BOWLING GREEN — You may never find a more diverse crowd of characters than those hanging out at LifeFormations.
A recent visit found Thomas Edison in the lobby. A bloody samurai swordsman stood in the hall. A three-legged banjo player strummed away in the back near the world's tallest man, while the head of actor Samuel L. Jackson — just the head — rested comfortably in another room filled with other body parts.
That's the nature of a business that expects to dream up and craft more than 100 stationary and animatronic figures this year.
LifeFormations got its start 20 years ago when founder Gene Poor moved a division he'd created at a Toledo company to Bowling Green near I-75 and broadened its focus from mostly making trade show displays.
Now its creations, which vacillate between the incredibly realistic to the wildly insane, can be found across the globe, anywhere from Universal Studios to Ripley's Believe It Or Not! attractions.
The guiding principle behind them is simple: "If you show [people] something they've never seen before, they'll stop. Once you've stopped them, then you can get their attention," says Mr. Poor, who also teaches entrepreneurship at Bowling Green State University.
It's a trick that works at museums, theme parks, retail outlets, restaurants, and even for individual collectors. Current clients include a Lebanese museum that ordered a model of the leader of Hezbollah and a wealthy European couple who want animated replicas of themselves.
"We'll animate anything," Mr. Poor says. "We give it personality. We give it soul.”
No detail is too small, something vice president of art Lara McGlaughlin stresses as she works on the silicone head of a figure.
“Right now we're tweaking the hair ... one hair at a time,” she says.
Most static characters sell for $5,000 and more, while animated ones start at $25,000 and go up based on the number and sophistication of pneumatic movements.
Buyers say it's worth it.
"We use them as attractions," explains Debby Hartinger of Jungle Jim's International Market in Fairfield, Ohio. "People listen to them and they smile and they're excited. ... It's like: Wow, where's the next one?"
Among the store's animatronic installations are a talking ear of corn and stick of butter that do a comedy routine.
Forty-six LifeFormations figures greet visitors at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Illinois. Not only do they help illustrate scenes out of Lincoln's life, they look great in photos with guests, says communications manager Dave Blanchette.
"It looks like they are literally standing with the Lincoln family."
Contact Ryan E. Smith at: