Flipping The Lid For The Red Zone
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Flipping The Lid For The Red Zone

the Heinz Field Football Stadium serves up a world famous icon

By Louis M Brill

It was a typical home football game with the Pittsburgh Steelers on the field grabbing the football for a touchdown. Suddenly the home team breaks into opposing team's Red Zone, (the area between the 20 yard line and the goal line) and as the ball moved forward, the crowd goes crazy, stomping and screaming encouragement to the Steelers.

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  • Amidst the cacophony of the game play, the stadium scoreboard livened up with an unusual spectacular event. On the scoreboard, directly above a centrally placed SONY Jumbotron video screen, were a set of gigantic ketchup bottles, left and right of the Jumbotron. As the Steelers moved into the Red Zone, the giant ketchup bottles came into 'play' with a unique and surprising (for first-timers) mechanical movement of their own. The bottles began to tip over, their distinctive white caps popped off and 'ketchup' started to flow out of the bottles and on to the scoreboard right into the Jumbotron screen. With a "glub, glub, glub," sound, the entire Jumbrotron screen is filled. Suddenly there is a gurgling sound, and the words: "Red Zone" appears on the screen. It’s the high point for the Steelers to urge them on as they complete their play and for the fans who get to see the Red Zone moment and the bottles 'flipping their lids."

    These gigantic ketchup bottles adorn the scoreboard at Heinz Field Football Stadium in Pittsburgh. With naming rights to the stadium, it made perfect sense for Heinz to decorate the stadium with one of their brands and to do so in a playful way. "We wanted to create a unique icon for Heinz Field, something with a little pizzazz," said Michael Doherty, general manager of communications for Heinz Frozen Foods. "Something to enhance the game-day experience for the fans."

    The Red Zone moment. The Steelers have done their thing; and the 'Victory Pour' has begun. The virtual ketchup is now pouring out of the bottles represented by the illuminated LED boards connecting to the JumboTron screen.
    photo credit: YESCO, Inc.

    That something became a pair of 35-foot ketchup bottles designed by the Nautilus Entertainment Design Company of La Jolla, California and built by Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO) of Las Vegas. In the design phase, Nautilus project manager Bill Havens talked of the final inspiration that defined the bottle sculpture concept. "In our early design meetings, we decided that the Heinz bottle icon had to be more exciting that just neon. We realized we were looking for "something" that would get the Heinz Field audience excited even if it wasn't illuminated. In the end we selected the Heinz ketchup bottle as a dimensional sculpture as the best way to represent what Heinz wanted on its scoreboard."

    The ketchup bottle pizzazz began with YESCO's construction of the ketchup spectaculars. Talk about super-sizing! The company built not one, but two 35-foot long, 12 foot wide and six feet deep bottles. Each bottle (actually, each was a 'half' bottle, with only the side facing the audience fully formed) weighs approximately eight tons of sculpted steel, neon and fluorescent lighting, and fiberglass. The bottle sculpture was a perfect replica of a typical table size bottle, complete with their labels and scaled up 52.2 times the size of a standard 397 gram bottle.

    Bottle construction was supervised by YESCO project manager Robert Andrane as he described its basic structural components which included a bottle shaped steel skeleton sub assembly that was covered with neon and fluorescent lighting on its outward facing side. Over that was placed a huge 35-foot long single piece translucent, pigmented fiberglass shell. Inside the steel bottle frame near the neck of the bottle was a hydraulic ram used to pop off and reattach the bottle cap. Finally, the entire bottle frame was mounted on an armature that rotated the bottle on the score board into its 'victory pour.' Because of its tilting and straightening out action, said Andrane, the bottle frame was nicknamed by the action it mimicked and was affectionately known as the 'oil derrick.'"

    The Heinz bottle steel frame with all the clear red neon attached to appropriate parts of the bottle sculpture. Space for which the bottle neck label and the main body label were to be illuminated with fluorescent lighting installed within the bottle frame.
    photo credit: YESCO, Inc.

    Lighting played an important part in the bottle action. According to Andrane, "there were three types of lighting employed, clear red neon, was the main lighting, and when turned on, simulated that the bottle was full. To show off a 'full ketchup' bottle, the neon was attached to every part of the bottle's steel frame. As the bottle began to tip over, the neon began to wash out, simulating that the ketchup inside the bottle was emptying out. The fluorescent lighting in a steady burn mode was used to back-light the bottles labels, one on the neck, and the main 'Heinz 57' label, located mid-bottle. Finally there was also a monochromatic red LED board that simulated the flow of gurgling ketchup pouring from the bottle and into the video screen."

    >From the Heinz bottles construction start to final installation, according to Andrane, was approximately two months. "Every bottle component (the steel frames, the neon, the fiberglass shells, etc.) were all fabricated simultaneously and staged. When each preceding part was completed, the next component was ready and immediately positioned onto the steel frame. Other components that were attached to the steel included the hydraulic ram (for the bottle cap) in the bottle neck, and the mounting plate to hold the bottle onto the pivoting arm which was inserted through the stadium scoreboard. Over all of that was the outer bottle face which was the translucent, pigmented fiberglass shell."

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    The finished 35-foot long single piece, translucent, pigmented fiberglass Heinz bottle casting being lowered onto the steel frame.
    photo credit: YESCO, Inc.

    The core of the bottle sculpture was its steel frame which was produced by YESCO's metal shop and was created by laying out a 35-foot steel beam as the bottle frame's supporting spine, and welding to it at a perpendicular angle, a series of 'bottle' shaped bulkheads. Connected to the bulkheads were a series of horizontal ribs which gave it both additional support and strength and became the mounting points for the neon and fluorescent lighting which was directly attached to the steel frame.

