CHICAGO (CBS) — Inside a 165,000 sq. ft. warehouse just west of Chinatown, dozens of artisans are creating big things, literally.
“The stuff that you see behind people when you watch TV, when you watch the news or the things you interact with at the museums, that’s what we build, that’s what we create,” said Brian Stockmaster, General Manager of Chicago Scenic Studios.
Owner Bob Doepel established the company in 1978 as a design and fabrication studio for Chicago’s up and coming theater community.
“It started as a thesis project. He created the company to service the Loop’s theater industry. The idea was to share technical resources, provide a space to build sets and install them,” Stockmaster said. “Later, he changed the company to include theater, the corporate world, the museum world — we do major events, we have television clients, we do custom environments.”
You’ve probably seen their work and may not even know it.
“We’ve done work for the Shedd Aquarium, MSI, the Science Storms — you’ve probably seen that. We recently completed the American Writer’s Museum. We’ve done the set for Steve Harvey, work for the Big Ten Network, Radio City Music Hall.”
They even created President Obama’s election night stage in Grant Park.
“That was a whirlwind. It was fast and furious. We provided all the staging and scenery for Election Night in Grant Park. That was fun.”
From designers to painters, and welders to carpenters to electricians, Chicago Scenic employs 55 people, each of which have specific skills.
“Their skill set is quite wide. They bring all these tools to the table for every project. Many of them have Bachelor’s even Master’s degrees. These are artisans, craftsmen who love a challenge and creativity.”
“We have a carpentry shop, a metal shop, a soft goods, upholstery, a paint shop in house, an electric shop. We do our own motors, hydraulics, pneumatics. When you walk the shop floor, you see the diversity in our staff.”
Stockmaster says they create about 200 jobs a year on site.
“After the drawings go to the floor, the items are built and then we set it up here on the set up deck. And we make sure it all fits and works. We take it apart, we wrap it carefully, we put in in the truck for delivery. We either will install it or hire some people who will.”
In a visual world, Stockmaster says their work, their creations, are seen now and enjoyed by so many more consumers.
“We have to compete, especially in today’s world, when a camera is always on. Someone’s always snapping a photo, a selfie, and posting somewhere. Everything’s visual and people are becoming more aware. More corporations are putting in their own studios and developing their own content. It’s not just a boardroom anymore. That’s the newest market for us.”
What started out as a small collaboration for the theater industry has grown into a place that literally sets the stage for the world.
“We do the work that a typical carpenter may not be comfortable with. We do the odd things that others don’t know how to deal with. We have a staff of artisans that create a specific object and execute on that. General contractors turn to us to create the imagination.”
Chicago Scenic Studios also made and “dressed” the famous Brachiosaurus at the Field Museum in his custom-made enormous Chicago Cubs and Chicago Blackhawks jerseys.
Considered the “granddaddy” of scenic construction in Chicago, Chicago Scenic Studios will be celebrating their 40th anniversary next year. Doepel’s great-grandfather founded Paschen Nielson Construction Company, which built Navy Pier.