More than just hot air: Balloon dragon turns into Vegas victory for Edmonton man

The man known as Glen the Balloon Guy became the man inside the dragon during a recent trip to Las Vegas.

The latest creation of Glen LaValley, an Edmonton-based balloon artist, was a giant purple and green lizard more than eight feet tall, complete with moving, mechanical wings.

The dragon suit, aptly named Pokey the Purple Dragon, won LaValley top honours when he modelled it at the annual Twist and Shout 2018 balloon convention last month in Las Vegas.

Pokey won first place and the People’s Choice Costume category.

‘A dragon seemed like the logical choice’

“You see all kinds of weird things in Vegas and this was just another weird thing,” LaValley said in an interview with CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active.

“It’s a lot of fun and it just makes people happy.”

LaValley designed it so he can climb inside of the contraption, like some sort of mutant team mascot costume.  

The design was a big challenge.

“What I like to do is come with a new idea that I can create a costume around,” he said. “In this case, I wanted to have flapping wings, so how do you do that?

“I also wanted it to walk on four legs. A dragon seemed like the logical choice.”

Pokey the Dragon, a massive monster made out of little more than hot air, won LaValley top honours in the competition last month. (Glen LaValley) Pokey’s wings are controlled by hand-brakes and cables running to crutches in the front legs.

His wings were made from 36-inch purple foil stars. The scales are based on a column design by Irina Lobanova, an acclaimed balloon artist from Russia.

“I designed it so I put on the back legs like a pair of pants, and I had the upper body and the arm structures built into a backpack which I put on, and had my head inside the dragon.”

LaValley started twisting balloons into fanciful shapes 15 years ago as a way to entertain his daughter, niece and nephews. 

In 2015, he quit his career as a business analyst in IT and project management to make balloon animals full time.

Glen LaValley with some of his creations (Supplied )  The following year, LaValley took part in the Twist and Shout competition — he dressed in a two-headed ogre costume and walked the strip.

He has created hulking green aliens, giant elephants and oversized turkeys, but Pokey was his first dragon suit. 

After three weeks of “concept development” in Edmonton, LaValley spent days building the dragon costume inside his Las Vegas hotel room before modelling it for the judges.

“I was able to find various parts that I converted to useful things, like crutches I bought at a discount store and put bicycle brakes on with a backpack I found at a hardware place,” he recalled. 

“I was actually able to make the wings flap and I built the costume around that concept.”

Soon LaValley will be heading to San Diego to compete as part of “Canada’s Twisted Team” at the World Balloon Convention — but he’ll be sticking to the balloon-making, not the modelling.

“Next time I am going to find a more flexible person to model these crazy things,” he said. 

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas — and so did Pokey the Dragon. 

But in spite of the old adage, a less-ornate version of the purple beast made an appearance at CBC Edmonton’s downtown studios this week, before it took up residence among the cubicles in the newsroom.

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