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The minimal frame we used

frame from above

The frame served several purposes. In theory, a frame is never absolutely essential. I like to think of my balloon art as being pure and requiring only balloons. That also means that I don't usually use aids like tape or string either. But, having never made anything as large as this, I had a fear that something would topple. There's also the problem of the balloons on the bottom being compressed heavily by the weight of the balloons above. With a wide enough base and a tight enough frame, that shouldn't be a problem. Without the practical experience of having worked on this large a scale before, it wasn't worth taking a chance. I was flown half way around the world to make this work, and I wanted all of the insurance I could get. If I needed a frame in the end to ensure that this would look good on TV, I was going to use one.

In addition, the sculpture was not going to be built in the same studio that it was needed in for the final taping of the show. That meant that once it was completely assembled it would have to be picked up and carried. What's more, I learned it had to be carried outside. Even if we could construct it so that it was strong enough to stand on it's own, there was no guarantee that the moving of it wasn't going to cause problems. A sturdy frame was sure to keep it together in transit.

Another requirement of this project was the use of special effects. It was decided that a balloon sculpture of this size looked impressive alone. But if it was capable of performing an action, the audience would be completely amazed. With this in mind, I designed it so that the sword arm of the samurai was capable of swinging and knocking the head off of the demon.

starting position of samurai
mid position of samurai
end position of samurai
Sequence of samurai motion

To accomplish this, the platform had a turntable that was the diameter of the samurai. The samurai rested on this. Room was left under the platform for a person to sit comfortably while rotating the figure. That same person would also be able to pull on a rope, that through a series of pulleys, would extend the sword arm at the wrist and elbow to create a natural motion.

We didn't end up constructing it so that the head of the demon could come off. In fact, only the demon head ended up being built at the size that a full demon body was originally going to be. But, the samurai still had the capability of turning and swinging it's arm.

To allow the joints to work properly, the arm was constructed as several pieces. The end of the lower arm fit loosely inside the sleeve of the kimono. Nothing of the mechanism or framework was seen from outside, however the balloons barely touched each other so that there was no friction between them as the arm extended. Unfortunately, this didn't perform quite as we had planned. It worked. I was very happy with what it looked like, but the director decided that he didn't like the motion, and the space we were working with was too restrictive. When the show was filmed, the arm was left in it's starting position. Just to have something dynamic in the end, the turn table was rotated for the audience.

When we were finished, the frame carried very little load. In fact, as we built it, much of it was assembled off the frame. That was enough to tell us that the the frame really wasn't necessary for most of it. There was one notable exception. The samurai's arms were not stiff enough on their own. Without the frame as support, they would have flopped over. The right arm, the one capable of moving, would also have been unable to perform it's intended action without the frame and pulley mechanism we had designed.

Despite the lack of a need for the frame in the end, it did simplify many of the intermediate building tasks. We were able to align things more easily, get an accurate sense of measurements, and it provided a support while things were being put together. At times we were able to throw ropes over the frame in order to lift large pieces up on the platform.

Framing and materials used

The platform was built mostly out of wood with an acrylic top. The acrylic stage allowed for light to pass through from underneath to light the sculpture. Originally lights were going to be placed inside the sculpture itself, but I feared that lights powerful enough to light it up might create too much heat too close to the balloons that they would pop.

The framework shown was constructed with steel poles. Steel was more than a bit of overkill. While 15,000 inflated balloons can be quite heavy, considering what we normally think of as the weight of a balloon, a heavy PVC pipe would have been sufficient and significantly easier to cut or modify once work began. Unfortunately, my request for PVC pipe was either ignored or translated incorrectly.

The kimono and the mid section of the demon head had a thin wire running along them to help measure and hold the shape until the open framework was filled in. Once that was complete, the wire was no long er necessary.

Other materials that came in handy were fishing line, rope, tape, and a hand full of plastic rods that also served as temporary support.

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