Wrapping up Beakerhead

We had an absolute blast during our 5-day run shooting fire into the sky up here at Beakerhead. The shows went smoothly, our crew was tight, and the people of Calgary LOVED IT.


Maybe these ladies are future BLGs…? photo by John S

The Beakerhead staff photographers got some truly amazing shots of Snakey in this amazing photoset; have a gander.


We shot four times on Beakernight, the biggest night of the event. This pic was taken from the basket of a crane, over 200 feet in the air! photo by Penny Breedon


Mills mugging for the camera, right before our first egg shot of the night. photo by Denise


A triple-shot of methanol during our last shooter show on Beakernight. photo by Mills

We closed out Sunday evening with a very special show — our very own FLG Elyse L. got married in a gorgeous ceremony right at the base of the Serpent! She and her new hubby originally met at Burning Man in 2015, the year the Serpent returned to playa.


A few minutes before they exchanged vows, the newlyweds shot diesel fuel out of the egg. photo by Denise


The wedding as seen from the fuel depot. photo by Denise

Before we even left site on Sunday, we were well on our way into strike. Taking things apart goes so much faster than building things up, and our powerhouse crew should have the snake back in the box by Tuesday.

We have so many people to thank for helping us make this show so special. The Beakerhead staff and production crew were incredibly supportive and made our time here an absolute treat.

Inclement weather makes for lovely Snakescapes

Tonight is Beakernight, the biggest night of the event, and we have a long night ahead of us! But here is a quick post to fill in the last few days.


At least the rain and hail yielded a rainbow for us! photo by Robin


Paul from the BLGs got this great sunset shot.


Crystin and the Serpent showing off their pearly whites and metallic fangs, respectively. photo by Denise


the front page of the free daily paper. photo by Denise


largest in the WORLD, you guys… photo by Denise


Beakerhead has over a dozen interactive stations located all over the city, so a bunch of us went for a walk to try to find them. This one is The Claw, where three people work together to control a giant gripper that grasps, lifts and deposits big bags into a collection area. Ted is on the X axis and Andrea is on the Y axis, while Hethur and Margaret cheer them on. photo by Denise


Mike Prados is the FLG mechanical engineering hero whose expertise guided the original design on the Serpent Mother. He was invited by the Engineering Department of the University of Calgary to give a talk about how his career has developed since his undergraduate days. photo by Denise


After the lecture, Mike chatted with curious engineering students about the nuances of spherical robots. photo by Denise


Margaret shining up the large pressure vessel during the daytime show. photo by Denise

Loam, rain, flames, boric acid, Timbits

Per the recent fire ban in Calgary, we had to cover the ground around the Serpent with dirt to help dampen the ground and help prevent any errant fires from catching the dry earth. We spent Tuesday morning shoveling piles of fresh loam around, while doing the few last repairs and tweaks ahead of our final fire inspection.


Shoveling and raking loam all over the area beneath the Snake. photo by Denise


Sam rakes loam, and Denise eats PTFE tape while swapping our some vertebrae plumbing. photo by Ted


Margaret talking with the fire marshals, meeting all of their questions and concerns with objective and thoughtful responses to why everything we do is perfectly safe. photo by Denise


pwWWOOOOFFFF: a loud, hot diesel shot for an already-toasty day. photo by Denise

Here is a short video of the diesel shots. (Please forgive me for shooting it vertical, but it is way too tall to capture it any other way!) What you can’t feel from watching it is how absurdly HOT it was, even as far away as I was standing. You also can’t see the enormous black plumes of smoke that hung in the air and gently drifted towards the city… and yes, yes the fire department received many concerned phone calls about this. Again. They’re absolutely aware of us and what we’re doing though — we telephone them directly 30 minutes before every big shoot. So it’s cool.

After a long day of work, a few of Calgary’s own Blazin’ Lily Gals met us on site and we did a safety training and site walk-through with them to get them oriented to how we run a show. Then we walked back to the hotel and feasted on delicious Indian food and beers, and hung out for a long time swapping Burning Man tales, art build stories and other adventures. We are so stoked to have a crew of experienced locals who will be helping us out with fire safety all through Beakerhead!

This morning we woke up to discover it had rained steadily all night long, and was significantly chillier and windier than yesterday! Good thing we have new coveralls for this gig, because all that freshly spread loam…  turned into a swamp.

denise on egg controls Suzanne

Our day-time diesel shot happened during low winds and a slight rain, but conditions were still acceptable for us to shoot. Our audience was mostly school kids who came out to see the Snake during class. Margaret and Andrea on the ball valve, Denise on the egg shooter controls. photo by Rhiannon


In the middle of this morning’s rainy wind, Paul of the Blazin’ Lily Gals came through with some hot Tim Horton’s coffee and a box of tasty Timbits! Canadian hospitality is AWESOME! <3 <3 photo by Denise

After our morning show, we spent our afternoon going for walks around the city, hanging out in the hotel hot tub, napping, and generally catching up after 4+ days of non-stop build. Then it was time to head back for our night shows.


