The Serpent Mother


The Serpent Mother is certainly an appropriate name for this 168foot long snake fire art installation filled with enough goodies to impress anyone who is into flame effects. [The Flaming Lotus Girls] were allocated $60,000 in May of 2006 to bring this art project to Burning Man. A team of nearly 100 people worked together at a furious pace to pull it off. The collaboration of skill-sets is unfathomable between the metal art, firmware, software, LEDs, and propane design. The primary flames consist of  41 “poofers” along the spine of the serpent each one capable of delivering a 8′ tall flame. Tucked away near the tail is a egg that makes use of methanol and boric acid to create a massive green fireball. When the egg is open nobody is allowed with 150′ of the project. The brain that runs the beast is nothing more than a RS-485 network of humble ATmega8s. The microcontrollers are wired with XLR cable and chatting at a 19200 baud. Max/MSP is used on a laptop to control flame patterns. Here is a enjoyable write-up and video. We particularly enjoy the bit about the strange looks the team got when purchasing 50 stun guns.

12 thoughts on “The Serpent Mother

  1. wow. that is a nice post to read 2 years after building her.

    we have built and shown Mutopia since then and Soma will be shown next week at the burn.

    look us up on youtube to see the pieces in action.

    Find out more about the group and what we do at If you like us enough donate or buy a tshirt to support us as the pieces are all built by an entirely volunteer crew of amazing people, yes with amazing skill sets. We all learn a lot from each other during these projects.

    flaming lotus girls

  2. I sometimes wonder where one can learn about the technology behind these flame effect displays. Are there any good books? Or is it all trade knowledge that gets passed down first-hand?

  3. @ken:

    Most digital flame effects are using a simple LP-Gas setup which involves a solenoid valve that opens and closes releasing the gas. If you are comfortable with microcontrollers switching relays then turning a solenoid valve off and on is the starting point.

    There are some tricks about keeping a pilot light going, getting larger flames (using additional hose, or tanks), and switching to liquid based fuels (much more dangerous).

    A good starting point is the NFPA 160 flame effects guide for safety requirements. Even at Burningman all the flame effects are reviewed.

    These two links have some additional information which might be helpful for microcontroller based flame effects.

  4. I know this is totally unrelated but the UFC is on TV tonight for free Versus. It’s not often the UFC is free so figured if any other of your readers like MMA they wouldn’t wanna miss out on this.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.