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Innovation Leader: The Impact of Romaire Studios on the Entertainment Industry

In 2008, Walt Disney Studios decided it was time to revitalize one of its most cherished attractions. The Abraham Lincoln animatronic that appears in Disneyland’s “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” needed a facelift. To ensure the project’s success, Disney made a groundbreaking decision. For the first time in history, it brought in an artist from outside of The Walt Disney Company to help sculpt the likeness of a former US president. That artist was Emmy Award-winning Lee Romaire, head of the fabled Romaire Studios.

Founded in 2000, Romaire Studios is one of the foremost providers of live-action creatures, characters, and props for the worldwide entertainment industry. Romaire launched his studio as a boutique creature and character company, bringing an artistic eye and passion for realism and performance to projects appearing in movies, TV, and commercials. As reports of his work spread, Romaire and his team secured working relationships with some of the biggest live-action entertainment companies in the world. Over time, the innovations Romaire Studios achieved with animatronics began to transform the entertainment space. Its aesthetic standards had a profound impact on the theme park industry, introducing never-before-achieved movie-quality realism.

The philosophy behind Romaire’s style is art, engineering, and performance. “We strive to make the impossible look, feel, and seem possible,” Romaire asserts. “Beautiful aesthetics and cutting-edge engineering can only take a project so far. Our success depends upon delivering a believable performance. It all begins and ends with a good show.” Romaire’s work on Disney’s Abraham Lincoln animatronic provides an excellent example of his studio’s commitment to realism. Romaire and his team poured over pictures of the former president, mapping his facial features, finding that one eyelid was lower than the other, some white showed under his irises, and one eyebrow had a peak in it. Each of those features and more were included in the work Romaire did to achieve maximum authenticity.

Painstaking attention to detail was also employed in the work done on Lincoln’s beard. Each facial hair was placed by hand, then hand-shaven to give the stubble a realistic appearance. “My work with Disney showed me the need for a cinematic approach to animatronics that could deliver the movie-quality realism audiences appreciated,” Romaire says. “Once I realized that, I increased the focus of the work the studio was doing in that area. We moved from providing sculpture and skins for animatronics to full characters and, eventually, we evolved to the point where we were producing extremely complex animated effects for multiple theme park companies.”

In 2014, Romaire Studios was called upon by another major entertainment company for a project in which believability would be just part of the challenge. The company wanted Romaire to make history again by creating the smallest hand-held animatronic ever to appear in a theme park. Romaire Studios once again rose to the occasion, developing a groundbreaking animatronic that brought to life a pint-sized reptilian sidekick who had appeared in an animated film feature. The animatronic accomplishment showed again that Romaire and his team are true masters of not only their art but also engineering. “You need to have tenacity and a firm belief that there is always a way to overcome whatever challenge you are handed,” Romaire says. “The studio was once given a project that involved creating an insanely difficult animatronic hand-held animatronic prop that had to extend and retract and glow at the same time. Others had sought to solve the production problems associated with this prop for decades with no success, but our relentless pursuit of a solution eventually led to an answer. Today, we have our names on the patent for that technology.”

Patents, of which Romaire Studios holds many, are not the only testimony to Romaire’s success in animatronics. The studio’s work has earned numerous accolades, including two prestigious Themed Entertainment Awards (THEAs) for the “The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash” attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood in 2021 and Brand Experience for “Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser” Hotel at Walt Disney World in 2022. The entertainment space has evolved dramatically since Romaire Studios was founded over two decades ago. And Romaire and his team have evolved to meet the changing needs. One of the most recent examples of Romaire’s unique blend of visual artistry and technological innovation can be seen in his collaboration with popular YouTuber Socksfor1. When Socksfor1 wanted to create the iconic “Five Nights at Freddy’s” characters for the video “Five Nights at Freddy’s in Real Life,” he called upon Romaire Studios.

Showing once again why it is an industry leader, Romaire and his team created six fully functional character suits in a timeline of only eight weeks — a monumental feat previously unattempted within the realm of online content creation. To date, the video featuring the animatronics has been viewed more than 26 million times. “I think this video was seen more than the actual movie that came out at the same time,” Romaire jokes. Romaire’s commitment to infusing quality and artistry into his creations has had a far-reaching and long-lasting impact on the entertainment industry. He and his team deliver unrivaled animatronics that bring excitement and wonder to the millions who enjoy them. Romaire Studios is an innovation leader that consistently brings art and technology to life.

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