How does Macy’s make its iconic Thanksgiving balloons?
For just shy of a century, Macy’s has put on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with its iconic, giant balloons. However, before any balloons float into the streets of NYC, a team of engineers, artists, painters, and other designers work in a 72,000-square-foot studio year-round to make it happen.
Step 1: Design and draw
Designers and artists sketch the balloon out. They have to make sure the balloon’s shape will let it fly evenly and that its size will provide the right amount of helium. Too small and there won’t be enough helium to lift the balloon. Too big and the balloon will rise too high and tilt upwards. The balloon must also be able to collapse into a container small enough to fit through the Lincoln Tunnel the night before the parade.
Step 2: Render
Engineers turn that sketch into a digital 3D model and use that model to check the design’s structural integrity.
Step 3: Model
This digital design goes to a 3D printer for scale models and another printer for custom fabric patterns. Designers also create an armature model, similar to a skeleton, of the design and cover it in clay.
Step 4: Cast and Plan
Designers use the clay model to build two cast models. They use one of those cast models for drawing seams, ropes, and inflation/deflation spots. They paint the other one with the design’s exact colors.
Step 5: Assemble
Workers cut the fabric, heat seal the pieces together, and inflate the balloon with enough helium to lift about 12,000 basketballs! Once inflated, they hand-paint everything according to the design.
Step 6: Fill and Test
Designers test the balloon’s flight with various wind speeds to ensure everything is balanced out, from the helium to the handlers with ropes underneath.
Step 7: On With the Show!
Showtime! 3.5 million live spectators and millions at home watch more than 8,000 parade workers walk the 2.5-mile route on Thanksgiving.
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