July 23, 2020
Chris Fritzsche, owner of Fritzworks Printing in Burnaby and Langley, B.C., calls his shop “the house of yes.” Founded in 2006, this once-tiny space has quadrupled its size in the last five years, establishing its reputation as a producer of high-quality print products for the movie industry, as well as local businesses.
The shop has provided custom prints for some of the most popular television (TV) shows and major big-screen productions, including TV series The 100, The Man in the High Castle, and Lost in Space, and films such as Deadpool, Mission Impossible, Bad Times at the El Royale, and The Art of Racing in the Rain. Fritzsche even produced work for Academy Award-winning filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho’s 2013 science-fiction action film Snowpiercer.
In addition to demanding high creativity, the film and TV requests Fritzworks receives from the production facilities in Vancouver are almost always rush jobs.
“It’s typical for us to get a project over the phone while the file is being uploaded electronically, and the client finishes the call by saying: our driver is on the way,” says Fritzsche.
With tremendous pressure to turn around finished products the same day, Fritzsche and his crew have a full range of production equipment on hand to create set work, props, and art department prints. Today, the shop boasts several computer numerical control (CNC) machines, 3D printers, dye-sublimation and direct-to-garment (DTG) printers, as well as 11 Roland digital printers, including a large-format inkjet printer, and its most recent purchase, a hybrid ultraviolet (UV) light-emitting diode (LED) flatbed printer.
“We pride ourselves on being a one-stop shop,” says Fritzsche. “Whatever the project may be, in nearly every case, we’re able to do the job.”
Of the company’s two locations, Burnaby is the larger facility, which is also growing.
“We just took over a new warehouse in Burnaby to expand our production; we were bursting at the seams,” Fritzsche explains. “That location remains open during renovations.”
Fritzsche refers to the Langley shop, 40 minutes away, as the “test kitchen.”
“Langley is where we experiment,” he says. “That’s where we try out new pieces of equipment and different processes—anything that’s obscure—to see what we can make.”
On a typical day, the shop completes between 70 and 100 work orders. A standard daily list can include printing and cutting decals, CNC dimensional letters, 3D printing, making banners and backdrops for the film industry, creating Sintra signs, backlit signs, posters, and more.
Fritzsche says most of the projects they work on are due in a day; however, the team enjoys the fast pace.
“We work until the job gets done,” he says. “In my opinion, anyone who has worked here can work anywhere. They receive a wide range of experience in the shop.”
The company is staffed by a devoted crew of 12 employees that arrives at 7 a.m. and works staggered shifts “until whenever it takes,” including weekends.
“From the time we answer the first phone call in the morning, it’s just go,” he says.
Recently, the shop provided prints for TV shows Supergirl and Riverdale. As part of his agreement with his clients, Fritzsche cannot talk about his current projects until they are released, but it is safe to say the shop has probably worked on something one would have watched a few weeks ago.
Just like Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell’s song, Fritzsche almost never knows what he has got until it is gone.
“The jobs come in as production names, and we find out later what show or film we’ve been working on,” explains Fritzsche. “We’ve done pretty much anything that rolls through Vancouver.”
Meeting deadlines is critical for Fritzsche’s business. Given his background in printer servicing and repair, he appreciates well-built production technology that performs under pressure.
“I like my large-format digital printers because they’re true workhorses and incredibly reliable,” he says. “They’re easy to use, and the print quality is outstanding.”
Based on the positive responses he received from clients for his wide-format output, Fritzsche was motivated to expand his print offerings.
“We bought a hybrid UV LED flatbed printer to assess if we were able to get the business for it,” he says. “As it turns out, we use the machine quite often as it allows us to print on virtually anything the client wants.”
Fritzsche has used the device to create background objects for the movie business, printing on a wide range of substrates from paper bags and leather to wood blanks and laptop covers.
“We’ve even had people bring us plastic garbage bags,” says Fritzsche. “It wasn’t a permanent thing—they were needed for a two-hour photoshoot, so we printed them.”
Visual illusions are an integral part of cinematic art. When producing props, backgrounds, and set graphics, one needs
to find the best approach to achieve a certain ‘look’ quickly. For example, for The Man in the High Castle, Fritzsche produced
a highly realistic window graphic of a caboose, creating the illusion the train was parked right outside. He also printed faux billboard signs on Sintra and simply adhered them to a transport truck.
“It was faster than wrapping and worked just great,” he says.
Fritzsche also produced all the racetrack signage for The Art of Racing in the Rain in a similar fashion.
Many of the high-tech props and design elements used in the Lost in Space TV series were also digitally printed. For this, Fritzsche created a faux LED cockpit light with UV-printed graphics and assembled detailed computer ‘screens’ by printing white ink on 12.7-mm (0.5-in.) sheets of plexiglass.
For Bad Times at the El Royale, he created a vibrant floral wallpaper print using chrome-coloured Mylar foil media.
“Direct UV printing onto the substrate eliminates many steps in a typical process,” he explains. “We just set it and forget about
it. With our business, it’s all about time.”
He also produced prints for the film’s casino scenes, including wall signage and backlit graphics for the slot machines.
Fritzsche says, sometimes, he enjoys seeing his work destroyed on the set, as when the orange flooring tile graphics he UV-printed onto fireproof drywall material were sprayed and set ablaze by the film crew for a scene in Bad Times at the El Royale.
“We watched as the whole floor went up in flames,” he says. “It was pretty cool to see them test it first and then witness the final scene.”
According to Fritzsche, an added advantage of the hybrid flatbed printer is the UV inks provide an extra burst of colour for textile prints.
“Fabrics can come out with muted colours on a regular digital printer,” he says. “The UV inks are a game-changer.”
For the popular series The 100, Fritzsche printed vibrant fabric flags for a toy shop with the same equipment.
“Nothing else was punchy enough,” he says. “The UV colours really pop.”
Nearly 15 per cent of the shop’s business is, as Fritzsche calls, “real-world” work, such as signage for artists and musicians, banners for tattoo studios, boarding graphics for construction companies, and dimensional signage and vehicle graphics for local area retail and service businesses.
Fritzworks also provides labelling for several small craft breweries in the area, along with designing and building pop-up shops and displays. Sometimes, for these clients, Fritzsche admits with a smile, he accepts payment in beer.
In one way or another, a lot of the shop’s business is related to the arts. Fritzsche has long done work for Capilano University Art School in North Vancouver, producing many final projects for the IDEA School of Design students as well as signage and banners for their annual show. He enjoys working with young artists and often remains their ‘go-to’ printer as their careers continue.
“I’ve always wanted the shop to be a part of the community—one that opens its doors to all,” says Fritzsche.
Whenever the movie industry experiences a lull, he hires the graphic designers who typically do film work. In addition, the shop helps with signage and sponsorships for local non-profit and community organizations.
“We sponsor as many local events as possible,” he says.
Lately, Fritzworks is doing a lot to support COVID-19-related needs. In addition to implementing its own social-distancing protocols, the company is producing signage for businesses that are transitioning into online order-only operations or those offering free delivery.
“Currently, we are also producing prints for our artist clients. Many are donating their sales proceeds to help first responders,” says Fritzsche.
“Normally this would have been an extremely busy time for us as all the TV pilots would have been filming,” he says. “Now, we are renovating our shop and taking on other projects in the community to help out.”
Ginny Mumm is a freelance consultant for digital inkjet printer/cutter provider Roland DGA. For more information, visit www.rolanddga.com.
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