Monday, October 20, 2014

5 Day Facebook Challenge - a little bit of ballooning history from Treb Heining!

I wonder how many of my Facebook friends were asked to participate in the 5 Day Facebook Challenge?

Along with many other ballon artists I also received a nomination by one of my Facebook friends to post one of my designs everyday for 5 days and to challenge another balloon artist to do the same on every one of those 5 days! My initial reaction when I received this request was to question why, however, it became apparent very quickly that this was a fantastic opportunity to see some incredible balloon decor and in some instances some magical stories that accompanied them.
Snowmen in the Snow by Sue Bowler CBA
For me selecting which pictures to post became my own personal challenge, how do you decide which 5 designs reflect you and your 'ballooning' personality? I chose a selection of pictures that held a special memory or had a story linked to it... like the snowmen that I made on a day when we were literally snowed in to our home... no escaping for a few days! These little snowmen stayed in our garden for 3 weeks, at some point they were completely covered in snow, but even when the snow melted they had survived their ordeal!

The reason I decided to write this blog was because one artists 5 day challenge really stood out for me, don't get me wrong, I have loved each and every picture that I have seen posted by other artists, but this artist has shared a little bit of ballooning history too! 

The problem with Facebook is that a post has a very short shelf life and after a few days or even hours they can disappear never to be seen again! So, with the permission of Treb Heining I have reposted his 5 days of picture posting along with some of his very magical stories!

So here it is, Treb Heining's 5 Day Challenge!

Okay Cam Woody - I accept your challenge and since I am a huge fan of his work, I challenge Luc Bretrand to do the same.
To start - I have posted one of our early projects here. Thought it would be interesting for everyone to see what equipment we used when we first got started.
The first photo shows a table with all the equipment we used to create balloon decor in 1979.  
The Very Best Balloon Blog

It includes: Belle Gold blower, helium valve, dacron line, finger tape, ear protector, dykes and paper clips. Add balloons and skill and you get what you see in the photos. Total cost for this equipment in 1979 = $160.00
The Very Best Balloon Blog

The project I am featuring took place in 1979 for the University of Southern California (USC) Homecoming. I had just started my business and really didn't know what I was doing but did know how to produce balloons quickly. Worked with a crew of 4 or 5 people and turned this out in under three hours. I remember that when we started, it was still dark - in the early AM - but had to be done by 9 AM. This area was where they held the "President's Party" and this display caused quite a stir. Balloon columns/arches were brand new and this type of work had not been seen by very many people. Needless to say, this is how our word-of-mouth business started and our association with USC lasted for more than a decade.
Basically just four big arches all connected - going from the ground to the upper balcony of the school library and then connecting again from there. 

- Couple of additional photos of other USC Homecoming displays -
The Very Best Balloon Blog

The Very Best Balloon Blog

Second day of challenge...
Cinderella re-release party at Warner Brothers lot - 1987
This was back in the days when Disney was re-releasing their old movies into movie theaters and would have elaborate parties - invitation only - for their "A" list of stars and celebs.
We got a call late in the afternoon to decorate this 200' X 200' tent the following day. A scramble to get product, crew etc. on top of the fact it was raining like crazy.
This still is one of my favorite pictures of very simple classic balloon decor - of course Cinderella's coach makes all the difference...
The Very Best Balloon Blog

Day three of my challenge
Neiman Marcus Fashion Show - Caesar's Palace Pool - Las Vegas 1981
The Very Best Balloon BlogThey use to have an annual Gran Prix auto race (1980/81) in the parking lot adjacent to Caesar's Palace. The first year (1980) we were hired to provide a series of arches that were marched around the track for the opening parade.

