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The Birth of a Balloon

Part Two

The plastic anchors or "loading patches" are strategically placed on specific areas of the balloon for the nylon handling ropes to be tied to. Their placement is crucial as each serves as proper balancing lines to maneuver the balloon from below when floating in the air much like a puppeteer does with a marionette from above. The famous puppet maker Bil Baird, who with Tony Sarg developed some of the very first giant balloons in the 1920's once described the giant balloons as "upside-down marionettes."

On a particular balloon there might be as few as four or as many as fifty handling lines ranging in length from 15 to 65 feet in length. These ropes are the steering devices for the balloon crew to control and manipulate the big puppet from the ground. Waving a giant hand, or wagging a tail can bring extra laughs along the route. Sometimes a playful rocking motion can "animate" the gentle giants as they swing and sway in the breeze, high above the heads of those who marvel at their performance in the parade.

After pieces are cut and anchors are set, the tedious process of heat sealing the pieces together begins. Imagine scoring an Orange and pealing back the pieces of the peal. These are the types of sections of fabric that make up each "shape". After these individual chambers are built, they are then joined together to "build an entire form", which will become the balloon character.

When fabrication is complete, details, such as faces, smiles, eyes, and other various artistic highlights are sketched on freehand or with the aid of an overhead projection light box, like you might see in church or school. Once the designs are sketched on in colored pencil or chalk, they are then painted, one color at a time. The drawings and the painted model serve as a guide for the painter to follow. Shadowing and shading are airbrushed to add a more dramatic effect to the visual look of the balloon. Now the balloon begins to come to life!

An air inflation is performed to look for any leaks or weak seams. The balloon goes through a "floor test" where it sits for a day to see if it is airtight. Once the balloon passes this test, the handling lines are attached and rolled and rubber-banded.

The balloon is placed in a huge plastic crate and a label with the balloon's name is attached. Now, a "test-flight" is scheduled. This is where the balloon is filled with lighter than air, non-flammable Helium gas and flown for the very first time. It is an exciting moment, when the sandbags are taken off the ropes and the handlers take the balloon on a stroll. Pictures are taken for publicity purposes and the balloon is deemed airworthy.

A Balloon Is Born!

While the balloon is being built, color art of the balloon is shown to parade directors and producers all over the country and bookings for appearances of the balloon are being lined up. Each balloon travels with it's own "Balloon Captain" who travels with the balloon and inflates it and teaches the handlers the do's and don'ts of balloon handling. The captain escorts the balloon and it's crew through the parade route.

The entire process from drawing board to debut takes about six to eight weeks. For nearly three-quarters of a century giant parade figure balloons have captured the hearts and minds of all who have viewed them. Watching a balloon drift by, take a moment to look at the reactions of the parade spectators as the balloon floats by. The smiles and cheers sum up the answer of why they are so popular. Unchanged by time, they are a simple reminder that inside each of us lives a child. The innocence, the simplicity, the joy and the magic created by...

The Birth Of A Balloon!

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