    Perhaps the most head scratching part of the bottle's fabrication came from creating its translucent, pigmented fiberglass shell according to Eric Hutcheson of YESCO's theming department, where the bottle shell was sculpted and cast. The creation of the fiberglass bottle shell was essentially a three-phase project including (Phase I), sculpting the original bottle shell, (Phase II) creating a bottle mold around the bottle sculpture and (Phase III), creating a part from the mold.

    Hutcheson explained Phase I, "First we created a 35-foot sculpture of the outer bottle shell out of Expanded Poly Styrene (EPS) material which was carved via a CNC hot-wire rig. Because the neck of the bottle was a series of compound radiuses we did a lot of hand sculpting to finish it off. The building of the mid-section of the giant ketchup bottle (the octagonal part of the bottle) was all flat, so we used a lot of MDF panels (allowed us to work faster) combined with the EPS to bring the sculpture to its final shape. Once completed, we spray painted the entire 35-foot sculpture with a plural hard coat that completely encapsulated the foam and wood into one solid sculpture. We then did tons of touch-up work with Bondo and sand papering to get it ready for the mold creation."

    Once the original sculpture was completed said Hutcheson, Phase II began which was to build a fiberglass mold completely around the bottle sculpture. "The actual space required for making the bottle mold presented a unique problem. Because of the size and depth of the mold form, it was impossible to lay up all the fiberglass material at once inside the mold. To solve this problem, once we built the mold form, we then enclosed it in a steel cradle that supported its weight and into this we inserted a pair of "pivoting arms" that allowed the mold form to function like a BBQ spite. This way we could turn the mold so it was facing vertical to the ground to allow us to lay up half the fiberglass material in the mold. Once one entire half of the bottle mold was covered with the fiberglass material, we rotated the bottle form to its other side and lay in the second half until it merged with the first half, forming a complete replica of the bottle shape."

    In describing the actual bottle shell creation, Hucheson said, "it was the equivalent of building a 35-foot boat hull. Once the mold was ready, we began by covering the entire interior with a wax release and then began Phase III, the process of filling in the bottle form by hand laying fiberglass within the mold form. “The big challenge for us”, said Hutcheson, “was getting the color right for the fiberglass. Our fiberglass expert, Bill Collins was taken by the request to provide a fiberglass product that was not only transparent, but pigmented as well. People do make clear fiberglass products, but 'pigmented' was a complication we never dealt with until we had to match the specific red color that Heinz wanted for the bottle shell. We solved that problem and once the mold was completely layered up with fiberglass, we sprayed catalyst resin onto the fiberglass material and then squeezed the resin to get all the air bubbles out and transform it into a uniform thickness."

    2nd bottle half in its final form, complete with neck and body labels being installed on Heinz Field scoreboard.
    photo credit: YESCO, Inc.

    "When we completed the first portion of making the mold part, we rotated the mold 180 degrees and then began the process all over again. We began by building the bottle form from the edge towards the middle and joined the second section at the center, making it one continuous piece. We then rotated the mold form back to its 'normal position, and when dried, it became the outer shell of the bottle."

    "Once the fiberglass bottle part was dried, we removed the bottle mold from the BBQ spite with an overhead crane, placed it on a dolly and moved it under a crane to lift the bottle part out of the mold and onto another dolly. We did a small amount of finishing work which basically involved the removal of the 'return flanges' (they were extended tabs with holes in them). The flanges were used to connect the translucent shell to an overhead crane which lifted it out of the mold and onto the dolly. We then rolled the fiberglass shell into the main shop where it waited to be placed over the bottle frame which had been rigged with its neon and fluorescent lighting and was waiting to be covered with its shell." Hutcheson noted that from creation to completion, each bottle part took about 1 1/2 weeks. "Once the first bottle shell was finished, we began an identical process to create the second bottle shell. The translucent bottle shell was the single most complicated and largest product ever produced to date out of YESCO's theming shop."

    Once finished, the two bottle halves, and their supporting hydraulic equipment were loaded onto several flatbed trucks and over four days driven from Nevada to Pittsburgh their final home, the Heinz Field Football. Interviewed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, one of the Heinz bottle truckers, Dan Stetich said carrying one of the Heinz ketchup bottles was the most fun he had in his 13 years of driving trucks interstate. "During the four day trip he got hundreds of comments from other truckers over his CB radio. Truckers were saying things like - 'where's the fries and hamburger to go with that ketchup? And how do you keep that thing refrigerated?" Stetich also said that every time he had a gas or rest stop, people would come over to look at the bottle.

    Once the bottles and supporting equipment were delivered to the football stadium, all the parts were put into place on the scoreboard. To support the combined weight of the bottle sculpture and the hydraulic unit that rotated it, a support tower was placed behind the scoreboard which became a mounted platform to hold the hydraulic unit in place against the Heniz bottle sculpture. The tilting action came from a second hydraulic ram (think of a gigantic solenoid) that tilted the bottle off-axis, held it in its 'pouring position,' and then returned in to its rest position after the victory pour sequence was over.

    As for the victory pour, it couldn't happen enough times as the CEO of Heinz, William R. Johnson noted that every time the bottles tilt over, "it's like a ketchup commercial." With the Steelers success in the playing field, the Heinz bottles are tipped over a lot, and for the fans, the team owners and the players, - that's a good thing.

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