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From videos to commercials, business is booming

As often as not, making films in Iowa is far removed from big-screen presentations like The Bridges of Madison County or Twister. A case in point would be The Chicken Magician.

Dropping from the skies aboard his Chickojet, or his Chickocopter, or his Chickoballoon, or scooting along on his Chickocycle, the Chicken Magician, the animated version of an old poultry farmer, spreads the gospel of poultry to children of grade-school and junior-high age. He does so in two 15-minute videos conceived and produced by writers and artists of the McCormick Advertising Agency of Des Moines and the West Des Moines-based Image Mill, a consortium of 18 illustrators, animators, and designers. "When advertising agencies hit the wall with stuff they can’t do, they call us," says James Mathis, Image Mill’s president.

The Chicken Magician’s role was to teach children about where the poultry they see in the supermarket comes from, about its nutritional importance, and about safe food handling. "It had everything from talking chickens to you name it," Mathis says.

The videos were made for the veterinary medicine division of the Bayer Corp. at a cost well into the six figures, Mathis says. Mathis says that about half of the work done by the Image Mill is traditional illustrations for printed material. The other half, he said, is animation for commercials, training films, and other moving-picture productions–the kind of work, he says, that was almost nonexistent in Iowa two decades ago.

Among other recent Image Mill projects, Mathis says, was a portion of a training film for McLeod USA of Cedar Rapids that stressed the importance of honest dealings. The lesson was taught by–who else? An animated George "I Cannot Tell a Lie" Washington.

The breadth of the industry in Iowa is amply illustrated by Metro Communications of Cedar Rapids, a growing, 15-year-old company that has filmed, taped, and done live feeds on everything from presidential debates to professional wrestling. The company has sent crews to Mexico and Japan to make promotional programs for Iowa corporations, produced a video on brain injuries for the University of Iowa, produced a teleconference at a Kansas City hospital that involved two open-heart surguries, and provided footage for Inside Edition, Good Morning America, the Today Show, and other network television shows. The company says it can make commercials and videos in many languages and has the talent and technology–including access to a national pool of actors and musicians–to craft any message a company wants to convey, usually for a lot less money than companies on either coast would demand. Toyota, John Deere, Amana, and IBP are some of the companies for which Metro has worked. Keith Hindman of Metro says the company has 16 employees–quadruple the number of a decade ago–and is putting $2 million into a new production studio.

–Larry Fruhling

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"The Chicken Magician, the animated version of an old poultry farmer, spreads the gospel of poultry to children."