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A Tour of Creative Works

On my recent visit to Indiana I was welcomed in for a tour of Creative Works headquarters in Mooresville by Russ Van Natta, Vice President of Business Development. I would like to thank him for giving me a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of this company that manufactures and designs so many of the laser tag arenas that we have enjoyed playing over the years.

I arrived at the Creative Works offices to find that all the creation takes place in two buildings as I entered the main entrance adorned with a big CW logo.

Then, upon meeting Russ, we began the tour in a really fun area… The Foam Depot!

Russ explained that this is a space where they are all about blending artistry and engineering to create the elaborate props you will see in many arenas. Inside the foam room we passed a large CNC machine (which makes me think of a giant Cricut, lol).

He told me they might use anything from a Dremel to a sawzall or even a blow torch to create fine detailing in the foam. There were a number of raw foam pieces in the room that were awaiting the next step.

Next comes a hard coating process to give the piece its durability. The strength of this process wil in part be determined by the intentions for the piece. For example, if kids are going to have access to the decoration it will need to be more durable than something that simply hangs on the wall. So each piece gets some degree of hard coating at this stage.

Perhaps you noticed the piano hanging off this wall? Russ told me this piece only weighs ten pounds!

We passed a demo area for an e-sports station, another element they can create.

Russ recalled some of the history of the company, founded by Jeff Schilling who passed on in July of 2020 and his wife, owner Kimberly Schilling, who I first met this past summer at the Amusement Expo in Las Vegas. Jeff built quite a legacy that began 24 years ago.

Russ also noted that “Jeff had this brilliant combination of artistry and an engineering mindset, which set a huge precedent.” He want on to credit the company’s growth trajectory as being “set in place from day one by Jeff, then he and Kim brought on Armando Lanuti (Creative Works President) who continues to protect that vision as they continue to grow with VR, mini golf and escape rooms. The company has grown to about 65 employees.

Creative works blends a great deal of carpentry and IT to incorporate computer props in a variety of ways. As we talked we walked through the approximately 100 year old building and entered the wood department I immediately recognized some floor props in progress that will be on their way to becoming laser tag base housing structures.

Russ observed that for Creative Works it really comes down to being diligent about the raw materials. He says “not compromising on materials, and the ‘concierge service’ of the team are factors in the total value they provide to their customers. There is a heightened focus on lean manufacturing and eliminating waste from the process.

He also emphasizes a company objective to help maximize the attractions value even after they have completed an arena installation, noting “Many of us have worked in attractions, so our team has operational experience too.”

Next we entered a separate building where the paint work is done. They use thousands of paint combinations of to get the variants and gradations to show up in the black light environment of a laser tag center.

Here they can paint in both white light and black light to get the desired effect.

Have you ever wondered how all the walls in an arena seem to fit together so seamlessly? Well, it is here in the paint room that they step and repeat hundreds of times over the walls to make sure they will match in a single arena with consistency to the batch.

My photos show up looking brighter than what the human eye sees, but you can get a good idea of how they create shading with paint for texture.

They can add a fire retardant application and a clear coat to complete the process.

As we walked around to see some staging bays for each step of the process, there were some slightly familiar looking pieces.

He told me that they do take inspiration from pop culture plus they take some additional artistic license.

I was curious about the volume of arenas they have worked on and Russ shared that

pre-COviD Creative Works did about 60-70 arenas per year, out of roughly 100 arenas added or remodeled annually. So that was the equivalent of about 2/3 of the market. But looking ahead, what might be the future for the industry?

He believes that “Laser tag will still continue to be very visceral and experiential, but VR and laser tag will continue to be very symbiotic together going forward.”

That said, we moved on to take a look at the design and engineering workstations where arena layouts could be seen mid-creation on the computer monitors. Creative Works has three designers of CAD works and internal layouts and four with engineering R&D as well as a graphics designer for mural design.

At this step they need to look at the flow from where the entrance is in relation to the vesting room as well as whether there are bases or center props that will be predictors or work around points for maze components. We discussed how often when I play in a Creative Works arena for the first time I am able to play somewhat intuitively, which makes sense when you know a bit about the intentional flow of the design.

This was an eye opening tour that concluded with Russ Van Natta sitting down with me for an interview. Here you can listen to his thoughts on a few questions I had regarding laser tag arena design.

My thanks once again to Russ Van Natta, Vice President of Business Development for Creative Works, for taking the time to give me a personal tour of this company that builds the arena designs where so many amazing laser tag experiences are enjoyed.

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