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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Creation of the Macy's Skylanders Balloon

I designed Eruptor back in 2009. Never in a million years would I have imagined that 5 years later, he would become a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. This, of course, is a once in a lifetime experience, so I'd like to share my story. 

Eruptor Concept Art

My first sketches of the Eruptor balloon to send to Macy's for inspiration had his arms stretched out wide to the sides. This turned out problematic, because he would be too wide for the streets of New York City. The arms would also probably cover  a bit of the face, and at that body tilt angle, you wouldn’t see his face as well as if he was more tilted down. It's funny that we have similar constraints on the Skylanders toys - size constraints and tilting to make it easy to see for the viewer.

My first pose had his arms to the side, making
 him too wide

Final pose is more narrow, allowing him to be bigger,
and at a good viewing angle from the ground

With color and to scale

After the pose was worked out, Macy's amazingly talented sculptor Eric Hudspeth sculpted him perfectly. I was blown away at the maquette, it was a thing of beauty. After the maquette is finished, they molded and made casts, which were then used to figure out the balloon patterning including how many panels of fabric were going to be needed to make the balloon and  to get the character colors correct. I was astonished at the color model, it looked really 3D. I wasn't sure how it would translate into the real balloon, how could it look this good?

Macy's Amazing sculptor, Eric Hudspeth, 
working on Eruptor
Side view of the Clay Maquette
Street view from the front
Final color model

Models of the new balloons at Macy's window display
The Eruptor balloon featurette video

The day before Thanksgiving, the balloons are all inflated, and here I got to see Eruptor for the first time. Nothing could prepare me for how big and colorful he was… I was blown away. He actually looked even better than the small scale model, the colors really popped, and he looked very 3-D. 

Starting inflation

By night, he was fully inflated

The weather was cold, windy, and rainy the day before, which had me really concerned. I didn't want it to rain on my parade.... get it??? rain on my.... anyway. But on Thanksgiving Day, it was about as perfect as can be.

I got to meet a lot of the balloon handlers, who were all super sweet, and as excited about Eruptor as I was. Some of the handlers and pilots found out that I had designed Eruptor, and took some pictures with me. Macy's even gave me a balloon handler's outfit, which looked awesome. Seeing the balloon for the first time, fully inflated and in daylight, left me speechless. When the handlers unleashed him and raised the balloon, he floated up majestically. He measured 50-feet long, 36-feet wide, and 36-feet tall, with more than 40 gallons of fluorescent paint and 5 barrels of glitter. The glitter didn't look too sparkly, but added a really nice pop to the bright colors.

My first day time view of the balloon
These outfits were great! Wish that I could have been 
able to keep the vest!
hmmmm... I thought he'd be a little bigger
You can see the amazing paint job here
Everyone getting excited to start
Group selfies with Eruptor's giant foot

Then the parade started, and Eruptor floated along to greet the crowd. I walked alongside the balloon and heard lots of people cheering "Eruptor! Eruptor! Eruptor!" or "Skylanders! Skylanders! Skylanders!". It was nuts. I'm walking next to a giant 50-foot balloon of a character that I created with the crowds  chanting his name. Surreal.

One thing that I did not anticipate was how close and intimate we were to the crowds. Everyone waved and wished eachother Happy Thanksgiving. Then it occurred to me, adults just don't wave to strangers very often. It's one of the most fundamental human gestures, and kids do it to everyone. As adults, we get caught up in our lives, and we don't make eye contact nearly as much as we should, and we don't usually greet strangers and wish them well. It felt REALLY NICE to do so along the parade route to thousands of people. I felt more human, and more gratitude, than I've felt in a long time. It was a profound experience that I will never forget.

At one point, we stopped for a few minutes which happens often because of the performances, and I heard the usual chanting of "Skylanders!" by a small group of people. We all shouted back "Skylanders!", and a moment later, they were chanting "He designed it!" over and over. Shocked, I tried to say thanks and try to get them to stop, and noticed that it was one of the pilots telling them to chant that for me. Then a few seconds after I turned back, they started chanting my name. It was beyond surreal, completely embarrassing and humbling at the same time.

In another part of the parade route, a young boy in the front lines had an Eruptor stuffed animal hanging over the rails. I ran up to him and gave him a high five. I think that made my day more than his!
Yup, he's huge 
At the starting line
Posing with the lovely banner girls

Here he is, along with the tiny toy!
Taking over New York

And here it is on NBC, starting around: 1:21:23

And that is how I spent my Thanksgiving in 2014. The year that Eruptor became a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. It still felt like a dream, but it will be the most memorable Thanksgiving that I will ever have, and one of the most proudest days in my life. Thank you Macy's, for your generosity and artistry. And thank you Toys for Bob and Activision, for allowing me this crazy opportunity to design these Skylanders.

"Born to Burn"

And Bill Nye tweeted this selfie!

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