The 2018 Cal Poly Universities’ float, “Dreams Take Flight,” depicts three young animals flying high in the sky in homemade airplanes.
What natural material mimics the thick fur of a sea otter? What comes closest to a soft koala or a furry red raccoon? How can you create a fluffy purple cloud? These are some of the questions pondered by the Cal Poly Universities’ Rose Float teams in charge of decoration.
Students from Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo build the float from the ground up, from creating a design, building the framework, creating the animations and constructing all of the mechanical systems. The final step in the process involves covering the entire float in flowers and other natural materials, but decoration planning begins months in advance.
“The process of picking the materials to cover the float begins after the design team comes up with a rendering,” said Brett Hollinger, a senior kinesiology student and chair of the Pomona Decorations Team. “The Decorations Team then chooses the colors and in summer begins to match the dry materials to the colors on the rendering.”
By fall quarter, the team meets almost every Saturday to test a variety of materials, patiently separating, shredding or gently gluing each one onto a square foot of cardboard to see if it has the right color, texture and appearance.
Paula, the koala flying the lead plane, will sport a greyish pampas grass to achieve a furry appearance. Rusty, the red panda, will get its furry look from shredded “gorilla hair bark,” which is actually shredded redwood bark. For Ollie, the otter who pilots the back plane, the team chose sheet moss topped with ground coffee for a smoother but still textured quality.
One of the most challenging colors, surprisingly, was finding the right off-white material for the ribbons supporting two of the planes, the highest of which soars more than 50 feet in the air. Students tried rice powder, dried mango, dried pineapple, oats and several varieties of coconut — shredded, flaked, regular, organic, unsweetened and sweetened. Finally, they discovered that ground banana chips produced the right texture and color and will use close to 300 pounds of the chips on the float.
Another challenging color was matching the various shades of purple at the base of the float.
“The purple on the pod (or floor of the float) has been the hardest, but we finally have that figured out,” Hollinger said. “We considered purple tulips, kale, ornamental cabbage, fresh statice, button mums and irises in meetings with the coordinator from the California Cut Flower Commission.
“Ultimately, we decided on whole kale, which was white with little tips of purple early in the season. When we saw samples later in the season it turns a darker purple. We will use about 1,200 whole kale heads which will give us a really unique texture and cover a lot of space.”
The body of the float, a sea of clouds, will mimic a puffy, light feel as they blow in the breeze. To recreate the soft texture, students will use a variety of flowers, including roses, Gerbera daisies, mixed floral arrangements and kale.
They will also apply cranberry seeds and orange cushion mums to the front airplane so it stands out in texture and color. The two other planes will be covered in mostly in button mums, giving them a fluffier look.
It’s All in the Details
Once the materials are selected, the team tests various glues: floral glue, which can sometimes react to certain flowers; Elmer’s Glue, which is a good all-purpose glue since it doesn’t cause petals to brown; contact glue; and cement glue.
The main body of the float will be covered in 42,000 total stems, including: 10,000 roses, 10,000 Gerbera daisies, 12,000 chrysanthemums, 7,500 Limoncello Yellow button mums, 3,000 Feeling Green button mums, 1,000 Ranjha Orange cushion mums, 500 Dante Purple cushion mums, 1,000 irises and 4,500 stem roses.
Most of the flowers are donated by farmers through the California Cut Flower Commission.
The team anticipates that approximately 96 percent of the fresh material will be certified California-grown.
Hollinger, the kinesiology student, has worked on four floats. “The best part of the experience has been the diversity of people, from all majors, who work on the float and become family by parade time. We’re all committed to producing the very best quality float for our campus.”
Amberley Costa, a senior majoring in liberal arts and minoring in English, has worked on three floats and is serving her second year on the executive board. In her first year, she learned welding and grid work. Last year, she was in charge of merchandising.
“Because I’m a commuter students, I didn’t think I’d have the typical college experience,” Costa said. “But with Rose Float, I’ve had that. I’ve met people from different majors and worlds I wouldn’t have met otherwise and made amazing friends. I also learned welding, which people don’t expect from women, especially women in liberal studies. Deco gave me the opportunity to visit flower fields, meet farmers and get a hands-on approach to some of the materials, how they grow and the settings where they grow.”