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Building a fire-breathing Rose Parade float

December 27, 2006

The "Once Upon a Time" float in the 118th Tournament of Roses Parade will pit good and evil dragons in a fire-breathing battle on the streets of Pasadena on New Year's Day. The step-by-step process of creating an animated dragon head:

Stage one: sculpture

Artists create the three-dimensional shape of the dragon's head from pencil steel. The sides of the dragon's face are welded together and supported by 3/4-inch steel pipe, forming the basic shape of the head.

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Stage two: animation

Fabricators attach the head to the neck with a hydraulic-operated gimble that allows side-to-side movement. A rubber wetsuit material hides the gaps in the joints. Pyrotechnics experts install a propane-fueled flamethrower in the dragon's lower jaw.

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Stage three: skin

A flexible screen is wrapped around the head and sprayed with a layer of urethane foam that forms a flat surface. A color-by-numbers layer of paint is applied.

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Stage four: decoration

Flex foam details such as scales, fins, eyeballs, eyebrows and lips are glued onto the dragon's head and neck. Dry and fresh natural decorations are added according to the color coding.

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Source: Float designer Michelle Lofthouse, Phoenix Decorating Co. Graphics reporting by Brady MacDonald

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