Creativity thrives at Ravenswood Studio in Lincolnwood
Caption: A scenic artist works on a dome structure for an opera set at Ravenswood Studio in Lincolnwood. | Natasha Wasinski~For Sun-Times Media
WHAT: Ravenswood Studio
ADDRESS: 6900 N. Central Park Ave., Lincolnwood
OWNER: Michael Shapiro
PAYROLL: The studio has a payroll totaling $2.25 million and employs about 50 people of all different trades and talents.
Updated: August 13, 2012 1:34PM
LINCOLNWOOD — At the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, a unique exhibit based on a popular Discovery Channel program poses stimulating questions about everyday life.
For instance, who stays drier in the rain, those who walk or those who run?
To uncover the answer, patrons become test dummies. In pairs they pass through a rainy enclosed space to see who in the end is less soaked.
That’s right: It rains inside the museum.
And how exactly does water drip from the ceiling of the exhibit’s 20-foot-long shed?
If there’s a will, there’s a way, and Michael Shapiro and his crew at Ravenswood Studio figured it out.
“There are very few companies like ours in the country,” said Shapiro, who founded the Lincolnwood-based specialty design and construction studio two decades ago.
“We provide the kinds of jobs people dream of.”
The touring “MythBusters: The Explosive Exhibition,” displayed in Chicago through Sept. 3, is the company’s latest complex creation.
The museum exhibit’s 20 stations involve a variety of plumbing, mechanics, electronics, and carpentry.
And because the display is mobile, it all needed to be easily broken down.
Shapiro had the team and place to envision and create such a large-scale project.
A 60,000-square-foot fabrication facility at 6900 N. Central Park Avenue is equipped with wood, metal, sculpting and paint shops.
The studio has a payroll totaling $2.25 million and employs approximately 50 people of all different trades and talents.
They are artists and draftsmen, metal welders and wood carvers.
The studio’s design department has become so polished in its skill that later this month the designers will become a separate entity under the name Luci Creative.
Shapiro, the first to admit many of his staff is more talented than him, said the not-so-secret secret to the trade is hiring highly accomplished individuals, like the scenic artists who can create detailed images of rocks, weathered wood, and the sky.
“I can paint a wall blue,” Shapiro said. “Beyond that I can’t do what they do.”
He takes pride in providing good wages to hard workers, noting it’s not uncommon for Ravenswood employees to start off as laborers and later become set designers and creators.
“We train people with no skills who want to learn how to build,” Shapiro said. “People want be involved and make decisions. We create an environment where people can do that and they will do that.”
High-end, technical, customized work is expected by Ravenswood’s customer base, which includes global and local corporations and entertainment venues, from Microsoft and Caterpillar to the New York City Opera and Drury Lane in Oak Brook.
Scenery sets sometimes cost upwards of half-a-million-dollars and can fill four semi-trailers, according to Shapiro.
Technology like touchscreens and video expanded the studio’s toolbox.
Yet the set creations and museum exhibits are not all lights and gadgets. The real magic behind the fabrication comes from the story clients wish to tell and visual experience they want to create.
“People want to see interesting textures and feel like they’re in an environment,” Shapiro explained.
At work, “every day it’s something different,” he added.