Robin, Hethur, Margaret and Ted putting their mud-caked shoes and coveralls back on, OUTside our nice clean hotel. photo by Denise

Robin dancing by Andrea

Hooray, the rain stopped! Robin spins in her spiffy coveralls while we trudge back to the Fort Calgary site for our evening show. photo by Rhiannon


Margaret and Denise crush up lithium in a mortar and pestle and funnel it into a fresh barrel of liquid methanol. photo by Ted


Sam fills the large pressure vessel with salted methanol, ahead of our first shot of the night. photo by Denise


Our hero engineer Mike Prados arrived on site today, and settled in immediately driving the hydraulics that control the Snake’s head. Here is a throwback shot of him at the shop in 2006, posing with the newly-constructed mandible subassembly. photo by Michelle P


Ted fills the pressure vessel with methanol mixed with boric acid for our 2nd show of the night. Boric acid makes green fire! photo by Denise

rhiannon pic

Rhiannon got this gorgeous shot of the underlit vertebrae and the continuous flames.


We are getting a lot of media interest this week. Watch Andrea and Robin explain the basics of the Serpent in a quick 30-second montage that was published on Global News today. (Our part starts about 22 seconds in.)

And the CBC did a short video of us as well, featuring our daytime diesel shots from this morning’s show for the local schools.

And Margaret was on live TV yesterday morning! Actual video soon, but here is a literal screen-shot:

margaret on tv

photo by Sam

Dispatch from the field: Calgary, Alberta

We’ve just wrapped up Day 3 of the Serpent Mother build, our contribution to this year’s Beakerhead arts and science festival. This streamlined build crew of only 7 FLGs went from an open field on Saturday morning to running a full fire-test by Monday night. We are having an outstanding build; here are the pictures to tell the tale.


Hethur watches for clearance while the hed rack emerges. We pack our containers to the brim! photo by Denise


The head rack is by far the heaviest thing in this container. photo by Denise


Sam, Ted, Andrea and Hethur pull this vertebrae rack out with all their might. photo by Denise


Our fabulous heavy machinery operator Corey carries the vertebrae rack across the field of Fort Calgary. photo by Denise


The head rack lifts apart and requires a whole lot of pipe carrying to unload. photo by Denise


Denise unbolts vertebrae sections from their rack. photo by Ted


Ted and Andrea act as placeholders for the egg, while Sam bolts together the vertebrae. photo by Denise


This is our entire build crew: Suzanne on the ladder, Sam securing a ratchet strap, Andrea pulling on it to orient the spine, Corey in the VR, Margaret guiding his moves, Ted getting ready to spud the flange, Hethur at the ready with nuts and bolts. (and Denise behind the camera)


The spine is coming along… we start at the tip of the tail and build outwards. photo by Denise


Sam bolts the spine together. photo by Denise


The end of Day 1. Ted modeling our to-do list for the next day. photo by Denise


Sam and Margaret working on the vertebrae that interface with the neck hydraulics. photo by Ted


Sam and Ted trade tools as we plug in the last few vertebrae before the head. photo by Denise


Corey and Suzanne do some reptilian dentistry. The Serpent has 56 teeth that feature Venturi fire effects, and two big fangs with static flames. photo by Denise

suzanne pic

The crew at the end of Day 2.


Some entertaining artifacts from the birth of the Serpent — different experiments in how to make the flame effects in the teeth work best. photo by Denise


By nightfall tonight, we had assembled all the plumbing and electronics and were ready to test our systems. First we tested all the vertebrae with nitrogen gas, to look for leaks and to make sure the continuous and poofer systems were all cooperating. Then we shot plain old water out of the egg shooter, to make sure the six different nozzles were pointing in the right directions. Once those systems were dialed in, we decided to try it with more combustible materials — propane for the snake’s body, and diesel for the egg.

Our propane poofs and diesel shots were so high and so bright, that concerned citizens as far as 15 kilometers away called the Calgary Fire Department. Within minutes of our first shot, we had lights and sirens flying up the block to investigate. And of course once we explained what was happening, the firefighters all wanted to push the buttons too!


The Calgary Fire Department was IMPRESSED. photo by Denise

Thanks to long days and a hard-working crew, we are moving along at an excellent clip on this build. Tomorrow we do some more testing and some final adjustments, and the rest of our crew arrives!