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Technifex Brings Hollywood to Training Simulations

The story from the CNN website was all that Monty Lunde needed to know that he was on the right track with a new project under development at his Valencia company Technifex. “Roadside bombs ‘No. 1 threat’ to troops in Afghanistan” read the headline with the story relating that in June coalition troops encountered more than 700 incidents of improvised explosive devices and 82 attacks that caused casualties. In a building on Rye Canyon Road, staffers at Technifex are putting together a training simulator for use by American soldiers to learn how to avoid these small but deadly weapons. Other than saying the simulator is very sophisticated, portable enough to be shipped anywhere and done in conjunction with RL Leaders, a Los Angeles-based creator of immersive and experiential training systems, there isn’t much more that Lunde can say. “I’ve probably said too much,” Lunde quipped in the conference room decorated with large color photographs of Technifex projects and the awards those projects have won from such professional organizations as the Themed Entertainment Association (which, by the way, Lunde founded). Having long served the theme park market with rides and attractions, Lunde and business partner Rock Hall have branched out to bring their Hollywood-style of realistic situations to new uses, training simulations being just one. Attractions: A Technifex-designed nightclub at the Pechanga Resort and Casino. It’s that versatility and adaptability that has kept Technifex in business for 25 years. “We can be constantly changing the type of attraction and still provide the expertise and knowledge that puts us ahead of our competitors,” Lunde said. Fire safety While the training project for the Defense Department falls under a shroud of secrecy the same is not true for the training simulator that Technifex designed and installed for the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Technifex master planned a 5-acre site dubbed Hazmat City at the department’s Del Valle Regional Training Center located on what had been oil company land. The center is used primarily by first responders to emergencies and disasters and Technifex was brought in to design training scenarios with more realism than what was available. So for a highway emergency involving an overturned tanker truck with a car wedged under the cab, firefighters meet head on with real fire, real smoke, and real liquid coming out of the tanker. (There are victims, too, but they aren’t real.) Depending on the actions taken, the amount of fire and smoke can increase or decrease. Cameras atop nearby poles film the practices for viewing later to determine where improvement can be made. The highway emergency is just one of 12 scenarios that will make Hazmat City one of the premier if not the premier training facilities in the country. While on county land, the center is open to first responders from local, state and federal agencies. It was the work for the fire department that brought Technifex to the attention of the Pentagon to develop the IED training simulator. The company has also been approached by brass at Camp Pendleton into augmenting training for the Marines stationed there. These training simulators are a growth area as are water parks and Native American casinos. The company also keeps a hand in trade show exhibits, visitor centers (such as at Niagara Falls where a 360-degree screen tells the story of the birth of the falls) and museum exhibits, like last year’s immersion theater at the Audubon Insectarium in New Orleans. But Technifex isn’t all about flames or entertaining while educating an audience. Other projects create a specific mood or ambience. At the Silk nightclub at the Pechanga Resort and Casino, the company teamed up with Visual Terrain in Van Nuys to create a chandelier using fiber optic strands. (The club has since closed.) A project now being fabricated in Valencia is for a Choctaw casino in Oklahoma. It calls for nine columns of varying heights with water cascading down the sides. A water wall 24 feet long and eight feet high will be installed in the hotel lobby. “It is a soothing feeling as you walk in the hotel that is constantly changing,” Hall said. Disney connections The professional community of firms in the Los Angeles region that develop and build themed attractions is a small one. It’s no coincidence that a number of the creative entrepreneurs behind these companies started their careers at Walt Disney Imagineering. That is where Lunde and Hall met, and where they worked under Mark Fuller, who later went on to start water feature company WET Design in Sun Valley. (Bob Rogers, of BRC Imagination Arts in Burbank, is another Imagineering veteran.) After being let go by Disney following the completion of EPCOT Center in Orlando and Tokyo Disneyland, Lunde and Hall (and others) had few choices where to go next. The only other entertainment company doing theme parks, Universal, did not have an in-house creative staff. With no market to migrate to, many of the Imagineering castoffs started their own companies. Technifex was originally located in Sun Valley, in a building next door to Fuller’s water features firm. After nearly 10 years, Lunde and Hall re-located to Santa Clarita just in time for the devastating Northridge Earthquake that severely damaged the Golden State (5) Freeway that was a vital link to its clients in the Valley. The company struggled and nearly went out of business having just stretched itself to move into a new building. Thankfully, Hall said, retrofitting the Rye Canyon location prevented any damage to the building itself from the quake. A year ago, the company expanded into a second building next door to its first. All that space provides for a soundstage, a machine shop for fabricating parts and out back is a pool used in testing those parts. Out of the companies that emerged from the Disney layoffs in 1984 not many are still around. What was different about Lunde and Hall’s? “Because we’re brilliant,” Lunde immediately responds before taking a moment to give a more serious response. He and Hall, for instance, took care to pay as much attention to the business aspect as the creative aspect; keeping overhead low and tracking each dollar spent. “We carved a niche out,” Lunde added, “and we’ve become successful in that niche.” Staff Reporter Mark Madler can be reached at (818) 316-3126 or by e-mail at mmadler@sfvbj.com .

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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