The Very Best Balloon BlogOn the second year (1981) we planned the same effect but did an American flag pattern with the plan that it would be unfurled in front of the crowd during the national anthem. Unfortunately, it turned out to be one of those blistering hot days in Vegas and the balloons looked great at the beginning of the parade but not so good at the end. (you can see the heat starting to takes its toll in the photo) 

In addition to the flag effect, Caesar's had contracted us to build an effect for that nights party that was held in the pool area and featured a fashion show put on by Neiman Marcus.
I have included the artist rendering we did for this effect which consisted of a series of seven arches that would provide a "ceiling" for the entire area.
I often used artist renderings to sell our work - especially in the early days - as people just didn't understand what I was talking about when it came to balloon decor/effects.
The Very Best Balloon Blog

To make it extra special, we ran a series of C9 chaser lights through the columns so that the balloons not only lit up but also "moved" when you hit the chaser button.
This was the first time lighting had been added to balloon columns - kind of a high profile event to try something of this caliber.  

The Very Best Balloon Blog
So to be clear - we started very early in the morning to build the balloon flag effect for the parade - marched this effect around the track in temps approaching 100 degrees - brief lunch break and then built the lighted effect.  

The lighted column effect was created with 14" helium filled balloons. We inflated everything in the main ballroom of Caesar's and waited until very late in the afternoon to take each column/arch out to the pool area.
When we ran the chaser lights through the columns in the ballroom, the weight of the lights equalized the lift from the helium and it was only when we added the five foot balloons that there was the necessary lift to arrive at the final photo you see.  
The Very Best Balloon BlogLooking at the final photo and recounting all the details makes me tired all over again. To remember that we also created an enormous effect that morning before even tackling this evening effect is a testament to how prolific our crew was even though we were barely into our second year of running BalloonArt By Treb, Inc.  (each of our crew members could produce 1000 balloons per hour)
For those in the industry who have been around long enough and tell you that we started it all - this is one of the reasons why. These kind of days/events were common for us. Using thousands of balloons on a job was not the exception but rather the rule of the kind of work we did.
I post the photo again of all the equipment we used to complete our work to remind everyone that we sized all balloons by eye and ear as well as venturing down roads that had no maps let alone a compass to measure sanity. 
(realize too that I am not following the rules to challenge someone else each day but am hoping by posting these thoughts, it will challenge all to build big and use the power of balloons to create success in your business)

Day four of my challenge
The Very Best Balloon Blog
200th Anniversary of the U.S. Constitution Opening Ceremony - Philadelphia, PA 1987
There are times when Classic Balloon Décor is used for just that - décor and then there are times when it is also great for effects and spectacles. This is a story highlighting the latter.
In 1987, BalloonArt By Treb was called on to develop ideas for the 200th Anniversary of the US Constitution in Philadelphia. It was decided to create a large American flag made out of balloons. We had done many American flags over the years, but because of the nature of this event, I wanted to make this one special. 
My idea was to completely cover the front of Independence Hall with an American flag and the shows one of the renderings we did to sell the idea. 

As if this were not challenging enough, the event producers wanted the flag to "appear" during the special song, "We The People", being performed by Andrea Mcardle for the finale.
The final plan was to build 40 columns of balloons - each 70 feet tall. The columns were to be "hidden" in the park area behind Independence Hall and then marched out and lined up as the song "We The People" was being performed. This gave us a 3 to 5 minute window to get all the columns in place and lined up before the song ended.
The concerns that the city had were if the balloons would damage Independence Hall in any way and what would happen if it were a windy day. I assured them the balloons would be safe and that the wind would not be a problem. (along with tying balloons fast - I was always good at selling)
Our balloon crew from CA consisted of 12 people and we enlisted the help of a local high school band to provide us with the necessary bodies (75) to transport the balloon columns.

The Very Best Balloon BlogThe day before the event, we brought the group down to Independence Hall  where we had one column built for demonstration purposes. The plan was explained to everyone and we let each team member work with the finished column to show them exactly what to do the next day. This went very well and the only thing that remained was to inflate 40 - seventy foot balloon columns and have a meeting with God to discuss the wind deal.

The Very Best Balloon Blog

We used 14" balloons done in clusters of five. The inflation went smoothly and we positioned the park benches to serve as anchors on each end of the 40 columns
The Very Best Balloon Blog

The Very Best Balloon Blog
Park benches serving as balloon arch anchors!

