Josh Pitts and Jefferson Moss are standing on a crow's nest-like platform atop a hand-pushed float undergoing a transformation, and a busy final push is underway to finish construction of a giant octopus in time for the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus parade. From the 12-foot-high vantage point, they look down on neighbors' 9th Ward roofs and a yard packed with a giant white canvas horse head, flexible PVC tubes, all sorts of scrap materials, power tools and Interrobang members. Moss is explaining how he plans to use a shrink-wrapping material and AirVacs to create the dimpled effect of the octopus' flesh. The 24-foot-long body and separate, independently roving tentacle pieces are products of the group's DIY construction ingenuity.
"This is essentially a glorified shopping cart," Pitts says. "Just with some materials we found."
They are finishing Maurice the Galactopus. Its head and body make up the central float; some tentacles will extend from its front and other tentacles will be manipulated by individuals. They include "dancicles" — what they call the long curling arms articulated by an internal system of cords. There also is an app-controlled LED light display under Maurice's flesh, music provided by a DJ on board, massive eyes made from drums with video projections and more.
The project improves on all the tricks and bells and whistles that went into Gilliam, a massive, two-part white whale launched in last year's Chewbacchus parade, and then pushed through the Bywater, Marigny and French Quarter on Fat Tuesday. Named after Monty Python comedian and film director Terry Gilliam, the whale featured a 24-by-12-foot head and body (now being transformed into Maurice) and a separate 29-foot tail (which has new life as a Spanish moss-covered swamp monster). Instead of smooth whale blubber, Gilliam's flesh was batting that made it look like a cloud. On top, a miniature New Orleans skyline surrounded the riding platform. A tablet computer served as a giant eye on each side, and an app controlled the eyeball movements. There was a cotton candy machine inside, and members gave candy to people they met on the street.
Pitts, Moss and many members of Interrobang met in the Krewe of Ragnarok, which launched a large Viking ship during Halloween in 2010. The group subsequently built and pushed a massive ghost horse, a steampunk Trojan horse and a steampunk zeppelin during subsequent Carnivals. Ragnarok still parades, but it's separate from Interrobang and focuses on bicycle floats.
Both Pitts and Moss moved to New Orleans to work on such projects. Moss grew up in Lafayette, studied architecture and worked as a fire-fighter and house renovator before moving here.
"As a kid, I wanted to be an inventor," Moss says. "I didn't know the word 'designer.'"
Pitts is a former AmeriCorps volunteer who moved to New Orleans, where he has his own website design business. He put the business aside for a month to work on the Galactopus. Interrobang has more than 25 members and works democratically, Pitts says. While developing Maurice, one member suggested making a solar system float. The idea was incorporated, and the Galactopus has an iridescent exterior with a fractal-like pattern and light displays that seem celestial.
The group launched a crowdsourcing campaign to support construction, but they rely heavily on found and repurposed materials. What they lack in fabrication experience they make up for with determination.
"This is made by people who don't consider themselves 'makers,'" Moss says. "They didn't know they could do this until they did."