About the Infernoptix
Most modern screens and displays are comprised of a grid of tightly-packed pixels, and by turning precise combinations of pixels on and off, complex moving images are formed. Now just substitute a 6" fireball for each of those demure little pixels, and the image jumps from the screen in licks and bursts of flame. That's the idea behind the latest creation from NAO, the Infernoptix Digital Pyrotechnic Matrix. Matrix because the screen is comprised of a grid 12 pixels wide by 7 pixels high, and Digital because to operate all 84 pixels in such elaborate ways requires a bit of digital processing. That processing starts with custom software, developed exclusively for the Infernoptix, and running on PC or Mac. Five separate modes allow a variety of effects from the screen, as well as the ability to perform the on-the-fly tuning that is necessary with complex pyrotechnics.
 
Text Mode - A text mode makes the sign perform like a classic scrolling sign- simply enter an unlimited amount of text on the control screen, and instantly the sign cycles through your text, at whatever speed you choose. As the letters step sequentially across the screen, you can even adjust the exact timing of each burst- from 15 to 100 milliseconds, to achieve either a strobed effect, or a more fluid, interlaced motion. Text mode features an additional function that allows you to push any key on the keyboard and have the screen display that character as long as the key is held.
 
Tracker Mode - Tracker mode serves as a sort of freehand sketch function for the Infernoptix. With your mouse, just click and drag within an onscreen box, and the Infernoptix ignites the corresponding pixels in real time, producing dramatic, rapid gestures and motions. This mode also includes a setting whereby the keys of the keyboard are made to correspond in a similar way to the pixels of the Infernoptix. Just drag your hand across the keyboard, beat on the keys a bit, and feel the satisfaction of seeing your actions translated into a wall of fire.
 
Percussion Mode - Whereas the preceding modes of operation involve harnessing fire for visual appeal, the percussion mode takes advantage of the concussive nature of each burst of fire to create complex custom rhythms. What is the sound of one pixel firing? Well, it's not too scary, but add more and more simultaneous bursts and the depth and amplitude of the shockwave increase rapidly. Now by firing different quantities of pixels, and pixels at specific locations on the screen, it is possible to create beats of varied pitch and amplitude. Again the software allows easy control of tempo and pulse length, so you can optimize playback every time. Scripting and editing of a pyrocussion arrangement is easily handled with the percussion editing mode- just hit record and play along with the metronome on the keys of your keyboard. When you're done you'll see a visual representation of each beat, and be able to edit each beat's exact timing, volume, and location, as well as building up more beats on top. Then save your file and play it back any time. What's great about using combustion for percussion is that much lower frequencies can be achieved than with most any standard percussion instrument. Frequencies at and below the threshold of human hearing dominate in the larger bursts, and with the long-distance capacity of low frequencies, it means that you'll be feeling the beats of the Infernoptix before you're hearing them, and hearing them long before you're seeing them. Guaranteed to rattle windows over 1 block away . . .
 
Animation Mode - In Animation mode the Infernoptix functions much like a regular TV screen, albeit at low resolution. Many simple animations have been written and can be played back by selecting from a menu. Again, speed and pulse length are variable, and the action can be looped or reversed. The software also includes a convenient animation editor which allows existing animations to be edited, and new animations to be created by sketching each frame on a grid and compiling those frames into a whole animation.
 
Audio Mode - Lastly, the Audio mode turns the Infernoptix into a 12-bar audio level meter, similar to a Winamp visualization with each bar tracking different frequency ranges and displaying the real-time result onscreen. This mode accepts music, voice and noise played on the computer, through a microphone, or simply from ambient sounds, and displays a constantly changing waveform corresponding to the tone and volume.
*Interesting side note- the Infernoptix is capable of achieving an audio feedback loop when the sound of a burst of fire is picked up in audio mode, and the resulting output generates more noise that is again picked up and fed back. Much like old-fashioned microphone feedback, but way more interesting with fire.
 
Inner Workings - During operation, all control information for the Infernoptix is sent out of the computer through the parallel or serial port, to a driver box onboard the actual screen. Each fire pixel has a corresponding valve nestled in the frame of the screen and turned on or off by commands from the software. The Infernoptix is typically fueled by propane, but can be run on natural gas as well. Fuel tanks are stored externally and connected by hose to the sign and valves. Fuel consumption varies widely but with propane averages 15 gallons per hour. The screen itself measures 4'2" high by 7' wide by 1' deep, and is constructed of steel and copper. Total weight is 450 pounds, not including the stand, which is removeable for transport or alternate installations. Each of the seven horizontal rows of pixels is housed in a steel channel, set a few inches behind a corresponding pilot flame tube. Because the pilot flames must remain lit during operation, but must not rival the actual bursts of fire in luminescence, the pilots are tuned to run at a low, dim, blue flame. Sitting idle with the pilots on, the Infernoptix maintains a different kind of mystique, with eerie blue dots dancing about. But when the pixels fire, the bright yellow fireballs eclipse the pilots and are all that can be seen. Daytime suits the Infernoptix just as well as night, and in fact daylight serves to make the pilot lights invisible, while the bright yellow fireballs remain obviously visible.
 
Creator - The Infernoptix was developed in 2006 by NAO Design of Palo Alto, CA. Previously known for the JL421 Badonkadonk and other recent pyrotechnic devices, NAO now brings the primitive element of fire into the digital realm with computer-controlled pyrotechnics. Custom-built screens of virtually any size can be specially produced, and the Infernoptix is available for events in the western U.S. See the Inquiries page for details.
 
Beyond Version 1 - Endless possibilities exist for the application of such pyrotechnic matrices. There is no limit, beyond cost, to the total size and configuration of the screen. The software adapts easily and allows for a myriad of custom rhythms and animations. Even the list of operable modes continues to grow, with new functions added from time to time. If you've got an idea for a new software mode, let us know! And in looking to future pyro-matrix development, NAO is reportedly considering inclusion of both proportional burst sizes and chemical colorants to take the screen from "black and white" to color . . .
 

Copyright 2006 NAO Design