(Forgot to mention that there was also a 10,000 - 9" -balloon release included in the effect - partially shown here )
The Very Best Balloon Blog

The Very Best Balloon BlogAs the music for the finale started, two columns at a time were sent through the openings to the right of Independence Hall and marched into place behind the stage of dignitaries which included VP George Bush, Thurgood Marshall, Chief Justice Warren Burger and James Earl Jones to name a few. (this created a series of "issues" in talking with the Secret Service to allow so many of us in that close proximity to the VP of the U.S.)

The Very Best Balloon Blog

The Very Best Balloon Blog

The Very Best Balloon BlogThe important thing was to get all the columns out quickly and our system that was rehearsed the previous day went without a hitch. Once all the columns were in place, I immediately started the fine tuning process - starting at the left end of the flag and working my way to the right - having the crew people raise or lower their columns so that the flag would look as perfect as possible. 

Why the rush to get it perfect? Because at the end of the song "We The People", the band immediately went into "Stars and Stripes Forever" and the entire flag was to be released - column by column - into the sky during the final strain of that song. 

The Very Best Balloon Blog
"yes we did crazy things back then"
All in all, a pretty successful day. I arrived very weary to the Philadelphia train station the next day on my way to another event in New York. At the newsstand I noticed the front page of the USA Today newspaper: there was our flag. Over the years, the photo of this flag has been used extensively by the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, appeared on the cover of college text books and even was granted a full page in Life magazine. 

It is a true testament to the power of balloons. For those of us lucky enough to be in this wonderful business and know what this takes to produce, I believe it represents the very freedom and determination that created the document for which it proudly honors.
Day five of my challenge
The Very Best Balloon Blog
The young Mr Heining
Disneyland's 30th anniversary balloon candle effect - Anaheim, CA 1985
Thought it would be good to finish this challenge by showing an event we did on the same streets that started me on my path to a career in balloons so many years ago - 1969.
During the 30th year celebration of the starting of Disneyland, we were fortunate to work on many wonderful events in and around the Park including a One Million balloon release and a publicity shot that was used extensively throughout that year.  
The Very Best Balloon Blog

The Very Best Balloon Blog
One Million Balloon Release by Treb Heining

The Very Best Balloon Blog

The Very Best Balloon Blog
The actual birthday of the Park - July 17th - was the date of what turned out to be one of best and most challenging effects we ever did and a testament to the quality and durability of Qualatex balloons.
(no commercial here but just had to mention this)
The idea was simple: create 30 birthday candles out of balloons - each measuring 75 feet long. Each "candle" would be lighted using C7 lights run along the interior of the column of balloons and would be supported by a 10 foot - helium filled - yellow vinyl inflatable.
Easy enough and hardly worth losing any sleep over. But the Entertainment Art director - Clare Graham - was always pushing the boundaries - and our capabilities - in the hopes of creating a better show for the Disneyland guests. Clare requested that all of the "candles" be rigged in the horizontal position over Main Street to form a canopy of balloons. When the actual 30th anniversary party started at midnight - during the playing of "When you wish upon a star" - each "candle" would be released - one at a time - to float to its vertical position.
Just to make matters a little more challenging - this whole effect had to be rigged during the day while the Park was open with guests passing along below. Oh - and the month of July in California is known to be on the hot side - easily 90 degrees +
We started by air inflating all the "candles" in a rehearsal hall that was located in the back off-stage area of the Park approximately one quarter mile from Main Street. This inflation took place on July 16th.
The following day - our crew arrived about 8AM and went over each candle - re-packing and replacing any balloons that had gone down. At the same time we had another branch of our crew starting to inflate the 30 - 10 foot vinyl inflatables. 
The Very Best Balloon BlogWe were very experienced at using this type of inflatable as we had used 50 of them previously during the closing ceremony of the Olympic games in Los Angeles as well as other balloon effects we had done. 

