So You Wanna Be A…Balloon Sculptor!

Here's your nightly math! Just 5 quick minutes of number fun for kids and parents at home. Read a cool fun fact, followed by math riddles at different levels so everyone can jump in. Your kids will love you for it.

So You Wanna Be A…Balloon Sculptor!

October 31, 2014

You’ve probably seen balloon sculptures consisting of 1 or 2 balloons twisted into the shape of a dog or a hat. But have you ever seen a balloon gorilla that’s as big as the real thing? Ryan Freeman makes incredible balloon sculptures of that scale – and larger! He was nice enough to talk with us about the math behind inflatable art.

Interview with a Balloon Sculptor

So how long have you been making balloon sculptures?

I’ve been making sculptures since I was about 10 years old. My mother is a clown, which I know sounds like a joke, but she really is, and she gave me my first balloons. I studied 3-D animation in college, and a professor challenged us to make 3-D art without using any software. So I made a giant Road Runner character from Loony Tunes, and I realized I could keep making these giant creations.

What’s the largest balloon sculpture you’ve ever made?

That would be the Santa’s Village we made in a mall for the holidays. It had over 18,000 balloons and took 40 hours for my team of 14 people to make. That sculpture was also unusual because the balloons needed to last from Thanksgiving until the end of December, which meant we had to add a special chemical to the inside of the balloons.

I bet that probably took a lot of planning – and math!

You’re certainly right about that. Normally planning a sculpture takes longer than actually building it. To use the Santa’s Village example, we had to experiment to find out how many milligrams of the chemical were needed to make each size of balloon hold their air for 6 to 8 weeks. There are many different sizes of balloons – they vary by length, diameter, and the maximum volume – and we had to calculate the correct amount of chemical for each size. Then we had to multiply that amount of milligrams by the number of each size of balloon to make sure we ordered the correct amount of the preserving chemical. We had to do similar math to order the right volume of air tanks to fill those 18,000 balloons.

Well, at least you aren’t blowing up all those balloons the old-fashioned way! How much air comes in a helium tank?

We actually use nitrogen more often than helium, but both come in different sizes of tanks. The extra-large is what we typically use, and it holds 291 cubic feet, which would make a cube of balloons about 6.5 feet in each dimension. We used 22 of those tanks for Santa’s Village.

Now, for the most important question – you get to pop all those balloons, right?

Oh, yeah! We normally get a bunch of volunteers, hand out forks, and have a popping party. It can get pretty loud, but it’s a lot of fun.

So we know that you need good addition and multiplication skills to do what you do – what other math should kids practice if they want to grow up to be balloon sculptors?

I’d say the other two big pieces are being comfortable with measurements and being creative with geometry. For example, we’re building a giant spider for Halloween with heart-shaped foil balloons. So there’s a great optimal packing problem in measuring those heart-shaped balloons and then figuring out how to make a round spider belly using thousands of balloons. Anyone can dream up a crazy sculpture, but you need math skills to actually build it!

If all this talk of balloons and clowns has put you in the mood for a circus, be sure to check out our latest printable activity guide, Ringmaster-ed Math Games

Image courtesy of Ryan Freeman

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the Author

Derek Stump

Derek Stump

As Staff Writer, Derek strives to bring you exciting Bedtime Math content and keep commas in their rightful place. Previously he helped manage a film studio in the Philadelphia area. Derek holds a B.A. in Communication- Media Production from Villanova University.

More posts from this author