The colorful history of confetti; foodfights and a nuclear physicist

As New Year’s Eve is coming up, incredible amounts of confetti are shipped off to every corner of the world to celebrate the start of 2018. Loved by kids throwing it at each other, admired by intoxicated crowds at parties but resented by the ones cleaning up the mess the day after… Confetti might be the most loved and hated special effect in our known universe.

Confetti has been around for as long as I can remember and in our office we all love confetti. We incorporate confetti in our shows in numerous ways and at least one confetti blaster a week is used within our office. As countless organizers are preparing to cover massive awestruck audiences into a thick layer of bright colored dancing pieces of paper, I did some research into its history and wrote down some tips and tricks…

The battle of the oranges in Ivrea, Italy

Eggs, mudballs and the battle of the oranges

Yeah, well… Turns out the story of confetti is actually quite remarkable to say the least. Back in the 14th century in Northern Italy it was common to throw objects into the crowd. While members of high society threw with coins or perfume-filled eggs the lower-class people began throwing back mudballs and rotten eggs to mock the wealthy people. Even though most of these objects have been replaced by confetti, some of these traditions still exist today. ‘The battle of the oranges’, for instance, is a massive food battle in Ivrea, Italy. During this celebration, thousands of people are divided into nine combat teams and battle each other using only oranges. Arguably the biggest annual foodfight of the world.

Ettore Fenderl, a nuclear physicist and the inventor of confetti…

Candy, coriander and a nuclear physicist

So, back to confetti… When mud balls and eggs were finally banned, people were frantically searching for alternatives. After all, a carnival parade is not complete without throwing stuff at random people. Eventually, candy was allowed to be used as projectiles. As sugar-coated coriander was widely available in Northern Italy, this became the go-to alternative, which is also the reason why the Italian word for confetti is ‘coriandoli’. In the end, even candy was deemed too dangerous for the massive and often violent foodfights that occured.

In 1862, Ettore Fenderl was born. Although he grew up to become a globally celebrated nuclear physicist who created the first laboratory for radioactivity research, in his hometown Trieste he is remembered for another innovative achievement… Inventing confetti. Lacking the possibility to throw expensive rose petals during the parades, he cut paper into small pieces and threw this from his window. The birth of our beloved confetti. Ettore would live to become a stunning 104 years old, surely his celebrative mind had something to do with that!

Times Square during New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve, ‘green’ solutions and the confetti Master

Enough history, let’s head back to today… Nowadays, a literally incalculable amount of confetti is used every year. To provide you with a general idea, during NYE on Times Square 3000 pounds of confetti is used in under a minute. Treb ‘The Confetti Master’ Heining is solely responsible for this job. He manages a team of over 100 employees to make sure the massive crowd at Times Square is left in amazement every year…

In the environment conscious society we live in today, the ‘greenness’ of the confetti has become increasingly important. The incredible mess that was left to clean up has now been replaced by biodegradable confetti, which reduces the ecological footprint. For our own shows we also use biodegradable confetti, however, I once came across an even greener solution when I was doing show direction at Myth festival in Shanghai… At first I couldn’t believe my eyes but it turned out that for the second day of the festival a group of employees were actually reusing the confetti streamers by rolling each piece back into the confetti streamer cannons.

Besides using biodegradable confetti, you could always choose to reuse your old confetti…

How to use confetti; some tips and tricks

Having learned something about the history of confetti might have gotten you all riled up and ready to blast into the new year with copious amounts of confetti. However, the art of confetti is actually a delicate one. There are many ways to make use of confetti. You could shoot it with the simple store-bought confetti shooters, blast it into the audience with a cannon creating an explosion of confetti or you might just want to cover your audience with gently falling snow-like pieces of paper. By creating our shows we have gained some insights about the art of confetti.

For our shows, we sometimes use confetti in certain shapes to match our concept.

Mind your surroundings
For your show you can choose where you want confetti to be used. In order to do this you need to be aware of your surroundings. Pay extra attention to the direction in which the wind blows (or air current if you are indoors) because the last thing you want is for the confetti to blow away from your audience. Besides hitting the designated area the lighting is essential. In a dark setting, front lighting should be used to avoid the disappearance of the confetti into the darkness of the night. Other show elements or special effects, for example flamethrowers, have to be taken into account as well (for obvious reasons…).

Choose your confetti
Secondly, you have to determine what the effect of the confetti on your audience should be. Once you know that you can decide which colour you want it to be to match your concept (dappled, bright, shiny, matte, etc.). Other variations might include special shapes and the size of the confetti. Additionally you can choose the material from which the confetti is made.

Sometimes less is more…

Timing is everything
As with any part of your show, timing is of the utmost importance… Whether you use it in your grand finale or in a specific part of your show, determine the exact moment on which you use your confetti. This should also be communicated towards your team. For your photographers and film crew this is especially relevant since they need to be ready to capture that moment as it usually provides a perfect opportunity for a great shot.

Subtlety vs. overkill
And last but not least, the amount of confetti is crucial. Don’t get me wrong, I like to cover our audience with a ton of confetti accompanied by loud music and impressive light shows as much as the next show creator, but that is not always the best option. In the past we have done shows where we used a moderated amount of confetti. For example, for a board of directors dinner we have used a subtle amount of rose petals whirling gently down. This created a very subtle yet beautiful effect. Using a small amount of confetti raining down from a particular point you can highlight specific parts of your show. Because sometimes… less is more. However, concerning confetti… sometimes more is definitely more.

Contact me if you have any suggestions on a next article or subject we should research!