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The Birth of a Balloon

Part One

The Magic behind the creation of a parade figure balloon

Have you ever wondered where those lighter than air giant character balloons come from? You know, the kind that you see in famous parades and special celebrations world wide and at parades across the nation each holiday season. Well there's a company in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, that has been designing and creating these high flying wonders since 1987. 2007 will mark our 20th year!

Smith Special Productions!, the boyhood dream of balloon artist Bill Smith has brought to life over 400 of these fantasy gasbags since it's inception and the balloons have become the hallmark of some of the nation's greatest parades and special events. Appearing in hundreds of parades all over the country, these aerial actors have charmed millions of parade goers each holiday season. Now, we take you behind the scenes to show you how the balloons travel from fantasy to reality. From the Imagination, to the drawing board to the parade route, they are indeed a "labor of love."

The first step in the birth of a balloon is the idea. The concept, the image that will become the balloon. A giant air-sculpture. It is perhaps the largest celebrated form of pop art.

Once a particular character is chosen, a series of drawings are made. From these sketches a clay model is developed. Then a series of patterns are made from the model. Each section of the balloon is a separate air chamber. In an average character balloon as many as 15 individual chambers can make up the entire form that will, when inflated, become the character.

Huge sheets of rubberized vinyl are laid out on a cutting table, and the individual pattern pieces are traced and cut by hand. At the same time, certain chambers of the balloon are prepared with inside walls and dividers that will hold the special detailed shapes and create contours and forms giving the balloon curves and dimensional highlights such as smile lines, eyebrows and muscles.

Continue to Part 2