Behind The Scenes Of How New Orleans' Mardi Gras Parade Floats Are Made

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What would Mardi Gras in New Orleans be

without the parade?

And what would the Mardi Gras parade be

without the gigantic, ornate floats?

The world-famous floats take a year to make.

Well, nearly a year.

50 weeks, to be exact,

because for two weeks

they're used to celebrate Fat Tuesday.

But once all the celebrations die down,

the work for next year begins.

And it all starts with a giant piece of Styrofoam.

The most prolific float and prop manufacturer

is Kern Studios.

The company has been in the business for over 80 years

and now creates props for theme parks,

casinos, and corporations worldwide.

You can take a behind-the-scenes tour

through Mardi Gras World,

the 300,000-square-foot warehouse

where Kern Studios' artists and architects

build the floats from the ground up.

They build the props that will go on

the floats owned by krewes,

which are local social groups who fund the event.

Lee Curran: Step one of the process is

sculpting new Styrofoam props.

All new Styrofoam props begin with multiple sketches

on sheets of Styrofoam.

They will sketch them out, cut them out,

and then stack all those pieces together

around a base that has some sort of armature

or support beam coming through.

And when we're gluing Styrofoam together,

we are using a spray insulation-type material

called Great Stuff.

Barry Kern: Mardi Gras in New Orleans all comes down

to a two-week period, right?

So you work all year long, 50 weeks a year,

to deliver something that happens in two weeks.

So, you know, for the most part,

it gets very hectic at that time of year,

but it's part of what we do.

It's telling a story as it goes down the street

at three or four miles an hour.

Lee: The large robot-looking arm there,

we do call her Pixie.

She is a large-scale CNC router.

Pixie has seven axes, can move along that rail,

create props up to 60 feet long.

Step two of the process, our papier-mâché section.

Covering all that Styrofoam in small strips of brown paper,

using a traditional papier-mâché technique,

gives the props a nice, smooth surface

so they can apply the paint.

Risa Daigle: It don't stop. I mean, right after, you know,

Mardi Gras, you know, 2018,

we start on 2019, and it just goes on.

You know, everybody bounces things off one another,

or they'll just tell you what their ideas are

to see the big picture, which is great.

I feel like this is my family.

And I spend more time with them than anybody else,

so just as well be my family. [laughs]

To watch a prop from beginning to end

and to see it on the float is quite amazing.

It's quite amazing.

Lee: So, all these props back here have been used before.

They're waiting to be repurposed again.

It could be next year,

could be five or 10 years down the line.

So, to modify them, we can just paint them differently.

We could add additional elements,

or we could cut the head off,

find a different head that could fit on that body,

and then work from there.

Narrator: The props from this repurpose section

of the studio are patched and sent to painting.

We will send them over to our painters,

who are applying that outer coat of paint.

And the paint is really a

inexpensive interior house paint.

Narrator: To lock in all the hard work,

each prop is sprayed with a topcoat

that will help with waterproofing

before it leaves the warehouse.

Then the team will assemble the props

and decorations on the float beds.

After 50 weeks of meticulous work from the artists

at Kern Studios, the floats will roam

through the streets of New Orleans for two weeks

and return to the artists in the studio,

who will be armed and ready to start building them again

for the next year.