Dieter Sturm may not be a household name, but for about 30 years, his work has been all over some of your favorite Hollywood movies. "Fargo." "Plains, Trains and Automobiles." "Contagion." "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" (OK, loose use of the word "favorite" with that one). And when I say all over, I mean all over: on the ground, falling from the sky and blanketing houses and cars.
Yes, fitting for a Wisconsinite, Sturm's business is snow, and when a Hollywood production needs to call in anything from a flurry to a blizzard, Sturm and his Lake Geneva-based company Sturm Special Effects bring the storm – so impressively that he got a Technical Achievement Academy Award in 1995 for his creation of Bio-Snow 2 Flake, a biodegradable fake snow.
His passion for special effects and synthetic snow, however, started long before he was nabbing Oscars and playing Mother Nature for some of showbiz's biggest names.
"Well I was of those kid inventors," Sturm laughs. "After some time of picking apart toasters as a kid and building ice boats out of my mom's ironing board and remote controlling my TV set with wires and pulleys, it was one of those things where I realized I was destined to do something with designing and inventing and creating."
When it came time to go to school, logically the budding young engineer headed off to MSOE. As much as engineering and inventing spoke to Sturm, however, he felt his true calling was in the entertainment industry, so he hunted about the various local radio and TV stations for a job. He eventually found one at WZUU-FM … as the mascot. After working as that for several months, he upgraded to a new position: the station's full-time janitor.
"I thought, 'Well, that's my foot in the door,'" he recalled. "So I quit MSOE, figuring I could always go back to school but I couldn't always get my foot back in the door like this. So I took a chance at it."