Winter rain, a global pandemic, a faulty mechanism, an unexpected shortage on a flower, glue that doesn’t, well, glue. Besting challenges are part of the lore of building the Cal Poly Universities’ Rose Float, a collaboration between Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo that for 75 years has delivered the only student-designed and student-built float for the annual Rose Parade.
The 2024 Cal Poly Universities’ entry, “Shock n’ Roll: Powering the Musical Current,” will be the 19th of 84 float entries to sail down Colorado Boulevard on Jan. 1, 2024. This year’s parade theme, “Celebrating a World of Music: The Universal Language,” was selected by Alex Aghajanian (’79, business administration), president and chairman of the board of the 2024 Tournament of Roses Association.
Towering at 23 feet, the 55-foot long and 20-foot-wide float will be a luminous underwater rock-and-roll party — an electrifying scene of swooping violet manta rays, a giant clam with a turntable nestled in its bivalved shell, gliding yellow eels with a 27-foot-long eel powering a Gibson Flying V next to a subwoofer speaker, and a pneumatically powered piano with keys synced to play to the beat of the parade music.
“I want people to understand that students love building these floats,” said Matthew Rodarte, Cal Poly Pomona Rose Float student team president and fourth-year electrical engineering student. “They’re a love letter to everyone who’s watching.”
This year, the team is debuting a new animation system to control the mechanisms of the moving parts of the float and program and record these animations. There are seven moving pieces on “Shock n’ Roll,” and many of those pieces have more than one movement. For example, the eel powering the guitar and 12-foot-long manta ray at the head of the float each have three movements. The clam and the eel hiding and weaving out of the piano keys each have two.
This innovation took a year to design, develop and construct, and will be passed on the next generations of Cal Poly Universities Rose Float student teams to power their own animations, said electronics lead and animations operator Saleemah Ahmed, a third-year mechanical engineering student.
“It’s the glue that brings the whole thing to life,” Ahmed said. “The first time we flipped on the switch, that was in the Top 10 moments of my life.”
“Top moment” is a recurring theme on the floor of the Rosemont Pavilion in Pasadena where the “Shock n’ Roll” has been parked for Deco Week.
Adrian Jimenez-Hernandez, a third-year mechanical engineering student and section leader, recalls the feeling of the successful first test for a mechanism he designed to animate the eel coming out from its hiding place behind the piano keys: “I will not lie, it nearly brought me to tears,” he said.
Staying as Cool as a Sea Cucumber
The Pomona and San Luis Obispo teams’ challenge to overcome this year happened during Deco Week at the Rosemont Pavilion in Pasadena. A wing of the large manta ray broke off after a malfunction. Racing against time, the wing was repaired in the same evening so that the section would be ready to be decorated with dried statice petals the following morning.
There was also the matter of the sliced discs of grapefruits and cara cara oranges that attracted ants because the citruses were not salted. The slices were whisked away for salting and have since remained ant-free. The float driver and navigator also became ill days before parade day.
“It’s the 75th year, so there’s definitely added pressure to do it right because it’s such a huge milestone for our program,” said Pomona Deco Chair Bailey Beene, a second-year landscape architecture student. “We’ve tried not to let that added pressure get to us. We have to get this float to the parade route. We’re staying level-headed.”
Bouncing Back from the Pandemic
At the Rosemont Pavilion, hundreds of volunteers took their turns in shifts in a flurry of activity: tucking roses, carnations, Gerbera daisies, orchids and irises in nearly 17,000 vials filled with water and flower food; hand-gluing onion seeds on the sides of the letters of “Shock n’ Roll: Powering the Musical Current”; preparing boxes of individual bougainvillea and lavender statice petals for the brain coral and manta rays.
Ashley Simmons, the Cal Poly Pomona Rose Float team’s student leadership coordinator, estimates the number of total volunteers to reach 1,000 by Dec. 31 — alumni, students, fraternity and sorority chapters, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and families. Volunteer numbers are back to pre-pandemic levels as groups resume their hands-on help decorating the float as part of their winter holiday traditions and bucket lists.
Beene said the florals and produce for “Shock n’ Roll” were selected to give the visual depth to emulate the dreaminess of being underwater through a palette of violets and purples, peaches and pinks, oranges and yellows. Seaweed will be used for black keys of the piano. One hundred square feet of hand-petaled lavender-hued lunaria will adorn the giant clam.
Several new blossoms and produce will be used for the first time this year, Beene said. Among them: Peruvian lisianthus, with their tall, cylindrical stems and small purple flowers; an array of protea for the encrusted coral and floral arrangements on the float; cockscomb, whose ripple-like blossoms “already looks like brain coral itself, giving that velvety texture”; heliconias, a perennial plant that resembles a lobster claw; dragon fruit for the encrusted coral bedding; and Buddha’s hand citron, notable for its unusual segmentation of finger-like sections.
“It’s such a detail moment,” Beene said.
How to Watch the Rose Parade
The 135th Tournament of Roses Parade presented by Honda will be held on Jan. 1, starting at 8 a.m. in Pasadena.
- In person: Arrive early, possibly the day before, to secure your spot along the street or pay for premium seating tickets.
- Network and cable television: KTLA-5, NBC-4, ABC-7, Univision-34, The Cowboy Channel and Rural Free Delivery (RFD) TV
- Streaming: NBC/Peacock, KTLA, ABC and Univision channel apps; Hulu+ Live TV, YouTube TV, DirecTV Stream, and Sling TV
- Follow Cal Poly Pomona: Follow the university’s Instagram account (@calpolypomona) to see photos, video and behind-the-scenes moments on Jan. 1.
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