Gallery: Volunteers work to build 2013 Rose Parade floats
IRWINDALE - Birds, naturally, are no friends to floats.
The majestic Rose Parade floats that traverse Pasadena every year are decorated not only with an array of colorful floral arrangements, but also with dry material such as bark, dried grasses and seeds, which are often less elaborate but always useful.
The seeds sometimes attract birds, who freely flitter through the large warehouses where float builders work.
"If something is done in certain seeds that they might enjoy, you'll see them feasting on the whole top of your float," said Jim Hynd, the floral director for Fiesta Parade Floats, as several birds chattered overhead.
Builders do take steps to protect their creations from hungry sparrows, and it's just a small part of the process to get floats ready for New Year's Day on Colorado Boulevard.
Designs are conceived as early as January, just after the previous Rose Parade ends.
Companies and independent groups build the frames during the summer months, often recycling previous float chassis and large elements.
The float skeleton is covered by a foam base and secured with wire, then painted.
Phoenix Decorating Company, the largest builder with 20 floats this year, brings in about 16,000 workers and volunteers over the lifespan of all of its floats, spokesman Brian Dancel said.
Because of the sheer amount of people, applying paint is a critical part of the process that helps volunteers get a sense of how the finished product will appear.
"It's a flower-by-number process, if you will," Dancel said, "so anybody that comes in can do it."
The decoration work begins just after Thanksgiving, when volunteers and artists start applying dry materials. Fresh flowers such as roses don't arrive until the final weeks of December, but builders plan it out long before then.
"We're thinking about decoration from the very first moment we're sketching a design," said longtime designer Charles Meier, who founded Paradiso Parade Floats this year and is handling the City of San Gabriel entry.
Colors, textures and materials are all considered, Meier said, including whether each part of the float should have dry or fresh materials, which helps spread out the work over several weeks.
As a smaller entry, the city of San Gabriel has limited its volunteers primarily to residents.
A group of Gabrielino High School students worked on the float recently, dicing sphagnum moss to be used as oxen fur for the San Gabriel's entry, "City with a Mission," in celebration of its 100th anniversary.
The moss will then be dusted with cinnamon, "so it has a nice furry, brown look," Meier said.
Selections of dried materials and flowers have evolved over the years, Fiesta's Hynd said, often reflecting global market supply, marketing and new techniques in floral design.
In the parade's earlier days, floats were merely spectacular showcases with a sponsor name attached. Now, the designs themselves often reflect a company or organization's purpose.
"It's our job to make them as beautiful as possible, and a beautiful floral presentation, without just being a big advertisement," Hynd said.
Vendors acquire flowers and dry materials from throughout the world, and sometimes designers save money purchasing a low-germinating batch of seeds from farmers.
Hynd, a 45-year veteran of floatmaking, developed the technique of cutting up dried straw flower into confetti, now a staple of float decoration.
His team of floral designers has helped Fiesta dominate the parade's biggest prize, the Sweepstakes Trophy, for the past 19 years, and Hynd is always on the lookout for a new idea.
"During that week of decorating, you might see a spark, and you'll say if we just took this one step further, it will be so much more than we anticipated," he said.