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Categories:  Alumni

Need a monster? A giant tube of toothpaste? He can build it

Clint Borucki

“If you can think of it, we can make it,” says Clint Borucki, 1988 BFA graduate and owner of Acme Design in Elgin. Photo: Lloyd DeGrane

 

By Jonathan Black, UIC Alumni magazine

Let’s play a game: You’re blindfolded and taken to a secret location. When the blindfold is removed, you find yourself surrounded by dozens of items, such as a giant tube of toothpaste, the Japanese monster from the movie “Gamera,” a life-size 3-D sculpture of Chiana from the TV series “Farscape,” Notre Dame championship rings the size of garage doors, an even bigger plastic 50th anniversary Burger King Whopper, military weapons, and shelves full of dragons and fake pigs.

Where are you?

In the Acme Design workshop of Clint Borucki, of course.

“We do just about anything you can think of, with just about any material,” says Borucki, a 1988 UIC graduate with a bachelor’s in fine arts. “If you can think of it, we can make it.”

Clint Borucki with a giant hamburger model

Clint Borucki in the 1950s-style diner he created. Photo: Lloyd DeGrane

That’s easy to believe while on a tour of his subterranean workshop in Elgin. The maze of oversized rooms is crowded with fearsome machines that look like a cross between cement mixers and Xerox copiers on steroids, and produce props for films, trade displays and video games. They’re manned by tech-savvy workers who also are obsessive craftsmen.

“My favorite rant is how people will go to a Chevy dealership and pay $138 an hour to get their oil changed and think we’re outrageously overpriced at $75 an hour,” Borucki says. “But with five people working on a project, [the cost] can spiral out of control real fast.”

Acme Design celebrated its 20th anniversary this past fall. Borucki capped the milestone with a visit to Washington, D.C., and the unveiling of the company’s greatest triumph: the reconstruction of a very unusual dinosaur.

That would be the 50-foot-long, life-size replica of Spinosaurus — a carnivorous brute that was even bigger than T-Rex. The extraordinary find was pieced together by a couple of University of Chicago paleontologists working with an international research team and the National Geographic Society. Borucki was the guy who created a 3D skeleton of the creature’s massive skull. The results were featured on the cover of October’s National Geographic magazine and in a Nova special that aired on PBS in November.

“We’d done some work at the dinosaur lab at the University of Chicago,” Borucki says. “When they determined they’d be able to do a life-size model of the Spinosaurus, we were ready because we had just purchased new equipment used for making large-scale items, like dinosaurs.”

 

It’s fun to do the impossible

Borucki is an engaging, boisterous, fast-talking entrepreneurial wizard. His favorite quote is from Walt Disney: “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” As such, Acme’s single-page promo sheet lists capabilities that include 3-D printing, vacuum forming, molding and casting, as well as “underwater basket weaving.”

Borucki’s career began somewhat more modestly when he graduated from UIC with a degree in industrial design and started a furniture-making business in his Glendale Heights garage.

But the garage couldn’t contain his ambitions for long. Soon he turned to the world of models, props and prototypes. He grew his business so successfully that Acme Design had to undertake a major expansion and move to Elgin.

In 2012, the company lost its major client, the Bradford Exchange, which chose to outsource all business to China, but Borucki did exactly what his promo sheet promises: “leap tall buildings and rise to the next challenge.” He now employs 10 people full time.

To appreciate Borucki’s whimsical side, as well as his passionate devotion to detail, follow him through what amounts to a secret door leading past the last of his noisy, dust-filled basement rooms and into the cheery, sun-filled replica of … a ’50s-style diner!

While one blinks in disbelief, Borucki explains, “I’m a dork and really like diners. We made the booths and the counters and all the backing. The soda fountain is the real deal. The short reason is we needed a space for people to eat lunch and a place to showcase our capabilities.

“Just imagine. You could have a supper club in your basement. Or the bar from Star Wars or Wrigley Field.”