A Photo Tour: Backstage at the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade Studio

My coworker Ally and I had an opportunity to tour the Hoboken production shop and initial staging ground at which the floats and balloons for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade are constructed. This rococo monstrosity is the first thing you see when passing through the studio’s surprisingly fortified entryway. Housed outside, we found an unidentified sleigh construction (not Santa’s; it turned out to be the Dora float), three iconic Macy’s stars, red and inflated, and a blue cat on a rusty tin roof, all surrounded by barbed wire and a scattered few forklifts.

I didn’t immediately recognize the above as the OfficeMax float. (When it finally dawned on me, I thought to myself, “Those herky jerky moves? I am a better dancer than that.” No, I am not.) These elves did not rest once in the two hours we were there.

Planning is a year round process. If memory serves, there are around 25 floats in each parade, and this year seven will be new. To become a sponsor—like our host, Homewood Suites—you must submit an assumedly lofty proposal more than a year out. If accepted, you meet with the Macy’s crew—everyone at the studio is a Macy’s employee, as are most/all those who appear as balloon handlers/clowns/etc.—to discuss the overall vision. Once that is settled, it is in Macy’s hands until completion.

And here’s the final product. FOX 5 was there shooting a segment, and their enterprising reporter snagged school kid Donald Hill to help out with the report. Sick buffalo club hat!

John Piper, Macy’s VP of Parade Production or some similarly awesome title, told us that anyone hired to work at the studio must wear multiple hats. If you’re a computer designer, you also paint. If you’re a carpenter, you also help test the balloons, etc. (There’s more on that here.)

The Morton’s Salt float centers around anodyne folks dressed as cupcakes and gingerbread men frolicking in the land of hypertension, which struck me as a bit nefarious except I am offended by the concept of unsalted butter and so am in no position to judge.

This is a model of the Keith Haring float that made the trip down Broadway in 2008 and had a run-in with Meredith Vieira and the Today Show’s broadcast booth. Unlike most floats, which lean forward and lurch along, “Untitled (Figure with Heart)” was fully upright and thus much harder to control. Tom Otterness and Jeff Koons have also had their work immortalized in balloon form…

…and you can add the omni-present Takashi Murakami to that list.

Next: Oh man, it’s KaiKai and Kiki.