From Disney to Dairyland, a small group of theming artists turns the most outlandish requests into business showstoppers.
Pam Price is well known in the Orlando, Fla. theming community for her work at theme parks. She recently decided to relocate to Wisconsin and stands in front of her new company’s first theming project in Madison. Her team is creating the illusion of a metal building façade using a special 3-D painting technique.
Photo by M.O.D. Media Productions
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From the pages of In Business magazine.
Looking for a 20-foot tall King Kong for your rooftop, or a 40-foot serpent on the front lawn of your business? Perhaps you want to create an incredibly realistic Arizona or Florida-themed office space to get through the dreary winter months, or create a saloon atmosphere out of a corporate lunchroom.
F5 can do it.
“We craft imagination,” says Pam Price, owner of F5 Theming and Design LLC, who’s been making a name for herself as a theme artist for the past 30 years. Theming, she explains, is taking an idea — any idea — and making it come to life. The term comes from theme parks, and Price and many of her colleagues have worked at some of the best, including Disney and Universal, either as contracted employees or as employees of other companies. Their work on the Harry Potter area at Universal Studios subsequently led to some Wisconsin business connections.
Price is recognized as a guru in the theming industry, notes Jan Swanke, F5’s chief and creative operations officer. “We call her TPP, for THE Pam Price,” she smiles admiringly. Price blushes.
Over the past four years, Price has led a team of themers who have been spending six to eight months a year on proprietary projects in the area. Finally, she just decided to start her own business and relocate to Wisconsin. “I just loved the atmosphere here,” the Virginia native says. “I love the people and the difference in attitudes [compared to Orlando]. People are naturally kind, it’s slower paced, and I love the fresh air.”
Conceptualization began with a foam core model of the original office building, top, and the finalized design. A 3-D painting technique called trompe-l’oeil tricks the eye. The doorway, above, is actually flat.
The artists have now joined Price under the F5 moniker, and several, including Price, are still in the process of moving here. “I usually bring about 10 artists with me on projects,” she says, “and they’ve fallen in love with this area, too. Madison is a very artsy town. Very appreciative of art.”
At the heart of their work is a painting method called trompe-l’oeil, a technique designed to trick the eye into believing something is real, creating an optical illusion. Price, who was classically trained in trompe-l’oeil, admits that 3-D painting just comes easy to her. “I’ve been doing it for so long that I could do it with my eyes closed.”
Others have learned along the way. “Air brushing and spray painting teaches you a lot of this,” notes Swanke. The F5 team employs all methods of paint application to achieve their desired effects.
But these artists don’t just paint, they conceptualize and build models from a variety of materials, from foam to concrete. Through the years they’ve simulated environments at theme parks, zoos, and theater sets. “We can carve anything,” Price smiles. “Need a dinosaur?”
After officially launching as F5 Theming in June, the company’s first official project, at Duncan Edward European Hair Salon on Madison’s west side, is nearing completion.
Duncan and Gillian Cairns, the British-born business owners, will celebrate their 25th year in Madison in January and they’ve incorporated metal into their salon’s décor for years. Recently they decided they needed to extend that modern vibe to the exterior of their building on Grand Canyon Drive, as well.
“We’ve owned this building for seven years and a number of clients said they didn’t realize it was a business because it just looked like a typical bi-level home,” explains Gillian. “We didn’t want our business to look like a little house.”
Their original idea, to wrap the entire home in metal, didn’t fly with the neighborhood association. About that time, Swanke, a customer at the salon, learned how disappointed Cairns was that his idea had been rejected and offered to help.
What has ensued over a couple of months is nothing short
of fascinating as the F5 team transforms the front façade of the Duncan Edward building to look exactly like metal, complete with bolts and rivets around windows and doors that passersby would swear is real.
But it’s not real — it’s paint.