The story starts out like a Hollywood movie. The female lead is working as an administrative assistant in the art department at CBS Studios in Studio City, CA. She has a bachelor's degree in creative writing and yearns for a mate who's also artistically inclined--an inventor, perhaps. One afternoon, a man walks through the door, in search of one of the set designers working on Raise the Titanic. He is a special effects coordinator (an inventor, in other words). Sparks fly. On their first date, they attend the premiere of a made-for-TV movie. After a year, they marry, and eventually put their talents to work, starting their own company. Their products can be found in opera houses, on movie sets, and on cruise ships. They are known worldwide, even if the names behind the products are not.
At this point, many movies go astray; relationships falter, the characters grow apart. Fortunately, this didn't happen in the real-life romance of Gary and Stephany Crawford, the driving forces behind CITC, one of the most successful special effects equipment firms in the nation. It was Gary, with a resume that includes the films E.T., Pete's Dragon, and The Black Hole, and TV's Highway to Heaven, who originally saw the niche for a firm that specialized in such equipment.
While Stephany was teaching creative writing, Gary was working at Warner Bros. and, since work had slowed down considerably, started thinking about other options. He was intrigued by the idea of owning his own company and gravitated toward special effects products. "We realized rather quickly that if we wanted to participate in this industry, we needed to provide unique products that were reliable, gave good performance, and were very user-friendly," Gary says.
Since its beginning in 1989, CITC, located in Lynnwood, WA, has evolved from a small distributing company to a firm that carries a full line of special effects equipment, from bubble machines to confetti cannons, and almost everything in between. The firm ships products to more than 250 distributors around the globe, and can be accessed on the Internet at www.citcfx.com.
At CITC, Gary and Stephany work with the rest of their staff to create a myriad of products. "Gary can go into a hardware store and see this inconsequential piece of hardware become this wonderful effect," Stephany explains. "Then I take the effect, and work with him to make it more marketable." It's also her responsibility to oversee CITC's advertising and international customers. "We all wear several hats here," he says.
One of the firm's early success stories was the Little Blizzard snow machine, which uses a specially formulated non-toxic liquid to create realistic falling snow. Once the snow lands or is touched, it disappears, so there's no mess or cleanup involved, which makes the unit even more user-friendly. "Sometimes a product will start off on its own and it will grow and mature, because of the demands placed around it," Gary explains. "We listen to our customers' needs a lot. The Little Blizzards evolved because our customers have called and asked us to make them smaller, quieter, and stronger," Stephany adds. "Now we have a version called the Little Blizzard SP which is 75% quieter. It's stronger and smaller than last year's version." Since then, they've had hits with the Hi-Lo DigiFogger hazers, Jungle Mist Anti-Drip System, CFS-2000 Chiller, and SnoBiz, just to name a few.
Of course, along the way there are always a few false starts. Such was Dam-It, a device that, in theory, was supposed to keep fog from falling into an orchestra pit. "We did all kinds of experiments, and it never seemed to work right. The name just should have told us," Stephany explains with a smile. "Finally we just said 'damn it,' " Gary concludes with a chuckle, "though we do thank God for our success."
Twenty years after they first locked eyes at CBS, and 10 years after the creation of CITC, Gary and Stephany still have a few surprises up their sleeves. "My favorite product that we've ever created is premiering at LDI this year," Stephany explains. Called the Ring Rocket, it launches rings of fog 20" in diameter in a straight line up to 50' (15m). "I've always been intrigued by shapes, and no one has ever been able to produce a machine that can make shapes from fog," she explains. They went to a prominent engineering firm in Seattle and spent months with them in research and development. "The rings look like something out of a science fiction film--when the ring hits you, it actually blows your hair back," she laughs.
The Crawfords are in the preliminary stages of creating a fogging mechanism for the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and working on custom bubble machines for Walt Disney World. "Part of the fun of being in this business is that when people call to talk about special effects, they're usually in a good mood," Stephany explains. "They're the type of people who have a positive outlook and are basically kids at heart. Like we are."