BOARDMAN Artist returns to create something special

The special effects artist plans to open a studio here in about a year.
BOARDMAN -- Township native Craig Popovich has always wanted to turn his art and love of special effects into a career.
He left the area more than 10 years ago and dedicated his life to doing just that, creating designs and special effects for movies and some of the largest theme parks in the country.
Now the 32-year-old artist and entrepreneur is looking to bring some of that talent back to the area.
Popovich, founder of Darkhorse Productions, is looking to set up a satellite branch of the Florida-based company here. In doing so, he says, the company can work closely with local artists, students and Mill Creek Park on projects to improve the area aesthetically and create nice, educational areas for children.
"One of the reasons for my wanting to come back to the area is sentimental, but I also get a lot of calls from students who are graduating and want to know how to get into this business," he said. "I spend a lot of time on the phone going over different things with them when there could be a company right in their back yards."
Scouting out space
Popovich is looking to set up a studio similar to what the company now has in Florida, but geared more toward creating special effects for movies. The company, he said, could do work on projects anywhere in the world from a Youngstown-area office.
Popovich said the first step is finding a building that can accommodate his studio needs -- a warehouse with at least 20-foot-high ceilings. He spent several days in the area looking at buildings that might fit the bill.
"My interest is in finding one of the older buildings, a large warehouse that no one is using. That would be ideal," he said.
Popovich said he could certainly see the company's setting up shop in one of the abandoned buildings in downtown Youngstown.
Popovich is a 1988 graduate of Boardman High School and a graduate of Columbus College of Art Design, with dual majors in special effects and art design. He moved to Florida in the early 1990s and went to work for well-established special effects companies.
His work, for vacationers to the Sunshine State, is hard to miss. The larger-than-life dinosaur figures and special effects for the Jurassic Park attraction at Universal Studios in Orlando are part of the Popovich portfolio. Other Universal Studios creations include the special effects and creations for the Men in Black, Seuss Landing, Poseidon's Fury and E.T. attractions.
Other work
Popovich has done work for Disney World and Busch Gardens in Florida and Virginia. He also created a large model of a woman, complete with organs, that children could crawl through and learn about the circulatory system for a science museum.
Local residents can get a glimpse of Popovich's early work at the Ford Nature Center in Mill Creek Park. He created and donated a 6-foot dinosaur to the center.
The artist's movie special-effects credits include the 1990s release "Doc Hollywood" and "A Dream for all Seasons," a film about Mill Creek Park.
Not all of Popovich's work ends up on the big screen or being used to entertain the masses. He recalls, with a slight smile, putting together the makeup and effects for a wedding with a "Wizard of Oz" theme, complete with a wicked witch and monkeys.
The artist plans to open a studio here in about a year.

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