Engineering firm helps design world’s tallest popcorn structure

October 25, 2006 |

McLaren Engineering Group, an engineering firm based in West Nyack, N.Y., recently helped develop construction approaches and provided engineering advice for the construction of the world's tallest popcorn sculpture, created as part of a Food Network TV program. Bill Gorlin, chief of McLaren’s Entertainment Division, also served as one of the three judges responsible for evaluating the sculpture and certifying its height for the Guinness Book of World Records.

The sculpture of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice was 19 feet, 8.5 inches tall, beating the previous record by 3 feet, 8 inches. It was built at Disneyland’s California Adventure Theme Park in California as part of a series of Food Network “Challenge” television shows featuring record-setting creations such as the world’s tallest sculptures made of sugar or chocolate.

“A significant challenge of the popcorn sculpture is that it could not contain any metal, wood, plastic or other non-food material, except for adhesives,” said Gorlin. “Furthermore, the contestants had only 12 hours to produce a sculpture that was required to resemble the Disney character.”

McLaren Engineering performed a number of preconstruction tests needed to ensure the stability and safety of the giant popcorn sculpture, which was built with large, prefabricated blocks of popcorn that were glued together. McLaren conducted compression and flexural tests on samples of the popcorn-adhesive composite used to create the blocks, measuring strength and the amount of deflection under load.

The world's tallest popcorn sculpture depicts Mickey Mouse as the Sorceror's Apprentice.

McLaren Engineering also performed shear tests on the field-applied adhesive used to bond the large pre-fabricated popcorn blocks, which ultimately were trimmed into their final shape depicting Mickey Mouse. The engineers determined maximum wind loading conditions and then performed overturning and sliding stability calculations.

“Determining the load values for popcorn blocks certainly was an unusual assignment,” said Gorlin. “We went back to the basics and performed fundamental load tests, applying judgment to select safe working values. The blocks were surprisingly easy to work with and performed as we expected. It was a lot of fun to run the tests and then to watch the sculpture take form.”

McLaren also provided test reports and a final set of engineering recommendations, including construction specifications and details, as well as a summary of the engineering results and safety advice. While the sculpture was being built, Gorlin provided on-site construction and safety advice, monitored wind speeds, and kept an eye on the stability of the structure.

McLaren Engineering Group has one of the industry’s most active entertainment-design divisions, handling a wide range of work for Broadway shows, concert tours, entertainment venues, theme parks, Las Vegas attractions, special events and promotions. McLaren’s high-profile entertainment projects include:

  • Structural and mechanical engineering services for touring stages used by the Rolling Stones, New York Philharmonic, Madonna, Pink Floyd, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, among other top acts;

  • Staging and rigging for several Super Bowl halftime shows;

  • Helping design new rigging for the landmark Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah;

  • Elaborate mechanical stages and special effects for two Cirque du Soleil shows in Las Vegas;

  • Designing equipment needed to have a Jeep appear to “climb” the wall of a New York City skyscraper, and

  • Structural-design services for the large, elaborate stage for the opera “Grendel” at the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center in New York City.

“We’ve handled a wide range of entertainment-design projects and promotional events,” said Gorlin. “These are often challenging, one-of-a-kind projects with few precedents to learn from. Not many textbooks have sections on popcorn sculptures, making Jeeps climb straight up a wall or creating flying stages. But we’ve gained a reputation for creating solutions to challenges like this and have been getting more of these projects.”

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