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'Before I tell you more, try to inflate one," says Ori Livney from behind a pile of long, rubber balloons. I accept the challenge and reach for a snake-like, green one. After all, how hard can it be to blow up a simple balloon? After three unsuccessful tries and a red face, I get the point.
It takes a technical expert to even fill these elongated balloons with air, and Livney, an internationally acclaimed balloon artist, does so with a combination of speed, grace and ease. In less than five minutes, a few simple brown, yellow and red balloons are transformed into a monkey sitting on a heart holding out a bunch of bananas.
"Can I have one too?" asks the owner of the cafÃ© upon seeing the bouncing brown monkey. Livney smiles and twists two red and white balloons into a corsage for her wrist.
For the businessman next to us who has suffered through the relatively noisy building process, Livney quickly whips up a small white rabbit to apologize for the commotion.
"Are you the guy from the Orange commercial?" asks one of the waiters after spotting Livney's floating balloon sculptures.
In two television commercials for Orange that aired last summer, Livney is the man behind the white-gloved hands that expertly twist balloons into a wild jungle scene. Complete with palm trees, monkeys, lions, parrots, crocodiles, frogs and a big white elephant, it's hard to imagine that such intricate creatures are made out of just balloons. Livney says even though many people thought it was a computer simulation, the commercial greatly increased public awareness about the possibilities of building things with balloons.
"It took 15 hours to complete the balloons for the first commercial and 20 for the second one," says Livney. "You can't pre-make balloons. They have to be fresh. Luckily, my air is in good shape."
In 2006, Livney made another television appearance, this time with more than just his hands. Livney plays Bobby, the star of the show, in the world's first balloon television series, Bobby's Balloon House, which aired in the US and Europe on a baby channel. Although Livney's TV work thus far has largely been for babies, he warns that balloons should never be given to babies. "One of the most annoying things to me is nudnik parents who insist on giving their babies balloons. If the balloons pop, babies can choke on the small rubber pieces and die."
Livney, who has created everything from gigantic cows to life-sized gorillas out of balloons, says the prospects are endless. "I've twisted balloons into just about anything else you can think of," he says.
LIVNEY GOT his start with balloon twisting in the summer of 1998, just after his obligatory army service ended. "An acquaintance who knew I was good with kids called me to help with an entertainment project in Tiberias. I thought I was going for an audition, but when I arrived, I was given 30 minutes to come up with something for the hotel guests. It was all very impromptu and spontaneous, and I found some balloons in the back, knew how to inflate them, and started twisting some basic things for people."
The reception was so good that the hotel hired Livney for the entire summer. He continued to work with balloons part-time during his years as an engineering student at the ORT Braude College in Karmiel. By the end of 2005, after working as an industrial engineer for almost two years and balloon-twisting on the side, Livney decided to give up his "real" job and work with balloons full-time.
"As an engineer, I am constantly thinking of ways to make things better. I can't stand inefficiency, and this natural character of mine is well-suited to creating and developing new balloons," he says. "When it comes to balloons, I never say I can't do something. I always think of a way to do it, maybe differently, but I do it."
His work with balloons includes creating balloon dÃ©cor for corporate events and exhibitions, balloon twisting for parties and competitions, hosting television shows and commercials and even balloon fashion design.
One of three balloon artists to be chosen for a fashion show in China, Livney made four dresses, one of which included a blue-and-white Israeli theme that incorporated several small Stars of David.
Diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) a few years ago, Livney says that working with balloons is a great way to work the entire brain. "A higher than average percentage of people in the balloon industry are diagnosed with ADD and ADHD, and my explanation is that it's a great activity for hyperactive people who need high-energy, entertaining jobs."
Largely self-taught, he says he doesn't remember being taught how to inflate the long balloons. A classmate claims that Livney was the only one who could blow up the long balloons after a magician tried to teach everyone at a birthday party, and another friend remembers him making a balloon dog for her as a child. "I guess it was meant to be," he says of his diverse, balloon-twisting career.
"My dream is to do a Harley Davidson for Jay Leno on his show," says Livney, who once created a life-size motorcycle that was inspired by a reality show called American Chopper. "The best part about my job is that it puts a smile on my face. It's amazing to be able to take little pieces of rubber and air and turn them into magic."
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