You may not know the name LifeFormations, but odds are you’ve probably seen the company’s work. From Germany’s Europa Park to the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, this design and fabrication firm has created sculpted and mechanical elements for amusement parks, movie studios, museums, and other themed attractions around the world.
“I, like many of our team, came into this business wanting to build experiences that ‘wowed’ visitors as they walked past or through our projects,” says Rodney Heiligmann, the company’s president. “So a maquette in Times Square, a theme park attraction in Asia, a museum here in the Midwest—wherever our work is located, we wanted to engage people in the space so we could entertain or teach them something.”
As an undergraduate at Bowling Green State University, Heiligmann began working for LifeFormations, where his experience ranged from plastics fabrication to electronics. He took over the firm while pursuing his doctorate in the late ’90s and began charting a more ambitious course that would bring in new technologies and additional talent to take on more projects. In 2007, he and business partner Bret Woodbury opened a second location in Madeira, which eventually became the company’s head office.
Depending on the scope of a project, the LifeFormations team consists of 50 to 75 sculptors, digital modelers, engineers, welders, mold-makers, painters, and programmers. It was all hands on deck for the Wildwood Tree, the centerpiece of Dollywood’s Wildwood Grove attraction. At 60 feet tall, the tree, which took 18 months to complete and debuted last summer, is covered with hundreds of illuminated butterflies and thousands of leaves that change colors to a timed soundtrack.
Projects closer to home include figures for the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame & Museum, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the Cincinnati Museum Center, William Howard Taft National Historic Site, and Great Wolf Lodge. They’ve also created pieces for the main lobby of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus and the Louisville Slugger Museum.
“The most important aspect of our work is that each installation we have created over the years has tried to improve the lives of those experiencing it, if for only a short while,” Heiligmann says.