Fireworks: It’s just as easy as tossing a flaming stick into the air and having it explode into a starburst sprinkle before fading into the night, right?

Those are your parents fireworks; today’s fireworks are far more advanced than anything you might have seen in your lifetime.

It comes down to two major advances: Movement and timing. To create a given image in the sky, technicians have to move hundreds of rockets into precise points in the sky, and induce them to explode at precisely the same time.

fireworks
This photo wouldn't be possible without some precision timing.

The most advanced companies in the world, like Fireworks by Grucci, use computers to not only time and aim the their individual rockets, but to precisely control the speed with which each rocket leaves the ground. That allows the company to write words and draw shapes in the sky with hundreds of rockets with “pixel-bursting,” or using individual fireworks as the dots in complex images.

But that’s not the end of the importance of timing. Drawing a shape is one thing, but a really good show should also sync up with the music. Want a boom to go off with the crescendo of the Star Spangled Banner? That needs some further tweaking and timing, and accounting for factors like wind.

Since 2015, Intel has been playing with the idea of using drones to form individual pixels in images. From the ground, it looks as though the sparkles from a firework have come alive and started flying around of their own volition. The quadcopters blink on and off, change colors and flit around — all controlled from a single computer.

The way fireworks look isn’t the only difference from your childhood shows; their sound is changing as well. Silent fireworks aren’t new — just pack a rocket with chemicals that brightly burn without going BANG! But silent fireworks are becoming increasingly common, driven by local laws outlawing loud fireworks.

Here’s what a silent show looks like at a wedding, where it becomes a visual aid to music without the booming:

Another problem for fireworks makers: sunlight. Want kids to see the fireworks show, but not keep them up until 11 pm? Daytime fireworks might help solve that conundrum. Chinese artist Cai Guo Qiang, who also crafted the fireworks for the Beijing Olympics, designed an 8,000-shell show using puffs of colored smoke in lieu of sparkles to celebrate the opening of the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Qatar.

Down the road, expect the pace of innovation to continue as technology makes more innovations possible, and the creatives designing the shows use them in new and different ways.

Photos via Fireworks by Grucci