Descanso Gardens director talks about being a Rose float judge

Brian Sullivan spent New Year’s Eve surveying 40 floats covered in roses, carnations and fresh fruit.

If he had the chance, he said, he’d do it all over again.

Sullivan, the director of horticulture at La Cañada Flintridge’s Descanso Gardens, was selected to judge Pasadena’s Rose Parade. The three-member panel also included Amy Kule, the executive producer of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Shane Connolly, who works with the British Royal family.

“It was effortless on my part,” he said. “[The Tournament] did all the coordinating. They made it so easy to judge.”

Sullivan and the other judges were given a narrow window to rate the floats on technical details, design and other factors, such as how well they represented California or the United States. They spent five minutes with each float — half of that time talking to float designers and engineers — on Dec. 30 and 31.

On the first day, judges take a quick tour of all the floats. On the second day, the music and animation is turned on. The scores are tallied that night and the winners are announced the next morning.

“It happens very quickly,” said Sullivan. “ You try to take it all in because you’re looking at everything.”

As an employee of Descanso since 1995, Sullivan took a particular interest in creative and unusual plant designs.

One that stood out to him was the city of San Gabriel’s float, “Celebrating Our Journey,” which was inspired by California’s early Spanish roots.

“They built plants out of other things and they did a really nice job,” he said. “They made orange trees and lemon trees. They used real lemons, but orange roses, so they mixed it up. Very, very pretty.”

“Dino-Soar,” the 2013 La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Assn. float, which displayed a moving, smiling brontosaurus, won best animation.

The float featured 38 moving parts, more than any float in this year’s parade. Sullivan said when he saw the local entry in action on Dec. 31, he was impressed.

“It was really quite stunning,” he said. “Sometimes when you see Rose animation, it’s choppy. This was very smooth.”

La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Assn. President Ann Neilson said she suspected the float would win an award when she heard the initial concept of how the brontosaurus would move from its tail to its nose.

The crew tested out the movements only two hours before the judges stopped by.

“We just knew that this was big animation, and that this would capture the judges’ attention,” she said. “There was just not any doubt in our minds.”


Follow Tiffany Kelly on Google+ or on Twitter: @LATiffanyKelly.

Copyright © 2019, La Cañada Valley Sun
EDITION: California | U.S. & World