Hey, Seymour! Behind the Scenes: How To Launch a Helium Balloon

"Hey, Seymour! Hey, Buttons! What do you know? The machine really worked, – now up, up you go!" So concludes the rhyme for the Balloon Launcher from my book, Hey Seymour! True to the text, it really does work! Play the video above and watch the gravity-powered mechanism send Seymour and Buttons skyward in their lighter-than-air balloon. Scroll down to see how the "Balloon Launcher" was created. 

All the scenes in Hey, Seymour are sequential lift-the-flaps, as illustrated above. My initial drawing is not representative of an actual working machine, but it did establish a basic organizing strategy. Only the right hand page lifts up, so that's where we see all the "tripped" mechanisms, such as the dominoes falling over (far right), and the balloon in flight. On the left hand page, which remains static, the mechanisms were designed to be self-resetting so the sequence would be logical when the flap is lifted. 

With the help of two talented crew members, I experimented for days in the studio, working with piles of blocks, toys, and construction sets. Above is one of the many practice runs we made to test various components that could be adapted later for the final version.


Here I am with studio manager Dan Helt (left) working on track alignments. It would be reasonable to ask why I would bother to make an actual working machine for a search-and-find picture book with no video component nor any explicit instructions for readers to build their own. But knowing the forensic scrutiny readers typically bring to my books, I wanted to reward that scrutiny with a machine that met the demands of real-world, cause-and-effect conditions. 

If you click on the picture above, the resulting sequence provides all the necessary clues to how the machine actually works – a bonus puzzle for the especially observant reader. You can also see how the moving parts on the left-hand page could make sense before and after the launch, though admittedly, the playing card fan would not likely reset to its exact starting postion. 

Various balloons waiting their turn to be photographed for the "Balloon Launcher"

Various balloons waiting their turn to be photographed for the "Balloon Launcher"

Despite its challenges, the "Balloon Launcher" was as much fun to build as any project in recent memory.  Beyond the puzzle challenges the picture presents to readers, I hope it might also inspire them to do their own toy-based experiments. To that end, I can only offer a few suggestions beyond the example I set out here. One word of advice is to start simple. It's a huge amount of fun to play around with helium balloons. A make-your-own balloon basket that would transport a favorite toy animal or character comes to mind. Budding aeronautical engineers would soon find they would need to carefully manage the weight of the basket along with any occupants it may have. With a little patience, they could see their creations magically drifting through space. 

Special thanks to Dan Helt and Drew Mailhot for their contributions to the making of the balloon launching machine.

Click here to learn more about Hey, Seymour!

Balloon Launcher ©2015 Walter Wick,
from Hey, Seymour!