So we heard you like Dota balloons: an interview with ESL One Frankfurt's official balloon twister

Yesterday we announced a number of stretch goals for ESL One Frankfurt. Unfortunately, as yesterday was also April Fool’s Day, most of these won’t be happening. Most. As such, we’re happy to confirm that ESL One Frankfurt 2015 will have a balloon guy, and you can find an in-depth interview with him below.

ESL: Hi, Daniel! First of all, how long have you been balloon twisting?
Daniel "FuDD" Ravia: Watching a balloon documentary on Netflix got me interested in balloons in May 2009 - it’s been almost six years now! Twisted: A Balloonamentary is the documentary I’m referring to.

ESL: How did you first get into balloon twisting?
Daniel: In the film I watched, they mentioned balloon jams - local balloon twisters coming together and sharing/practicing. I was able to find a group locally and was hooked after attending my first balloon jam. I was amazed and in awe of the art you could create and it was the first time in my life when I said "this is it, this is what I want to do with my life" - it scared the crap out of my wife at first, haha.

ESL: Are there any downsides to being a balloon twister?
Daniel: I think the downside for me is the biz side of things. My background is mostly in cooking/ice carving, and I never studied business in college. Paperwork, marketing, taxes - those are the areas I find to be the most difficult.  

ESL: What was your first paid balloon twisting gig?
Daniel: My very first paid gig was a birthday party. I had been doing balloons for tips at a restaurant (the balloon jam people hooked me up with it) and one of the customers hired me for a birthday. I was so nervous… but I had a blast! The hook was sunk even deeper!

ESL: How long did your longest project take? How long does it take you on average?
Daniel: The biggest project I worked on was for the US team at the World Balloon Convention in Denver, Colorado, in March 2014. The piece was a mother and baby tiger with a tree, foliage and a ruined temple wall. This piece took 27 hours straight (it was a timed competition piece) and had over 19,000 balloons with 22 artists from the US working on it. It stood at 18 feet tall (the tree) and had a 30 foot square footprint.

Average balloon times vary depending on the style I am working in and the amount of people. For school carnivals etc., you need to keep the designs basic and average 3 to 5 minutes per design (animals, some characters etc.). At a birthday or in a restaurant (depending on the amount of kids), you can usually spend a bit more time per sculpture, maybe 5 to 8 minutes per sculpture, and make more detailed creations as well as expanding into more complex designs. And then for events like Comic Con, where I make very detailed balloons of anything, these typically take 10+ minutes, sometimes up to 30 minutes.

And then there are display pieces. Depending on the time we have, size, materials, subject matter, budget, etc., these can vary from 30 to 45 minutes for table centerpieces to 2 to 10 or more hours on life-size or larger pieces.

The nice thing about balloons is that you can tweak them to fit any and all requirements, hopefully coming up with a price and time that works for myself and the client!

ESL: What has been your favorite balloon twisting project to date?
Daniel: My most amazing experience... There are so many! If I had to choose, it would be my trip to Ireland last July. It was my first time being out of the USA (other than high school Mexico trips - I live 1.5 hours from the border). Not only was it wonderful to travel to another country, but it was a chance to work with eight other balloon artists in a festival setting, and I learned so much and made some amazing new friends. We also had a lot of time to hang out with other entertainers and street performers! Being somewhere that was not dusty, hot and full of sharp stuff was weird... I mean, you could actually walk barefoot in the grass!

ESL: What’s your favorite video game?
Daniel: StarCraft: Brood War will always be my number one game. I also played a bunch of Counter-Strike when it first came out. I have always loved video games and collected consoles for years… until balloons took over. Since balloons and my ever-increasing work with them, I very rarely play any games other than some Puzzle & Dragons on my phone as well as a bit of gaming with my son on the WiiU and Minecraft on the PC.

ESL: Are you much of a Dota 2 fan?
Daniel: I am familiar with the game and have watched matches (the majority of my watching came after James [Lampkin] asked me about coming to ESL One Frankfurt). I find it interesting and intriguing yet can’t find the time to give it much of a go these days, not only because of my balloon obsession taking precedent but also having two children and all their sports, activities and school stuff - I need more hours in a day!

ESL: What’s your favorite Dota 2 character?
Daniel: Two jump out at me (and this is based solely on the characters’ looks, not how useful they are in game). I really like the Faceless Void - he reminds me of one of the monsters in Pan’s Labyrinth (a favorite movie of mine). I also like the bull guy with the scroll case thing on his back [Earthshaker]. I think both of these guys are cool-looking 🙂

ESL: What are you most looking forward to about being at ESL One Frankfurt?
Daniel: It has been a dream of mine since getting into balloons: finding a way to share my love of balloons with a community I was dedicated to for years - the gaming community. I’m sure I’ve gone on and on about how I wanted to bring balloons to gaming events for years on my blog on TeamLiquid, haha. That said, being able to share this art form with a community I feel deeply connected to is huge for me. As well as being able to see another country and its people, it’s also a chance for me to actually fulfill a dream... priceless. Despite having had the desire to do balloons at a gaming event, I never really thought it would be something that would actually happen.

Thank you so much for this opportunity - I hope I can exceed your expectations!

ESL: And thank you for speaking with us, Daniel!

Want to see Daniel and his balloon creations at ESL One Frankfurt? Grab your ticket here!

You can also find Daniel on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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