across the floor and touch something and have an arc spark that goes to a box of open powder and explodes on you.”

Safety is paramount for Grucci, who lost his father, James, in a massive industrial accident in 1983 at the family fireworks plant on Long Island. He says that the secret to safety, from manufacturing through installation, is to “be consistent and never cut a corner.” He says his grandfather always told him, "As soon as you think you know it all, or you want to start cutting corners, [that's] when potentially you’re increasing your odds of getting injured or possibly killed."

12. SOMETIMES THEIR FAVORITE WAY TO WORK IS SMALL.

Yes, it’s a challenge to produce a 30-minute fireworks show off five barges in the middle of Manhattan’s East River—but intimate shows present their own set of hurdles. Grucci mentions a Dolce & Gabbana fashion event held around Lincoln Center’s fountain that he created pyrotechnics for this spring. The flaming bits were a mere 15 feet from the audience and the clothing that was showcased in Lucite boxes. In that kind of scenario, “You can’t afford to have the hard outer casing or the inner paper wrappings” you’d use at an aerial fireworks event over the river, Grucci says. “The last thing you want is debris falling on the audience.” The solution: stationary fireworks comprised of titanium and aluminum particles of a sub-micron size, which burn quickly and don’t sustain heat for more than a few milliseconds—sort of like a sparkler.

13. THEY BREAK RECORDS.

World fireworks records include the largest fireworks display: 810,904 of them, fired off on January 1, 2016 in Manila, Philippines. And the most shells launched per minute: 479,651 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2013. And the longest fireworks waterfall (a long, glittering shower of embers): 11,539 feet, 5 inches, at a fireworks festival in Fukuoka, Japan, in 2008. On New Year’s Eve 2018, the Gruccis broke the world record for the world’s largest single aerial shell at a show they produced on Al Marjan Island in UAE. Weighing 2397 pounds, it was the culmination of almost 40 years of Grucci family trial and effort. “My father attempted the world record for the largest firework back in 1979 [with] a 42-inch-diameter white magnesium cascading flower that we displayed down in Titusville, Florida," he says. "Guinness gave him the world record, but it didn’t launch to the height or break to the size that he wanted it to. He always wanted to retry that and I had the opportunity this past New Year’s Eve to give my family another crack.”

14. THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT (OR PASTEL).

Research is underway on fireworks that are quieter—which could cause less stress to animals, children, and those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder—as well as fireworks that are kinder to the environment by using cleaner, nitrogen-based fuel.

But those aren't the only innovations shaping the future of fireworks. Shapes are changing, too; look for letters and corporate logos. Designers now also have a host of softer and more diverse colors at their disposal. “In the early ‘80s we started developing colors in between ROYGBIV, the basic colors, so now we can produce lemon and tangerine and chartreuse and aqua and every color within the spectrum,” Grucci says. They do so by fiddling with the purity of the metals used and the size of their particles—which also change other parts of their overall effect. Large particles of metals like titanium, iron, and aluminum result in large “splinters” and a glittery effect, Grucci says, while smaller particles lead to fewer splinters and “a very bright light.” He notes that at this point, they can "get pretty much any Pantone color" in a fireworks composition.

15. THEY LOVE TO SEE AMAZEMENT ON THE FACES OF AUDIENCES.

People watch the Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks from outside Brooklyn Bridge Park in 2015
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“I think a crowd, in general, appreciates a lot of action—variations in colors and noise; and pattern shells such as smiley faces, hearts, and dice are always pleasers,” Heckman says. According to Grucci, “This is a very serious business. But it’s colorful and it’s beautiful and it has great, great energy. When we go to a performance, we can see an 80-year-old man and a 5-year-old granddaughter watching the show and their expressions are pretty much the same.” In that moment, “They both [become] children.”

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