This family loves a parade

| 15 Feb 2012 | 10:27

Local son helps guide panda balloon in Macy's extravaganza Hamburg — The Webb family was excited that their son Darren would be heading back east for Thanksgiving this year, from his home in California. The bad news was that they wouldn't get to sit down to a turkey dinner with him. But the good news was really pretty exciting. On Thanksgiving morning they got to cheer Darren on as he marched along the parade route, a member of the team guiding the Kung Fu Panda balloon — Po — in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. "It was so exciting," gushed his mother Linda. She, along with her husband Jim, their other son Jason and his wife Jennifer and their daughter Melissa, who live in Pennsylvania, all gathered early Thanksgiving morning to catch a 6:30 a.m. bus from Sparta to Manhattan full of area folks going in just to see the parade. But none had the same thrill the Webb family did. "It was such a surreal experience to not only be in the parade and see the millions of people cheering along the parade route," said Darren in an e-mail this week, "but to actually see family among all those faces made it truly a great experience." Darren Webb is a story artist, writer and designer for Dreamworks Animation in California, the studio that produces the Kung Fu Panda films. He described himself as one of "the lucky number to help escort the Kung Fu Panda balloon down the parade route." He, his longtime partner Jeff Hermann and a good friend Ramone Zibach all work for Dreamworks. Zibach had been invited last year to escort a Dreamworks balloon and enjoyed it so much that he helped Jeff and Darren to land a spot on the escort team. This particular character is meaningful to all of them, Darren said. Po, he said, is "a character that has come to represent such a career high point for both Jeff and Ramone." "Ramone is the production designer of the Kung Fu Panda films. He is basically the lead artist of the series, supervising the design on everything from characters to the colors of leaves, even the balloon of Po that we escorted down Broadway in the parade. "Jeff was the production manager on the first two Kung Fu Panda films and was recently promoted to co-producer on the upcoming third Kung Fu Panda as well as the currently in production film, "Me and My Shadow." Darren's most recent projects as an artist, writer and designer are "Puss In Boots" and next year's "Rise of the Guardians." Darren is a 1989 graduate of Wallkill Valley High School. The Webb family wasn't sure whether they'd be able to catch Darren's eye as he did his part to guide Po along, but they had a few things going for them. Their infectious excitement generated good will among others at the parade. The crowd was four or five deep, Linda said, but as Po neared their spot on 64th Street and Central Park West, the others move aside so the Webbs could get up front and hold their homemade sign up high. They wrote "Ripley," the name of Darren and Jef's dog, on their sign, hoping it would stand out. "And you couldn't miss my family, with their sign," Darren confirmed. "My mother was convinced that there would be hundreds of signs made for people in the parade, so she came up with the idea of putting not my and my partner's names on the sign, but the name of our dog we recently adopted from the Pasadena Humane Society. Well, she didn't need to worry. There were hardly any other signs at all. In fact the only other sign I saw along the entire route was made by a little girl who loved Kung Fu Panda so much, she'd made a sign welcoming Po to the parade. But Mom's 'Ripley' sign certainly stood out."