Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Building the Titanic - an interview with designer Fiona Fisher CBA

Fiona Fisher
The Titanic- designed and created by Fiona & Rodney Fisher

It has been just over a month since Fiona & Rodney Fisher built their 14,000 balloon and 40' replica of the famous liner TITANIC. I was very privileged to have the opportunity to work with them on this amazing project along with John Bowler, Angela Holland & Sandra McKeon.
Fiona Fisher
The Team 
April 15th 2012 marked the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic striking an iceberg and sinking to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. The ship was built in Belfast and the city held a series of events to remember its connection to the ill-fated vessel.

Firstly, I would like to congratulate Fiona & Rodney on this awesome project! I think that many balloon artists can learn a great deal from Fiona's experience which she has generously shared with me here in this blog!

How did the Titanic project come about?
"After completing a Halloween project in the Victoria Square shopping mall, future projects were discussed with the centre's management. The next biggest event in Belfast was the Titanic's centenary and when we heard that, we (Rodney and myself) suggested that we could make a scaled version of the ship!

How did you do your research?
"That's Rodney's department! He bought some books and did a lot of internet research. This book shown here contained all the scale plans, and from there he made all the calculations and drawings!

Rodney's calculations!

 How did you know how much to quote?
"Once Rodney had designed the frame, he was able to calculate the amount of aluminium rod, balloons and other materials it would require. Then I needed to work out the labour time which was not so difficult as we used the 'Topiary' technique of adding the balloons to the frame, which is pretty straight forward and easy to work out the timings. So all in all this was probably one of the easier quotes I have had to do"!
Fiona Fisher

How did you present your proposal?
"The proposal was made up of the following:

  •  the job would take 4-6 people 4 to 5 days to add the balloons to the frame on site.
  •  the frame would be made in advance off site, for both safety and logistical reasons.
  •  the sculpture would be suspended using a winch system.
We also include a 'to-do' list and a 'needs to be done' list, which we work through with the client to work out who is responsible for what. To give you an example on our list was safety barriers, team meals to include lunch and evening dinner and accommodation for the team for the duration of the build!
Basically everything was listed and allocated to persons responsible, these lists grew as the project neared. The to-do list is something that we do for every job to ensure that the jobs run smoothly and that everyone knows exactly whats occurring and who is the responsible parties.

The winch ended up being sponsored, how did that happen?
" Rodney was buying supplies for the project and needed to work out the winch system, which would allow us to move the sculpture into it's final suspended position and also, off the ground each day during the building process. When he explained what he was doing WH Scott Ltd became interested in the project and offered to do this as their company had been involved in the original building of the Titanic 100 years ago"!

How would you say that the project went?
" Fantastically! Everything went according to plan, in fact we were ahead of schedule and very very happy with the end result"!
Would you have done anything differently?
" No, the only thing that we had no control over was the weather, we wished that it had been a little warmer... not for our benefit, the night frosts damaged one side of the ship which we had to repair, but we always offer a maintenance service with all our jobs, we pride ourselves on our customer service".
On a personal note, I would like to add how cold it was working in the shopping centre, something that I was un-prepared  for! After sending John to find fingerless gloves and hand warmers, along with wearing many many layers of clothing I was finally warm enough to work and use my fingers... I can strongly recommend hand warmers, they really do work, I kept them inside my gloves whilst working!

Sue working in gloves!

What feedback did you receive from the shopping centre?

"The management were extremely happy with the reaction of the general public. Around 500,000 people visited the centre whilst the Titanic was in place. The shopping mall galleries were always busy with people taking photographs as it was visible from all levels! We have had fantastic press and media coverage from all around the world and one of UK's top television presenters Christine Bleakley " Tweeted" that out of all the amazing tributes to the Titanic in Belfast, that this was one of her favourite! For more media links click here

Fiona Fisher

How do you go about insuring yourself for a project such as this?
"As a member of BAPIA (Balloon and Party Industry Alliance), we were fully covered for all eventualities. There is absolutely no way that we would do any project without knowing that we had full insurance coverage!

Likewise, working with Qualatex balloons is also like an insurance, knowing that we have created an amazing project using 'the VERY BEST BALLOONS'!
Only the best balloons!

 Is this the biggest project that you have ever done?
"Yes, but funnily enough not the hardest... in fact one of the easiest! The hardest project that we did was also in the same centre, when we created Halloween decor for the first time there. We created spiders and ghosts, and because of the elements, in particular the wind that seems to 'rush' through the centre, it managed to force the balloons off the frame, due to the fact that we had secured the spiders legs from moving, however, we learned that by allowing movement within the structure the balloons remained happily in place and everything was fine after that!

Finally, it is 4 weeks since you made the Titanic, have you had any enquiries that you believe are as a direct consequence of the Titanic project?
"Probably the best way to respond to this is yes. But maybe not in the way that you think! For example, we made the frame for the Titanic in an empty retail unit in a local shopping centre, we have now been commissioned by that same shopping centre to design and build decor for the Olympic Torch Relay.
Building the Titanic has created huge public awareness on an International scale, therefore I am able to promote Worldwide Balloons Decor (my decorating company) as a very competent and professional company, and I am finding that I am getting immediate positive response when I quote for new jobs"!
Here are a few more photographs from project Titanic taken by the very talented Ben Hanna

Titanic Balloon Sculpture by Fiona Fisher
The Titanic frame arriving at Victoria Square shopping mall

Titanic Balloon Sculpture by Fiona Fisher
Attention to detail and all to scale!

Titanic Balloon Sculpture by Fiona Fisher

Titanic Balloon Sculpture by Fiona Fisher
The Titanic would not have been complete without these little models of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio!

For more great pictures and fantastic information regarding the building of the Titanic visit www.buildingtitanic.com, Fiona & Rodney's great website that documents the whole project from conception through to completion!

Once again a huge thank you to both Fiona & Rodney Fisher who invited both myself and John to work on this amazing project and for all the wonderful information that they have shared with the balloon community!

Fiona Fisher
Here are a few of Fiona & Rodney's amazing sculptures!

Happy Ballooning!


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