Special-Effects Wizard Takes Whimsy to Church

With a Toontown look, the children's center at Life Church in Edmond, Okla., is among Wacky World Studios' designs for churches.
With a Toontown look, the children's center at Life Church in Edmond, Okla., is among Wacky World Studios' designs for churches. (Wacky World Studios)
By Mark I. Pinsky
Orlando Sentinel
Saturday, October 15, 2005


The pastel buildings cluster in a long curve. With their pinks, greens and blues, the garage, warehouse, power plant and church are reminiscent of Toontown, the setting of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."

Like Toontown, nothing is real. The "buildings" are facades made of wood and plastic foam, like those found in a movie or at a theme park. But this whimsical setting soon will find its way into a church.

Bruce Barry, a special-effects wizard who designed animatronic gorillas and elephants for Rainforest Cafes and painted backgrounds for Universal Studios, has almost completed this razzle-dazzle children's ministry environment for the new complex at Northland Church in Longwood, Fla.

By early November, when Barry's Wacky World Studios crew finishes installing the 4,800-square-foot set, the Northland children's worship center will be one of the 10 largest and most elaborate that Barry has done.

And it will be the latest step in the journey of a self-taught artist, raised without religion, who is changing the faces of megachurches across the country.

"He's had a huge impact on children's ministries nationwide," said Dale Hudson, children's minister at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas.

Barry has installed his work at dozens of congregations for marquee pastors, including Joel Osteen, Jerry Falwell and Adrian Rodgers, ranging in cost from $5,000 to $1 million.

The Northland environment is a little less fanciful than some of the others, said Stephen Arnold, the church's lighting and staging director. He spotted a model of Barry's in another church and asked if Wacky World would collaborate on a slightly different design for his congregation.

"We are going for a more realistic look," Arnold said. "The point here is that we're creating a children's worship room that is representative of their neighborhood. The intent is that worship of God is not just limited to a church building. Worship should take place everywhere, every day -- at a power plant, in a warehouse."

Arnold, who said the set would cost about $460,000, is pleased with Wacky World's work. "I think it's excellent," he said. "The attention to detail, the way the artists really love what they're doing. They're excited about it."

The son of a Disney illustrator who worked on "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," Barry once painted murals for the "ET" ride at Universal Studios in Orlando. Although he didn't get religion until six years ago, when he was almost 40, Barry has made up for lost time.

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