Always in the spotlight: Sparks-based gobos maker
June 9, 2014
So when the Gotham City Police Department shines a spotlight with the stylized symbol of a bat into the sky to summon Batman, the symbol is created when light streams through a little stencil called a "gobo."
You didn't know that until right now.
But Rich Norris and Anne Wyak Norris have created a business in Sparks that's thrived for more than three decades as a creator of custom-made gobos for theater companies, television shows and event planners around the world.
The sale of gobos is a niche market to be sure, and their N&N Productions Ltd. has sliced off an even-smaller niche of its own among the half dozen gobo-makers across the nation.
N&N Productions Ltd. is known in the business for custom gobos hand-cut in heavy-duty brass plates. The choice of brass by Rich Norris, the firm's craftsman, is important because it allows gobos to withstand the high temperatures generated by a powerful spotlight.
Trained as jewelry maker, Rich Norris uses a coping saw to painstakingly cut custom designs into the brass. Even though the image cast by a spotlight may be a dozen feet in diameter by the time it reaches a wall or other surface where the silhouette is displayed, the gobo that slides onto the front of the light often is no more than four or five inches square.
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While custom-made brass productions created by Rich Norris helped establish the company, much of its work these days involves gray-scale images on glass slides.
"People want a really sophisticated look," explains Anne Norris.
The spotlighted silhouettes that occasionally show up on the side of the Grand Sierra Resort, for instance, rely on small gobos produced by N&N Productions. So do the silhouetted marketing messages across the inside of the dome at the Silver Legacy Resort Casino.
The company's other competitive advantage: It's fast, and it's relatively inexpensive.
Prices for a standard brass gobo start at $60 — competitors were charging $600 for custom gobos when N&N Productions got into business — and the Sparks company routinely turns around orders in a week or so. It doesn't begin to levy an extra charge for rush orders until a customer needs a gobo within three working days, and it sometimes handles orders with less than one-day turnaround.
The company creates custom gobos for movie premier events. For production-wrap parties. For weddings. For theatrical productions such as "Lion King" on Broadway, which originally used a gobo to create the illusion of a field of stars. And for community-theater or college productions that want to add some affordable sizzle.
"Everyone should have a chance to chase their dream," says Anne Norris.
It was the chase that led the couple to Reno in the late 1970s. Like many in the theater and musical community in Reno, they came to work in "Hello Hollywood Hello," the musical that ran for 11 years at the MGM Grand Hotel (now the Grand Sierra.)
Anne Norris was a costumer and her husband was a stage electrician when he began development of the custom brass gobos that launched the business.
Since then, they've created and sold enough gobos that they occasionally entertain themselves with a game they call "gobo-watching," looking for silhouettes created by their gobos.
Fox Sports, for instance, uses one of its creations to show its logo onto the floor of a set. Big corporations use N&N Productions' gobos to shine logos onto screens at annual meetings.
Still, N&N Productions remains a two-person shop that's more craft than corporation.
"We're really proud that these are hand-made," says Anne Norris.