The Very Best Balloon Blog

But something was different about this batch of product we received. Seems that the pods that are attached to the sides of the inflatables were failing - a bad batch of glue - causing the pods to slowly peel and fall off one at a time. Left unchecked - each inflatable would simply fly away. We solved this problem by quickly purchasing some epoxy - two different forms of glue - that when mixed together, held the pods in place on the inflatables. (or so we hoped)
While the inflatable crew worked on their portion of the job, it became time to move the 30 balloon "candles" to the back of Main Street and start the installation of the balloon candle canopy. This was accomplished by having four crew members position themselves between two candles and then walk the candles along the back roads of Disneyland to the staging area behind Main Street. 
It was a very hot day and I must say that those of you who know me and my desire to always have perfection when it comes to balloons, this was a very difficult part of the day. I had to "let go" of some of that perfection in terms of the spiral pattern and balloon replacement as once the columns were rigged across Main Street, we had no way of touching them up. 
The system we established to get the columns over Main Street included one crew member on each side being on headset so that we could communicate with both sides of the street and then to our crew on each side. The columns were carefully pulled over Main Street much to the delight of the guests down below. 
The Very Best Balloon Blog
75' Balloon Candles 

The Very Best Balloon Blog
'Candles' being rigged

The Very Best Balloon Blog

The Very Best Balloon Blog

Once we had all 30 columns in place, we installed the 10 foot inflatables - 15 on each side of the street. (seems that our gluing system was holding)
Finally - it came time for Disneyland's 30th birthday party to start. We had 30 crew members - 15 on each side of Main Street - each holding one of the 10 foot inflatables. When the song - "When You Wish Upon a Star" - started, one column at a time - working towards the Castle - was released.
The Very Best Balloon Blog

Once all the "candles" were in the vertical position, the lights were turned on and the crowd down below went wild. 
For those of you who have seen the three photos from this event, (flat over Main Street - columns moving - final columns lighted), you now know the whole story. The glue we used did indeed hold and this effect stayed up throughout the entire next day for the birthday celebration.
You can imagine how tired our core BalloonArt By Treb crew was (we had scheduled staggered blocks of people to help move and trip the effect) but I know many of you out there also know the incredible feeling that comes from doing something that pushes your own boundaries to the max. 
I booked a room that night at the Disneyland Hotel that had a view towards Main Street. Around 1:30 AM, once all had been taken care of at the Park, I made it back to the room, went to the window and gazed at 30 lighted birthday candles towering majestically over Main Street and wept.
Thank you to Cam for issuing this challenge and thank you to all or taking the time to read, look and send such nice comments and thoughts.

I believe in the importance of dreaming
I believe in the benefits of working hard and discipline
I believe in the power of balloons

 Wow, what can I say, what a truly magical journey! A huge thank you to Treb Heining for sharing some incredible stories and photographs and to Cam Woody for selecting Treb to be one of her 5 day challengers!
'Treb Heining is the man responsible for invented the balloon garland and who first popularized professional balloon decor in the late 1970s. His vision launched a national phenomenon, and his basic design became the cornerstone of Classic Balloon Decor.' 

Happy Ballooning everyone, I hope that you have been inspired as much as I have!



Neil McGee said...

Hi Sue, I was a part of the 30th celebration and one of crew that helped put together the candles. I remember Treb being very anxious and full of energy, as this was the biggest thing he had pulled off to date. Most of us were volunteers and very young; one kid was about 13 or 14 years old and rather small in stature. He was told to hold on to one of the 'candles' until we could move it to Main Street. Big mistake. His weight was not enough to keep the balloons anchored, and he slowly began to rise off the ground. be got about 8 feet off the ground before we could reach him, all of us shouting 'let them go!" He finally released the balloons and fell to the ground unharmed - but the candle got away. Treb was NOT happy, as we had to scramble to create another balloon candle. All went off without a hitch - and know you know the rest of the story!

Treb said...

Wow - just reading this now after posting some five years ago and while Neil must have a very good imagination, this never happened. The balloon candles were done with air inflated balloons so had NO lift. This effect was a very big deal but hardly the "biggest thing he had pulled off to date" - believe the opening ceremonies to the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles would have been pretty high on the list as well as numerous other large scale events much bigger than this - again - good imagination Neil but not true...