The final moments before the ball begins to drop in Times Square are still nerve-wracking for Treb Heining and his team of "confetti dispersal engineers."
The confetti throwers are all connected by radios, standing by for his command.
"I’m pacing up and down," Heining recounted this week as he stood on the roof of the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square. "You would think after 27 years I’d be calm, but I’m not. I finally watch the countdown and say ‘Go confetti,’ and within seconds it becomes a literal blizzard out here of colored tissue."
Treb Heining is the "confetti master" (yes, that is his official title) for the Times Square New Year’s Eve ball drop and he’s back this year to orchestrate the magical and memorable effect.
It’s been the spectacle’s staple for more than two decades, but not much is known about how it happens — it’s just an extra on the glittering stage of Times Square.
So we talked with Heining and Tim Tompkins, the Times Square Alliance president, about the planning and execution behind one of the most iconic confetti drops of all time.
It’s all orchestrated by a confetti master
Heining is a legend in the industry. He is primarily a balloon expert, having designed and created balloon arches, columns, letters, sculptures and more for the 1984 Summer Olympic Games, Super Bowls and both Democratic and Republican National Conventions. He is even the designer behind all of the balloons sold at Disney theme parks around the world, including the beloved clear Mickey Mouse floater.
Heining signed on to do the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square in 1991 and designed what he calls the "confetti blizzard," which has become an integral part of the experience.
Each New Year’s Eve, he is in charge of a team of "confetti dispersal engineers."
It’s thrown by hand, not by cannon
With so much confetti and so much area to cover, you’d think cannons would be the go-to tool, but every single piece of confetti is launched manually by about 100 people standing on top of eight Times Square buildings.
Using cannons would be risky. If there were a loss of power, there’d be no confetti, so it’s better to do it the old-fashioned way, Heining said.
"I tell people ‘This effect is world renowned, but you are the ones that make it happen — your hands are what make it happen. … Get ready — you’re the ones who are going to make it spectacular to see.’"
How the confetti falls largely depends on the wind
"It’s a very physical act to get the confetti out," he said. "I always say it’s a very physically violent act because you can get out all your aggressions doing the confetti. A lot of us have what we call ‘confetti arm’ the next day because you’re using muscles you don’t normally use."
Despite their muscle, the pieces initially go straight up before they come down, and if a strong wind blows through the square, they can be pushed out of the area quickly. On a calmer night, those down below can get photos of the effect up to a half-hour after the dispersal, Heining said.
There are millions of confetti pieces
That’s about 3,000 to 4,000 pounds, according to Heining. Because it has to fill a large space, it is specially made for the occasion to be bigger than regular confetti.
Each year, the tissue squares are shipped to buildings in Times Square on Dec. 29 while thousands of pieces are collected by the Times Square Alliance from its "Wishing Wall."
Those in charge of the confetti open the boxes, mix in the wishes and fluff the pieces just before the event.
At the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel, which is one of the participating buildings, the boxes are placed in the bathtub of a hotel room until it’s go-time.
Thousands upon thousands of pieces have wishes on them
The Wishing Wall, which is set up for the entire month of December between 46th and 47th streets, allows visitors to write down their hopes for the next year on colored confetti. Those pieces are then mixed in with the other confetti and thrown down on the crowd the night of.
To get a sense of the overarching themes, the Times Square Alliance read more than 5,000 wishes from 92 countries and 48 states. More than 36,000 were submitted online.
Happiness was what 25 percent of wishers hope for in 2019, followed by good health, love, success, peace, self-improvement and having children, according to its analysis.
"A few years ago we thought, ‘What’s another way of making this theme that we keep on hearing about people wanting something better for themselves and having a wish for the new year a little bit more tangible?’ And we thought, ‘Why not have them write their wishes on pieces of confetti?’ And it’s taken off like wildfire," Tompkins told amNewYork.
Sorry, the "confetti dispersal engineers" are selected internally
"It’s top secret," Tompkins said about who gets to throw the confetti. "I’m serious — there’s security clearance because these people are up on roofs next to sharpshooters and everybody else."
According to Heining, at least 50 to 60 of the lucky people are part of the interior confetti crew and return every year, bringing new people with them. There is a screening process for those who want to join, he said.
It’s not possible for someone not connected to sign up for the job, though Heining gets plenty of requests.
"As the blizzard effect grew, around the third year, we had to start turning people away," he said. "And with the advent of the internet now, people seek me out through Google and things like that."
It’s primarily cleaned up by the Sanitation Department
DSNY Chief Paul Visconti tells us that more than 250 sanitation workers and 45 supervisors and chiefs are on hand in the wee hours of Jan. 1 to clean up about 57 tons of trash left over from the party.
“The confetti is the worst," he said. "The harder you try to pick it up, the more it slips away. But we have the equipment and the know-how to get it done.”
Heining said a lot of it is also picked up by people as a memento of the night.
All of the confetti is recyclable and biodegradable.
The confetti adds to the magic of the night
"It’s something you can’t see on TV, you can’t see it in print … with the naked eye when people are here, it brings a tear to your eye and a goosebump," he said. "It’s just a marvelous effect."