ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – In an old warehouse across the street from the Lemp Brewery in downtown St. Louis, there are gigantic purple dragons, rock monsters and pirates coming to life by the work of Creative Visions. The St. Louis-born company is an exporter of some of the most unique works of science and art in the city.
Twenty-five years ago, Mark McDonough started the company and in that time has created animatronics, statues, virtual motion platforms, haunt equipment, special effects products and designed themes for amusement park rides. The projects are on display across the globe, including China, Russia and Ecuador, and at U.S. entertainment venues like Six Flags, Busch Gardens, Universal Studios, Sea World and many others.
McDonough estimates that about 60 percent of their year-to-year work is for international markets. He explained that the U.S. has a “mature market” for theme parks, and there are a lot of companies around the country fighting for the few projects available.
“Maybe every 10 years a new theme park will open in America,” McDonough says. “Internationally speaking – China, Russia, India – those are all growing markets.”
His most recent work in the U.S. was for Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. He and his team designed the theme for the Haunted Mine Drop, which is the first drop ride in the world to go underground, dropping riders 110 feet down inside Iron Mountain.
Some other prominent projects include:
– Dragon for FantasyCon, measuring 30-feet tall and 63-feet wide
– Multiple rock monsters
– 16-foot animatronic great white shark, completely submerged in a tank of water in Florida
– 35-foot squid, also submerged in tank of water in Ecuador
“You say the word animatronic and most people will understand it’s a Disney word, and they have enough understanding and say ‘Oh like a Chuck E. Cheese robot.’ They get the basic concept,” McDonough says.
The St. Louis-native went to Chaminade College Prepatory School, then graduated from Saint Louis University. He describes his career as a mix of arts and science.
Inside the three-story building that was formerly a hay barn, McDonough and his team are metalworkers, sculptures, painters and hydraulic engineers. He says his team is usually about six employees, but can grow as large as 15 for some extensive projects that require outside help.
His passion is to take an idea and quickly make it reality. He rarely says “No, I can’t make that.”
“I’m always amazed when I talk to a doctor or a lawyer and I say something and they say ‘Oh, that’s not my specialty.’ And I’m like, ‘so what?’ My life is all about ‘not my specialty.’ I have to figure it out in a heartbeat. When someone says make me a giant Dragon I say ‘yes.’ And within 10 minutes I’ll have a viable solution on how to pull it off.”
Some of the characters around his shop look like they are headed to a haunted house, but others are being sent to children’s parks. One of his popular designs is a giant corn on the cob, which was purchased by the Missouri Department of Agriculture he says, and shown at the Missouri State Fair, Ballpark Village, and other sites to talk about the agriculture industry in Missouri.
The international projects have their subtle difficulties, especially the ones with speaking requirements. McDonough says he knows a bit of Spanish, but making a pirate speak Mandarin is a completely different challenge.
Ten years from now McDonough’s goal is to simply be “existing.” He says there might be more opportunities in cities like Chicago, but he has his “guys” here in town who fabricate things and he doesn’t plan to leave that.
He says St. Louis has the logistics he prefers, as a central location in the U.S. So Creative Visions will likely be a “made in St. Louis” company for a long time.
KMOX’s Alex Degman contributed to this report