Making it big: Gardiner couple bring dreams to life for stage, screen and trade shows

Jane and George Czinkota of Czinkota Studios in Gardiner. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Though many locals were unaware of them until they voluntarily created a cemetery-scene float for this year’s New Paltz Halloween Parade, George and Jane Czinkota have been busy making cool stuff in Gardiner for many years now. Their business, Czinkota Studios, does custom fabrication from a facility of somewhere between 13,000 and 14,000 square feet at the end of Osprey Lane, in the Steve’s Lane industrial park neighborhood. Its two buildings used to be a woodworking shop and a fish hatchery, but now they’re places where clients’ dreams take shape in the real world.

Married 32 years now, Jane and George are both Newburgh-area natives and brought up two kids in Gardiner. Jane was a registered nurse before joining her husband in starting up a home-based business, making stage props in their garage. “This wasn’t anything I envisioned as a career,” admits George, who studied Fine Art at Orange County Community College before majoring in Illustration at the Parsons School of Design. He had always done a little sculpting on the side, he says, and some of his three-dimensional work caught the eye of the owner of “a guy who did toy prototypes.” Soon George was designing action figures for companies like Hasbro and Mattel. Then he went on to work for more than a decade for Cornwall-based East Coast Theater Supply, ending up supervising an Art Department of 30 employees before striking out on his own.

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During those years, he developed sets and props for big-ticket clients like Universal Studios, Las Vegas casino shows and the original Broadway production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. These days, Czinkota Studios serves much of the same sort of clientele: They created the stage set for Rihanna’s big finale number at the MTV Video Music Awards; tour props and backdrops for music stars like Madonna and Lady Gaga and a long list of heavy metal bands; a huge exhibit based on the recent Ghostbusters movie remake for Madame Tussaud’s; a 16-foot-tall model of the Hulkbuster suit to promote the new Iron Man movie. Their work is commissioned for trade shows and comicons, theme parks and athletic awards ceremonies.

But they also do slightly more prosaic products, such as “custom cabinet fixtures for stores,” says Jane. One of those office-furniture commissions, currently wrapped for shipping in their warehouse, is a desk that’s a facsimile of a giant wedge of Swiss cheese for a Wall Street client. Even when they’re making things that are utilitarian, they’re far from mundane.

The tombstones, cauldrons and other props used in the Halloween Parade float are carved from Styrofoam, painted over with spray epoxy to evoke amazingly realistic stone and metal finishes. Foam is a popular prop material because it’s lightweight, says George; but the company also has a wood and metal shop. At the other end of the building is the painting area, including an enclosed 12-by-25-foot spray booth, with exhaust fans dominating one entire end wall.

While some of the sculpting, especially fine detail, is still done by hand, new computer-assisted design technology has revolutionized their ability to replicate a shape over and over, or scale it up or down with great precision. An enormous shark model hangs from the ceiling of one of the warehouses, looking like something that you’d see at the Museum of Natural History; George says that it was made by laser-scanning a small toy and feeding the desired dimensions into a computer program. The company is also equipped with CNC (computer numerically controlled) equipment like a giant router table that can carve perfectly calibrated models out of wood, plastic or foam, layer by layer, and a vacuform machine that softens sheets of plastic with heat and then sucks them into a specific shape around a mold.

Lately, the Czinkotas and their staff of about a dozen artists and craftspeople have been experimenting with new applications like special LED lighting effects (for the Grinch’s heart onstage, for instance) and “things that expand pneumatically,” says George. He’s the kind of guy who likes a challenge. “The nicest thing is, it’s always something different. You never know what you’re going to get a phone call for.”

While some of their figurines can be seen during the holiday season at FrostyFest in Ulster Park, not much of Czinkota Studios’ work is done for local clients. But getting more involved in their home community has been steadily climbing their agenda. They volunteered to cut up much of the giant Gardiner evergreen that was used as Rockefeller Center’s 2015 Christmas tree into small tree-shaped wooden ornaments for the town to sell as a holiday fundraiser. They’ve also started collaborating with SUNY New Paltz’s engineering program, making maquettes for larger sculptures in the college’s 3-D printing lab.

And the Halloween Parade float is slated to become an annual tradition. “I’ve been thinking about a float forever,” George says. “We’ve always talked about doing something for the community. It’s going to be different every year.”

Much more information on the work done by Czinkota Studios can be found at www.czinkota.com.

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