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One of the city's long-running holiday traditions returns on Thursday 24, when the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade meanders through Midtown. Now in its 85th year, the festive procession features more than 80 inflatable characters and moving displays, 11 marching bands and a cavalcade of celebrity performers joining the parade. "We're celebrating in big style, with new floats and balloons," says John Piper, the vice president and creative director of the Macy's Parade Studio. We recently visited the facility in Moonachie, New Jersey, for a pre-Turkey Day peek at how the suspended promenade is staged each year.
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Until last year, Macy's assembled its gigantic creations at a smaller facility in Hoboken. The new studio in Moonachie is four times larger than the former space, allowing for construction of its full fleet of floats. Frozen Fall Fun (a Thanksgiving-centric twist on hockey) and Hats Off to Our Heritage (which honors parade pioneers Jean McFaddin and Robin Hall) are some of the new additions for 2011. Macy's will also roll out its "balloonicles," or contraptions that combine a cold-air balloon and self-propelled vehicle; check out the Aflac duck, which debuts this year. The concept goes further with a "tricycloon," combining a balloon and three-wheeled vehicle.
As for the balloons, old favorites such as Snoopy, Kermit the Frog and Buzz Lightyear will join several new inflatables, including Sonic the Hedgehog, Paul Frank's iconic Julius monkey and Tim Burton's B. That last character is a product of the parade's Blue Sky Gallery Series, which invites contemporary artists to design pieces for the event (past participants include Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami). When we visited the studio, we glimpsed sketches and models of these larger-than-life characters, as well as the balloons themselves, some of which require as much as 10,000 cubic feet of helium to reach their full size.
Once all of the centerpieces are built, it takes approximately 25 hours to move them from the facility to Manhattan. Each structure travels through the Lincoln Tunnel, which requires some flexibility. "All of the floats [are made] to fold down to no more than 12-and-a-half-feet tall and no more than eight-and-a-half-feet wide," explains Piper. The creations arrive on the Upper West Side the afternoon before the parade. If you want to see them up close, head to the annual balloon inflation (W 77th and W 81st Sts between Central Park West and Columbus Ave; Wed 23 3--10pm; free), where the pieces will be blown up before they float along Central Park to the Macy's flagship at Herald Square.