Burning Man 2011: Duane Flatmo’s El Pulpo Mecanico

I had a lot of fun at Burning Man 2011, from the sculpture to the crazy art to the insane kinetic vehicles, the whole experience was something completely out of this world. With near 50,000 people out there in the Nevada desert it is impossible to see and experience everything the festival has to offer. I am positive there are several mind blowing sculptures or vehicles that I simply missed. That said, I have yet to hear a single conversation about Burning Man 2011 that does not at least mention [Duane Flatmo]’s El Pulpo Mechanico.

[Duane] and his buddies [Steve] and [Jerry] built this behemoth out of mostly recycled parts, giving it this industrial rusty (some would say steampunk) facade. Inside a steel structure supports a three-faced head and eight moving tentacles. The entire structure is animated thanks to a rotating cam in the center of the octopus. On this cam several loops of corrugated tubing push out levers attached to the eight fire belching tentacles. Towards the top of the head there are additional cams that animate the eyes and mouth.

Four 420# propane tanks provide fuel to the 10 fire cannons located in each tentacle and the top of El Pulpo’s head. The four feed tanks sit on each side of the cab submerged in custom built water tanks, which are kept nice and warm thanks to a propane-fueled on demand water heater. A typical fire cannon setup (source, regulator, expansion tank, valve, pilot light) is prone to freezing all of its lines and running liquid throughout the system. Running liquid through your fire cannon really puts a damper on the pressure of the system which directly affects the size of the flames output. El Pulpo’s system eliminates the danger of freezing through large hoses and a heated water tanks. Thanks to all this the octopus can, and did, continually belch out 18 foot flames.

The pilot lights can also be re-ignited thanks to an old fluorescent transformer stashed away in a wooden box near the operator, high voltage cables accompany the propane feed lines to sparkers located near each pilot. In case that fails as well [Flatmo]’s crew also carries a small propane torch taped to a stick.

During the course of the week the team over came several issues with the whole rig, it was fun seeing the guys climbing around the structure like some kind of advanced jungle gym (or a scene from Robot Jox). The truck base (some kind of old ford F-100) died an untimely early death. The rig had to be towed around the playa by a separate vehicle (often a minivan).

Check a video of the cute miniature El Pulpo below,  as well as a video of its bigger brother. Also if you missed it check out [Flatmo]’s website and flickr stream (the build starts around page 6).



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