Burb's Eye View: Dimensions of Rose Parade float design

There's a tense time after one submits a design idea for Burbank's Rose Parade float, when the minutes and days tick by as the city's parade committee makes its decision.

And even if the committee chooses your design and the elation of seeing your creation come to life sets in, there's another nail-biting period when the Pasadena Rose Parade Committee has to approve the design. Not that it happens too often, but that committee may reject the idea if it's too similar to that of another float.

But it does happen. Just ask Carol and Bill Cotter.

For seven years, they've gotten together with friend Stacia Martin to brainstorm ideas. Each year, Martin, an artist, puts pencil to paper and sketches a whimsical scene based on the parade theme, using ideas bantered about among the creative trio.

The year they incorporated a jukebox into the design, Burbank loved it and forwarded it on to the top parade committee. Another float had a jukebox already, so their idea was scrapped and they went with the first jukebox entry.

But one unlucky year could not stop the team of Cotter, Cotter and Martin. In the last seven years, they've had two designs realized in all their resplendent floral glory in the Rose Parade. Last week, they earned their third.

“This was more nerve-wracking than others … we were the last ones (in the review order),” Bill Cotter said.

The Pasadena Rose Parade Committee reviews submissions in a predetermined order. So with Burbank's entry being reviewed last, it meant another float with a similar design would have been accepted because they were reviewed first. It could have been the jukebox all over again.

What helped, Cotter said, was Burbank's unique history. The 125th Rose Parade theme is “Dreams come true,” so for inspiration the trio drew from the motion-picture industry.

“Movies make dreams come true, and Burbank makes movies come true,” Bill Cotter said.

The float features a runaway train barreling toward a damsel in distress tied to the tracks by a dastardly villain. A hero on horseback arrives, and the whole scene is captured by a cameraman and a director.

Now the real work begins.

The Cotters, who along with their two children work on the float throughout the year, will now work with parade technicians to make the schematics. Then the welding, cutting and framing will begin. And in nine months, what exists only as ink on paper will blossom into reality.

“When you draw something and then see it come down Colorado Boulevard, it's a real thrill,” Bill Cotter said.

His team designed Burbank's “Dinner's on...FIRE!” float in 2005 and “Oktoberfest” float in 2008.

They approach the design in multiple dimensions: It has to tell a story in 30 seconds and it has to be larger than life, yet fit under a 15-foot-high freeway overpass. Then there's the “wow” factor, which Cotter said will probably be the locomotive barreling down the track.

The design was a team effort and fitting for Burbank's float, considering it is completely accomplished each year through an all-volunteer crew. That's the magic of Burbank's entry, and Bill Cotter says it's what makes designing and constructing the float fun.

“It really is a good example of teamwork … anyone that wants to do it, they still welcome you in with open arms,” he said. “The float reflects the values of hundreds of residents in the town — anyone can come down and be a part of it.”


BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. He can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter: @818NewGuy.

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