special effects, sfx makeup, custom props, costume fabrication


Covid-19 and TolinFX

Steve Tolin screams in fright at his zombie creation running amuck

Happy New Year, everyone! It’s hard to believe that 2020 is finally over…

So, where have we been during this crazy year?!

Right where we have always been- right here. 

It goes without saying that a LOT has occurred and changed this year. Many businesses have had to shift and adapt not only their way of thinking, but their way of doing! Our business is not unlike these businesses, but we have been very fortunate in that creative thinking, adapting to overcome challenges, and thriving in complex work environments is what we do! Thanks to this, we have been plugging away, busy as ever, on numerous professional and personal projects.

Crystal: Hello, Steve! What is new?! Start from the beginning of 2020 – tell us about your year from a personal perspective. 

Steve: The biggest news is of course our new daughter, little Eloise Sandra. She is our pandemic baby, born in the height of the initial US peak of Corona. She is amazing and a true testament that life goes on even in the face of tough new situations. Second to that would be how much closer I’ve grown into my relationship with God. Also testimony to how adversity can affect us in positive ways. I firmly believe that everything happens as part of His plan and is designed for our well being, even when it is painful. Growth hurts. And not just for the grown ups. All of our other kids have been at home learning remotely. That has been a big adjustment for them, and for us, too, of course. Teaching 4 kids at home while running a business is a big challenge. And the shape of Tolin FX has changed a lot as well. I had grown my business into quite a large operation, filling a 6000 square foot shop with about 20 artists working with me pretty regularly. And I lived in a small apartment attached to my shop in the middle of a very urban setting in the middle of Pittsburgh. I was about 90% shop and 10% living space. I now live in the country, much more like the world I come from, and am now running my business out of a studio that is about 90% living space and 10% shop. The change is a big breath of fresh air, and I am finding myself more invigorated about my business than I have been in years. I’m chopping the wood to heat my home while I wait for rapid prototypes on my Ultimaker. I’m target practicing with my gun and my bow while giving remote lectures to robotic students in Mars and innovating the fashion industry with the NY Fashion Institute of Technology. I’m finding balance. I’m finding God. And I’m raising my babies.

C: That sounds like a balanced life full of love and art! And how about what’s new from a business/professional perspective?

S: The year started off with a bang! As always, the after-holiday gears started cranking in January and we had lots of cool jobs lined up. We were really in full swing with several films and museum gigs- and suddenly Corona hit!! At first it seemed like it would pass quickly, then it seemed like the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, and ever since then we have been trying to find a middle ground between the two. In the meantime we’ve done our part to help the frontline health care workers by creating and donating PPE face shields and 3d-printed face masks. The bulk of our work has been trying to continue serving the clients that we’ve already committed to while we adjust to the reality of our new work environment. Most of the industries we serve are collaborative and communal in nature, and as such they were hit really hard. Of course that impact carried through to us, and we’ve needed to find new ways to serve those markets to help them (and us) survive the new pandemic climate. We’ve always provided many of our services remotely, either by creating pieces in our shop and shipping them to the end user or by working as a vendor and delivering the pieces ourselves, so that part hasn’t changed a lot. But some things have changed a lot. Meetings aren’t happening in person and my shop can’t be full of artists in the same space. We aren’t doing any theatre at the moment because it is totally dormant for now. Films were gone completely for a minute, but are slowly starting to make a comeback (thank God). However they can be completely shut down at any moment as soon as someone tests positive, so the gears move more slowly in some respects. But we’re adapting and doing our best to overcome these new realities. And I am very grateful for Squib FX! Our squib rig sales have been very good because internet sales are up. We’re learning that, although large film and theatre productions are crippled, indie is not going anywhere. People will not stop making art. And we will not stop trying to help them make their art.

C: How fortunate to be able to continue to do what you love while helping to fabricate someone else’s dreams/visions during such a seemingly dark time for so many! What advice would you give to any small businesses or individuals that may be struggling through the effects of Covid-19?

S: My advice is to not hold on to what we think we are. The world is different, and we must adapt. If we try to continue to be what we were, we will suffer more than we have to. Be flexible, be willing to change, be willing to be molded. Don’t stop doing the work you were put on this earth to do. Don’t sacrifice loving for living. God is doing this FOR us, not TO us. The challenge is to trust that fact, even when times are hard and getting harder, and to seek the wisdom and understanding that adversity offers us. It’s not often that the world gets a hard reset. This feels like one of them. We can all grow from this. We can all learn from this. No matter what direction we were headed in 2019, this year has shown us that we can be different. We can be better. And though we don’t know what 2021 has in store for us, we can take that wisdom and knowledge forward with us into the new year. I pray for peace and understanding for us all. Best wishes to you all in the New Year!!

Steve Tolin paints an alien maquette for an upcoming film project
Steve Tolin paints an alien miniature sculpture for the upcoming feature film, Night Sky
A sea of red and white-sweatered Bucky Badger figurines freshly fabricated and ready to ship to Wisconsin
Wisconsin Bucky Badger strikes a pose as he awaits shipment
Steve and Antonio Grassano rig a dummy with a squib fx rig and remove his bloody jacket
Steve and Antonio check the aftermath of a custom squib for J Balvin in the Latin Grammys
Antonio Grassano attaches a squib rig to a dummy for a custom blood test for the Latin Grammys
Antonio makes final adjustments to a custom squib rig for another blood test for the Latin Grammys
Steve Tolin holds his new daughter, Eloise, in front of the fireplace in his home.
Steve enjoys snuggling his new daughter, Eloise, by the fireplace – one of the perks of working from home during Covid-19
Steve Tolin prepares a squib rig tank in his home shop while his 6 month old daughter, Eloise, sits in a box and "helps."
Steve Tolin preparing a tank for a squibfx rig in his home shop while his 6 month old daughter, Eloise, “helps”
Steve Tolin carries firewood into his home on a particularly snowy day
Steve appreciates that Covid-19 has facilitated the “push” to return to his country boy roots – like chopping and carrying in firewood for a fire on a particularly snowy evening
Steve Tolin poses with his 5 children in front of the Christmas tree in their home
Steve and his children gearing up for Christmas 2020
Steve Tolin poses with his lady and their 5 children
The TolinFX crew social-distancing in a cornfield last October