“Lasso it out,” Ann Wawer shouted into her flip phone, as she gazed eight stories up as riggers struggled to mount the great white shark on the Discovery Communications building Saturday in downtown Silver Spring.
A rope tied to the tip of the shark’s left fin overlooking Wayne Avenue was stuck, and Wawer jumped into action from her shady perch.
“Yes! Look’s good,” she said as crews managed to swing the large, nylon rope from under the fin — the inflatable appendage belonging to Chompie.
Wawer, the designer of Chompie and vice chairman for CMEANN Productions, Inc., is one of three women she knows of in the U.S. who work with large inflatables, and the only female she knows of in the industry that designs and produces them for advertising and marketing promotions. She’s been in the business for 37 years and has designed about 72 different Disney inflatables, and worked on a number of projects for Paramount and Warner Brothers.
She said her business expanded by word-of-mouth. One of her favorite projects included climbing to the top of the Empire State Building in New York for the installation of an 84-foot King Kong for its 50th anniversary in 1984. Still, Wawer said she always has enjoyed working with Discovery on this project.
“Chompie is one of the most challenging projects and one of my favorites,” said Wawer, who was approached by Discovery in 2004 to create the oversized inflatable shark that has taken a bite out of the downtown area in 2007, 2010 and again this year.
Wawer was on site for the entire installation process, which began around 9 p.m. Friday night when lane closures began to prepare for cranes to install the right fin on the Colesville Road side of Discovery’s building and the tail on the Georgia Avenue side, which took about five hours and six hours, respectively.
Around 1 p.m. Saturday, Wawer was seeking relief from the sun on the grounds just off Wayne Avenue — giving orders from afar as crews began to mount the left fin, followed by the head and the dorsal fin that night. She is glad Chompie is out of her California warehouse and “back where he belongs.”
Chompie is 446 feet long from the tip of his nose to the back of his tail, 113 feet tall from his belly to dorsal fin and 200 feet wide from the tip of his side fins. If Chompie were a real shark, he would weigh 84,000 pounds.
The shark was created by first determining how large to make the head in proportion to a miniature cardboard building. Once they found the right size for the head, clay models were made for each of the five parts. From there, patterns were made and were scanned into a computer program, which then was sent to a digital fabric-cutting table. The pattern pieces were made from 11,720 yards of fabric, and with 36.7 miles of thread and 6,400 of man-hours, Chompie was born.
The entire process, Wawer said, took about six months.
“Nothing is more satisfying then when you’re sitting down and taking a picture of it over at the Metro station and somebody comes up and says ‘Wow, look at that,’” Wawer said.
David Hall of Silver Spring did just that when passing by with his 7-year-old daughter. Hall said they could see the tail of the shark from their apartment and were hoping to get a better look from up close.
“It’s a lot of work putting that thing up,” he said. “I think it’s pretty cool.
Chompie is a cold-air inflatable and requires continuous inflation. It takes 10 blowers pumping 2,000 cubic feet of air per minute to keep all five pieces inflated, said Discovery Engineering Manager Bradd Meadows.
Meadows said the shark can withstand about 10,000 pounds of pressure, which was put to the test in 2010 when a tornado ripped apart the dorsal fin. After an outcry from the public last year when Chompie did not make an appearance, Silver Spring’s favorite shark is back with a new dorsal fin.
Tammy Shea, vice president for corporate communications for Discovery, said she is excited to finally see Chompie back in action to promote Shark Week, the longest running annual cable programming event.
“It’s such an exciting time for us, and it’s great to have Chompie on the building and help us get excited about this annual event,” Shea said.
Chompie will be on display from July 30 through Shark Week, which begins Aug. 12.