Image Studios: Marks 50 years of success

Mary Schmidt, [email protected],

It really is all about Image

The 1960s have been called the heroic age of advertising, fueling a consumer-driven economy with hot creative and brands that shaped American culture. The “Mad Men culture” inspired two guys to start a creative revolution of their own in Wisconsin, one that today includes brand names like Kohler, Meredith Publishing, Yamaha and Fortune 500 companies.

This year, Image Studios celebrates 50 years in business. The photography and video production studio founded by Ron Bricco and Curt Knoke in 1965, today serves clients far beyond their original vision. What hasn’t changed is the studio’s constant drive to present images in a fresh and intelligent manner.

“Technology has inspired many self-proclaimed photographers today,” said President Donna Gehl. ““What makes our team exceptional by comparison is their talent and ability to see through a subject or a setting and capture the soul of that moment like no one else. It’s that ability that has made lasting client partnerships.”

A relentless pursuit of creativity has gained the studio work from Fortune 500 companies for years. “A partner from the very beginning, they’ve stepped up to every challenge, brought new ideas to the table and seamlessly evolved with our needs,” said Michael Sifuentes, associate creative director for HY Connect. Sifuentes and his associates have worked with Image for more than 30 years on the Yamaha Outboards account.

Gehl was named president of Image Studios in 2007 and today leads the business with partners and photographers Scott Ehlers & Michael Leschisin. The business employs 26 photographers, editors, retouchers, producers, stylists and administrative staff in a 20,000 square foot studio.

All the principals have worked at the studio and have years of experience in the industry, but Image has an edgy, sophisticated vibe despite being located in the heart of the Midwest. The studio has consistently attracted inventive talent from the Art Center in California to the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in New York—creatives looking for the right mix of “cool” and “normal.”
A plaque on the outside of the studio proclaims that “it feels like family here” and encourages team members to maintain this admirable goal. Award-winning editor Ethan Daane moved his young family from Chicago where he began his career working as an editor. “It was important to me to find a place where I could flourish creatively, but still raise my family in a safe, normal community,” he said.

Creativity has been a hallmark not only of the work they create, but the business itself. As desktop publishing and digital photography changed communications, Image Studios founded Image I.T. in the early 1990s, one of the first digital pre-press companies in the country. Operating from a loft in the Appleton Industrial Flats, clients were now able to scan photographic images with the added expertise of high-end retouching and proofing. This also opened the door for sophisticated asset management services for clients.

“This was a bold move and a turning point for us in business,” Gehl said. “The experience proves our commitment as a strong leader and a fierce competitor in our industry. We continue to integrate an innovative spirit into all our business operations,” she said.

During the recession, advertising and support industries were hit hard as businesses cut out all non-essential expenses. At that time, Image Studios once again looked for opportunity and invested in areas of video production services, expanding capabilities for trusted business partners and clients. The focus was on new technology and talent such as videographers, producers, editors, and directors to expand corporate video production services with the Kohler Company, and broadcast production with Mills Fleet Farm.

“We have had the privilege of working with Image Studios for over 30 years on photography projects and currently with commercial video productions,” said Stuart Mills, CEO of Mills Fleet Farm. “We have always received a quality product and professionalism from their entire staff.”

Since 2009, the firm has amassed an impressive amount of awards in broadcast work including: Best in Show in regional Addy competitions in 2013 and 2014; National and district American Addy Awards; and numerous gold and silver Addys. Since 2013, the firm as been awarded several Telly awards for commercial video productions.

Next on the innovation front—photographers are experimenting with aerial drones for use outside as well as inside large manufacturing environments. “Finesse is a requirement when you’re flying around million dollar machines,” said Michael Leschisin. “Backyard photographers can easily get aerials of parks or landscapes, but when you hover inside an operating industrial complex, that’s when art and technology must connect.”

“No matter the creative challenge, the location, or the deadline, year after year Image Studios has risen to the occasion,” said Ferkó X. Goldinger, marketing manager at Appleton Coated.

Science and creativity are meeting again as Image expands into 3D rendering, creating photographic-quality images without ever snapping a shutter. Years of experience lighting real product and room sets brings expertise to the mechanics using various softwares to create photo realistic CGI services creating virtual “sets.”

Studio owners are proud of their Midwest roots, client relationships and most of all, the work. Gehl credits their Midwest values with strong client retention. “We work hard to get the shot and to make it easy for people to work with with us. We mostly work hard at just being nice. Maybe that’s our best kept secret,” she said.