"Dinner's On... FIRE!"
or "How our float ended up in the Rose Parade"

On January 1, 2005 I had the thrill of seeing a float I helped design make its way down Colorado Boulevard during the Rose Parade. This happy event was the result of thousands of hours of work by a devoted band of volunteers who had worked all year on the project. This is a look back at the events of the year and the results of all that work.

Burbank Tournament of Roses Association logo

The float was built by the Burbank Tournament of Roses Association. Most of the floats in the annual parade are now built by professional float companies, but a handful are still done by small independent operations, harking back to the original days of the Rose Parade. BTORA is an all volunteer organization, and exists solely to design and build the City of Burbank's annual entry in the Rose Parade. While the city is the major sponsor of the float, all of the work is performed by the unpaid members of BTORA. There is simply no way a city like Burbank could afford the expenses if they had to pay all of the workers for their time. It's also a great spot of civic pride and brings many from the city together each year to work on the float. In fact, a lot of people who have moved out of Burbank come back to work on the float - including me and Carol!

Carol and I had joined BTORA a number of years ago. Each year Carol would spend part of the summer and fall cutting up dry flowers, then devote the week between Christmas and New Year's to gluing flowers to the float. As the years went on the kids joined her and the living room rug would have all sorts of colored flower bits awaiting cleanup; that was my main job for years. My real job usually kept me on the road too much to actively participate in the effort, but I was always impressed by the results.

Each of the floats is based on designs submitted by the BTORA members. Carol began submitting designs and found herself getting good receptions to her ideas. Aided by our good friend Stacia Martin, a talented staff artist at Disneyland, she got closer and closer to getting one of her ideas chosen. In 2003 Carol and Stacia got the good news that one of the ideas we had all worked on had been picked for the 2004 float, so everyone was on Cloud 9 - at least temporarily. It seems that another entry for a different city had a similar design element, and by the luck of the draw, the other group won the pick. Undaunted, Carol and Stacia regrouped and submitted designs for the 2005 entry early in 2004.

The parade theme was to be "Celebrating Family", and they had some very clever ideas. At the last minute I decided to resubmit an idea I had originally suggested for the 2001 parade but which garnered little, if any, interest back then. Carol had helped flesh out my initial idea and Stacia had done some beautiful artwork, so I had kept the design since I liked it so much, even if no one else did. Well, to make a long story short, of the 80+ entries submitted to BTORA, we had 3 of the 7 semi-finalists. When the voting was over that reject from 2001 was the winner. The City of Burbank entry for 2005 was to be "Dinner's On... FIRE!"

Initial concept art

Here's the initial artwork by Stacia for the float. The 2001 parade theme had been "Fabric of America", and I had thought that a picnic was a typical American event. Having my own share of barbecue mishaps over the years, it seemed that a group of bears bedeviled by a pesky bee could be a hit.

As can be seen, Papa Bear is so absorbed in trying to swat a bee that he has forgotten all about the meal now burning behind him. Mama is rushing there to put out the fire, oblivious to the havoc she is causing to the picnic spread. Brother Bear and Sister Bear can only look on in confusion at the antics of their parents.

After the design was chosen it had to be approved by the Tournament of Roses Association in Pasadena. We were nervous about this step, as this is where we had been eliminated the prior year. Happily we beat out another city that wanted to use bears in a picnic and got the hoped for green light. Work could now begin in earnest! In an interesting twist of fate, the city we beat out for using bears was the same city that had previously caused Carol's design to be rejected years ago. I have to admit we were quite happy we prevailed this time.

First color rendering

The next thing we had to do was to get approval of the design from the Burbank City Council. This interim design was prepared by Stacia for use in a presentation to the Council and shows some of the things we were quickly learning on our way to getting the float built. The barbecue was now a brick design, so there would be a place for the float driver. The "Happy Face" was gone from Papa's apron just in case there were any copyright issues to the design. The float was done in two levels to enhance the view for parade viewers. There would be other changes along the way, but overall, the basic design would stay fairly consistent through to the actual construction of the float.

Final color concept art

A few more changes can be seen in the final version that was the basis for the detailed designs and construction. The picnic basket has been moved forward to provide a spot for the safety observer on the float, while the overall setting has been changed to a more gradual slope. The tree trunk has been bulked up to include a sophisticated hydraulic system, as the tree would be too tall to get out of the construction building or under the bridges in Pasadena unless it could be tilted to lower the top. Getting the tree to work was quite a challenge, but the team pulled it off!

By now we had learned a very important rule set by the Tournament of Roses Association in Pasadena. Any deviations from the design could result in lower scores during judging, so it was very important that by this time we had picked all of the flowers needed for the proposed color scheme and were sure that all of the physical elements could be built. You can add elements to the final float, but not omit anything on the approved design. There were going to be many, many other rules to follow along the way.

More about the design and building of the float