Chicago Scenic Studios Inc. sets the stage for theatrical and entertainment scenes, special displays and all kinds of unique interiors.
They bring together many capabilities, including woodworking, metalworking, sculpture, sewing, finishing, electrical work, interactive development and automation.
Bob Doepel, president and founder of Chicago Scenic Studios, said the company specializes in branded environments and that most projects are OTO – One Time Only.
Doepel said there is no standard to use when considering a new project, and it may be necessary to, literally, reinvent the wheel.
The full-service design, build and manage company will mark its 40th anniversary later this year.
The company and its 75 to 120 employees recently moved to a large 165,000 square foot space southwest of downtown Chicago that has space for any large project.
Doepel started the company in 1978 as a design and fabrication studio for Chicago’s active theater community. Making scenes for Chicago’s theaters is still part of the business today.
New location near downtown Chicago has space for large jobs like these louvered doors. Note size compared to person at lower left.
Chicago Scenic offers comprehensive scenic services from preliminary design to construction, set-up, and tear down, and an inventory of rental pieces and options for theatrical productions of all sizes.
“Truly setting the stage, whether for a permanent installation, a traveling production or a world-class event, it is and always has been my passion,” Doepel said. “We try to create not just a set, but an experience. Our company settles for nothing less than the absolute best, most comprehensive and impeccably detailed services for our clients, and I feel this has set us apart for all these years.”
Chicago Scenic Studios’ work can be seen at Chicago locations such as at the Museum of Science & Industry, John G. Shedd Aquarium, American Writers Museum, Chicago Children’s Museum, Chicago Bulls locker room, Chicago Bears’ broadcast studio and nearly all local television studios.
The company has also made sets for the Lyric Opera, Joffrey Ballet and Radio City Music Hall in New York. Special jobs also include the Ford Motor Co. press reveal stage, complete with 90 x 46-foot LED screen, Louis Vuitton train car interior, a display for Samsung used in the recent winter Olympics, Minnesota Vikings television studio, Good Morning America set, more than 50 museum exhibits and more than 2,000 theater sets for productions nationwide.
The company has also made 2,000 J.C. Decaux bus shelters, 48 Santa sleighs, huge sports team jerseys and helmets, political convention environments, terrariums, huge Lego blocks, giant high heels, large frogs, and even a large custom mosquito.
One recent large job was to construct game room interiors to be used on two cruise ships. This complicated job involved the room interior and many specialized components and interior accents.
The shipboard installation required that all materials, including finishes, be non-combustible and fire retardant. Books were fabricated out of MDF for the game room, since real books burn.
In the wood shop, panels come in and are ripped on two table saws. There are two Multicam 5000 CNC routers with 5 x 10 tables that can cut wood, plastic and Corian.
Wood shop in new location
Woodworking is at the core of many of Chicago Scenic’s projects. In the new location, there are five smaller shop areas where parts are made, and a large assembly area and set up floor where entire rooms can be put together. Doepel said that MDF, plywood and pine are the most common materials, and MDF use is increasing.
Also, Doepel said Chicago Scenic is encouraging customers to use more DuPont Corian and less laminate since Corian can be more easily repaired. They used Corian countertops in their own breakroom.
Often, a project is constructed and the customer comes into the shop for a review. Then it is disassembled and shipped to the site. Chicago Scenic frequently handles the installation, sometimes hiring local installers.
In the wood shop, panels come in and are ripped on two table saws. There are two Multicam 5000 CNC routers with 5 x 10 tables that can cut wood, plastic and Corian. There is also an edgebander in the woodshop.
Hall at Pritzker Military Library in Chicago. Work can also be seen at Chicago locations such as at the Museum of Science & Industry, John G. Shedd Aquarium, and American Writers Museum.
Project managers coordinate jobs from a large office area in the center of the building. Project managers and other personnel typically work on one job until it is completed.
A large board tracks jobs over several months. The company may be working on as many as 30 projects at any one time.
Doepel estimated that 20 to 30 percent of projects come in fully designed. The others require involvement by Chicago Scenic in the design process in addition to manufacturing.
Procore software is used as a project management tool, in part because the same program is used by construction companies.
Woodworking is at the core of many of Chicago Scenic’s projects. In the new location, there are five smaller shop areas where parts are made.
Metal and finishing
A large metal shop can perform welding, bending and fabrication. A new Omax Maxiem abrasive water jet cutting machine was just installed and can cut fabrics, plywood, stone, steel, stainless steel, aluminum and acrylic.
The new company location has space for a large finishing area, where a new 16 x 40 x 10 foot high spray booth is being installed.
For many jobs, roller application is preferred since spray finishes are more difficult to repair in the field.
The new location also has a full sewing room for upholstery and drapery, and an area for special projects and interactive displays. Here is a Gerber CNC machine dating from 1994 that was originally designed for sign making but can be used in a variety of CNC roles. An electrical shop handles any electric requirements for displays and interiors.
Chicago Scenic Studios has a lot to celebrate as their 40th anniversary approaches. The new location allows more space for the company’s creative designers to demonstrate their craft as the company continues to grow and expand.
“I couldn’t be more proud of every member of our team and the drive they display when it comes to giving every project 150 percent,” Doepel said. “We are looking forward to what is to come in the next 40 years in our new space.”
Holiday cheer at Radio City in New York. Other New York projects include Lyric Opera and Joffrey Ballet.
Chicago Scenic Studios, Inc.
Products: Theatrical and entertainment scenes, special displays and interiors
Employees: 75 to 120
Plant size: 165,000 square feet
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