July 10, 2023

UCalgary debuts ‘out-of-this-world’ float at Calgary Stampede Parade

Explore the design process as Rex aims for the stars with new parade float
UCalgary's float being pushed through the Calgary Stampede Parade
UCalgary's brand-new float in the Calgary Stampede Parade. Samantha Lafleur, Advancement

The University of Calgary unveiled a brand-new dino-sized float at this year’s Calgary Stampede Parade. The float focuses on a “reach for the stars” message as part of the university’s Start something brand campaign, and features UCalgary’s favourite mascot, Rex.

The new float was designed by the Office of Advancement’s Brand Experience Team in collaboration with Foam Works, the Calgary-based company that was able to take Advancement senior designer Rich Farr’s drawings and 3D models and turn them into reality.

An Illustration of UCalgarys mascot, Rex in a space ship shaped like the Start something logo.

Concept art by Rich Farr drawn in the planning stage of the new float.

Rich Farr

“A group of communicators, designers, event co-ordinators and community-engagement specialists met during an initial brainstorming session to throw out tons of ideas and narrow them down,” says Farr. “From that, I took those brainstorming notes and came up with three illustrated concepts that we presented back to that working group to refine the idea.

“After that, I created a 3D model that had the proportions and everything a little closer to what we want the final float to look like and then that ended up going off to Foam Works.”

The float team's design was challenging, Foam Works co-owner Nick Bellemore said before the parade, “But we were excited to make something that was a cut above what we have done in the past. We are very proud of the results and can't wait to see this float rolling down the parade route.” 

Farr says the team really wanted the float to be “fun and whimsical,” and they also wanted to make sure Rex was included in the float, given he is such a big draw for kids and the community.

“We want to put Rex in positions where he’s aspirationally reaching high,” Farr says. “The last UCalgary Stampede Parade float had Rex on a hot-air balloon sort of going up to the sky, so we thought, ‘Well, let’s kick it up a notch,’ and one of the ideas was to put Rex in a spaceship and have him fly off into his greatest potential.” 

A parade float with a base shaped like a cloud with the words "Start something" on it. Above the cloud base is a spaceship shaped like the Start something logo being driven by Ucalgarys mascot, Rex, in space attire.

The University of Calgary's brand-new float was revealed to the university community at the 2023 President's Stampede Barbecue.

Laura James

The spaceship Rex is riding is, of course, in the shape of the spark logo for UCalgary’s Start something brand campaign. The ship moves side-to-side to let viewers see the spark as it rocks. “It all ties into the overall idea of taking that first step, leaping forward and reaching higher to explore something,” says Farr.

This year’s float reaches a different level than previous UCalgary parade entries, says Kate McKinnon, BA’20, events co-ordinator on the Strategic Events team. “With our new ‘Space Rex’ design, we really tried to go above and beyond what we’ve previously done for our floats,” McKinnon says.

“We wanted to create something that was eye-catching and fun, but would still fit into our vision of being a sustainable, ‘people-powered’ float; for example, we re-used the chassis from the previous float and kept the build as lightweight as possible for our volunteers.

“We will also be using this design for multiple years, where we hope it will inspire our community to start something and begin their own journeys.”

Farr also designed UCalgary’s previous Stampede float, but says the new design offered a couple more challenges. “I have an illustration background, so coming up with the concept was second nature to me,” says Farr. “But then this year’s model was taking that step forward and actually creating a 3D model out of the illustrations.”

This is also the first UCalgary float to feature moving components, rather than a static design; not only does the spaceship rock side-to-side, but there is also a fan blowing fabric flames out the back. The flames are removable, allowing them to be swapped out for other design items, such as the colours of the progressive Pride flag for the float’s scheduled appearance in September’s Calgary Pride Parade.

For Farr, the best part is seeing the creation he drew on paper come to life.

“Most of my work is in 2D, all the graphic design work,” he says. “We’ll print books and paper and posters and billboards and things like that, but it’s rare that we get to do something that’s more sculptural, that you can walk around, and there’s something about the float itself because I feel like people have a really positive association with Rex and a whimsical float, that it’s just a wonderful project.”