It is from Szaniecki's mind that spring the magnificent creatures being brought to life by workers in the warehouse below.Dressed simply in a dark blue polo shirt and gray cargo pants, he sat for an interview at his white desk marked by multiple coffee-cup rings, his nicotine-stained fingers raising yet another cigarette for the deep drags that punctuate his conversation. Tacked on the wall above his head, poster-size renditions displayed the dozens of glitzy costumes that encompass the group's theme for this year's competition at the Sambadrome, where the schedule called for Grande Rio to take the floor at 12:25 a.m. Tuesday. "We work with the collective unconscious," he said. "Each image alludes to other, shared images, so that the spectator doesn't stop to think. It's all just absorbed together with the information in the song, translating into an idea, an impression in the mind of the people watching." In spite of the dreamlike aspect of the procession, the creative process is very planned and meticulous, Szaniecki said. The materials, colors, even the equipment used, are all specified in instructions. Carnival means a lot to Cariocas, as Rio's residents are known. It must be taken seriously, he said. "It's our culture, our rhythm, our aesthetic language," he said. "It's the greatest show on Earth, and it's a source of pride for the country. It's a message we send about who we are." Grande Rio chose a controversial theme this year: the benefits that cash derived from offshore oil drilling bring to Rio. The revenues, disputed by other inland states, must be invested in the safety infrastructure and health clinics that are essential for Rio residents, the group's song argues. The Portela group, which has won the most honors at the Sambadrome over the years, chose this year to honor Madureira, the north side neighborhood where it was born nearly a century ago. The group reached back in history to the days when sugar was king and vast plantations covered the state.