For a Lynnwood-based company, there's no business like snow business.
By Eric Fetters
Monday, December 19, 2005
LYNNWOOD - Gary and Stephany Crawford can create snow that falls in shopping malls, breezes that grace the Dixie Chicks on stage, or fog that adds mystery to Spider-Man's latest exploits.
Dan Bates / The Herald
Gary and Stephany Crawford stand in a "snowstorm" created by their company, CITC Special Effects Equipment, which supplied the snow for the hit movie "Narnia."
Some of their snow business magic also can be seen on the big screen in the new blockbuster "The Chronicles of Narnia."
When it comes to making a winter wonderland, they can do it more reliably than Mother Nature. The company's motto: "Cool stuff that's show-tough."
The Crawfords' company, CITC Special Effects Equipment in Lynnwood, also is believed to be the only firm that makes fake snow that is biodegradable, as well as more realistic than some competing products.
"Once people have seen the snow, they know it's a product they can trust," said Jason Hochhalter, a CITC sales representative.
"He is the snow expert around here," Bill Sorden, vice president of operations for Seattle-based Greg Thompson Productions, said of Gary Crawford. Sorden's firm arranged to use more than 30 of CITC's snow-producing systems for this year's Snowflake Lane show in Bellevue.
"I knew when I was looking to do this that he was the guy to call," Sorden said, adding that the Crawfords' personalities and honesty help. "He's not just trying to sell you the snow machine, he's trying to create magic."
While providing snow machines and fog effects for films such as "Narnia," "Spider-Man 2" and "Lord of the Rings" is the glamorous side of the business, CITC's products are used in a range of places.
"A lot is for film, but a lot is for live stage, rock 'n' roll shows and more," Gary Crawford said.
In the live production realm, the company's clients include Cirque de Soleil, opera productions and even Motley Crue and the Super Bowl. Providing snow for events at shopping centers, schools, churches and even front yards also provides steady business.
Forty percent of CITC's orders come from overseas. One day last week, pallets full of artificial snow awaited shipment to Russia. The company's products also have gone to customers in Asia, Europe and South America, Gary Crawford said.
The Crawfords started their own business in 1987 "out of a closet in our home," Stephany Crawford said. The company's first product, which it still sells, was an aerosol haze that can produce an inexpensive fog.
The product was one of Gary Crawford's brainstorms.
"As a special effects technician, you need to be able to invent," he said.
Products: snow machines and artificial biodegradable snow, as well as systems to produce foam, bubbles, wind, fog and haze.
Web site: www.citcfx.com
Gary Crawford, who grew up in Southern California, had years of practice with special effects before launching his own business. He learned the special-effects trade through an apprenticeship program with Hollywood's movie studios. He tells stories about being on the set of 1967's "Camelot" with leads Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave.
From there, he worked on many movies through the 1970s, and met Stephany while working on effects for "Raise the Titanic." One of his biggest breaks came a couple of years later when he was summoned to work on "E.T."
"I originally was called to make the finger glow," he said.
He ended up helping on a range of the movie's "physical effects," from making E.T.'s heart glow to making young Elliott and his friends appear to fly above the trees on their bicycles.
The Crawfords' inventiveness hasn't stopped. Their snowflakes used in shopping centers dissolve on contact.
Another of CITC's snow products is a special wheat and rice gluten-based flake that's been deemed environmentally safe by the U.S. Forest Service. Unlike older plastic flakes, CITC's snowflakes won't harm actors if they are accidentally inhaled. They're also easy to clean up with water.
That's unique among snow makers.
"We have a competitor in Canada, and a competitor in England, but they use paper flakes," Gary Crawford said.
After starting CITC, the Crawfords moved the firm from Arizona to Lynnwood in the mid-1990s, impressed by the region. The proximity to Canada and shipping ports to Asia also was a strategic advantage to the business, Gary Crawford said.
With business growing by about 25 percent this year and a burgeoning bird-control enterprise starting up on the side, CITC is thriving. The Crawfords said they are looking at potential sites in the Everett area to move the company as they outgrow their existing space in a business park.
The Edmonds couple recently went to a multiplex to check out their product's look in "Narnia," which was filmed in New Zealand. Their verdict?
Stephany Crawford said she is biased, but she was impressed as she watched the white flakes float by on the screen.
"I thought the snow looked real."
Reporter Eric Fetters: 425-339-3453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.