Building Rose Parade floats: The tools of the trade

Photo copyright 2012 Ramona Monteros

 

by Laura Berthold Monteros

A Tournament of Roses Parade float is the epitome of teamwork.

It starts with a sit-down discussion and ends with a unique and stunning yet ephemeral work of art.  A float for the Rose Parade is a combination of a sponsor’s idea, a designer’s concept, an engineer’s calculations, a mechanic’s skill. When they are done, artists in metal, wood, sculpture, paint, and floral design bring in their talents.

Sponsors may have a detailed idea of what they would like on a float, or no idea at all. It’s the job of the float builder and designer to create a concept that will not only be stunningly beautiful or charmingly whimsical, but will work. Considerations include reflecting the theme of the parade, presenting the message of the sponsor in the few seconds a float passes by viewers, weight, height, whether or not there will be animation, and cost. Engineers design systems and mechanics design the engine that will get the float from the barn to post-parade and back.

Be sure to check out the photo gallery at the end of this article!

Metalworkers bend rods and weld them into skeletal sculptures. Screeners put the skin on the skeletons.  Wooden components are built. The float is then sprayed with a fabric cocooning material and foam, which is sculpted into shape. Small sculpted details such as hands are also added. In a sort of paint-by-numbers scheme, areas are lined out and the names of the colors penciled in to match the artist’s rendering. The float is painted and the floral designer, who has been in the process of choosing and ordering floral materials for as long as a year, is ready to assign volunteers to begin applying them to match the colors and bring texture to the float.

Finally, in the last weeks before the Rose Parade, volunteers and seasonal employees put the final touches on the float, ensuring that none of that previous work peeks out from under the blanket of flowers, seeds, bark, leaves, fruit, vegetables—whatever the floral director has chosen for the one-of-a-kind creation. The “dry dec,” dry materials that will not wilt or rot, is applied on Saturdays in December. The last few days in December, called “Deco Week,” are when a flurry of activity fills the float barns and pavilions as volunteers rush to ready the floats for judging before the Rose Parade.

The album below shows the process in photos for two floats that we followed from beginning to end at Phoenix Decorating Company. One of the floats began as the cover of a children’s book about the LA County Natural History Museum, which had to be simplified for the float. The sponsor of other, The Nurses’ Float, originally thought of portraying the tasks nurses do, but opted with a more eye-catching design at the advice of the designer. Both won trophies: The City of Los Angeles, teaming with the LA County Museum of Natural History, took home the Crown City Innovation Trophy in 2012 with “Dinosaurs in LA’s Backyard!” The Nurses’ Float won the Craftsman Trophy for “A Healing Place” in 2013.

Be sure to read the captions to learn more about how a Rose Parade float is created!



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