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Top: Magdalene,1973 "The Police," 1975 and Trinity, 1977

Chris Lugar 1957- A Charmed Life?


Chris Lugar's career spans more than thirty years of experience in the entertainment world. It's a career that encompasses Life, as told from the perspective of a dreamer who has "dared to keep his eyes open during them." That world—our world—takes on many unique flavors and tones in the course of living through epic dreams and nightmares alike, in a life some might call lucky, even charmed. Upon closer examination, Chris's credentials become clear, yet not through any great fortune or entitlement: a lifetime of dreaming, coupled with the experience of always putting himself in the paths of bringing them to life has bestowed upon him just as unique a perspective to share them.

Born in 1957 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Lugar grew up in the heart of that city. He displayed both an intellect and artistic talent as a child, but poor eyesight, not discovered until he was eight, kept him from pursuing visual arts in the classroom. Instead, he turned more to what he heard going on around him as one of his main influences. He excelled in the sciences early on, but showed a quick and continuing love for music. Teaching himself how to play guitar in the second grade also contributed as much to his perspectives as school and life in the city did. His only brother, Joe, eleven years his senior, could claim a large share of influencing Chris's musical direction. On leave from naval duty overseas, he had come home sporting more than his dress blues and a crew cut. Joe proudly brought along a Gibson J-45 Sunburst six-string acoustic guitar, and a head full of folk, blues, and rock and roll songs he had learned during his Mediterranean tour. It was love at first sight when Chris saw it and heard him play. By the time Joe was discharged from the service, his little brother had picked up enough chops to sit in with his sailor buddies and him. Over the next several years, they would include the youngster in their jam sessions, often in the basements and on back porches, living rooms, and anywhere someone would allow them. Chris learned more than music from them. They would mix soda and lime or cherry vodka on the rocks in a small glass for him while they played for hours, amused in their joking about it being a different kind of "soda pop," and delighted that he could hold his own…at least on guitar.


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On the streets...anywhere they would listen Top: Older brother Joseph P. Lugar II, with their youngest sister Carol. in 1964

Raised by his working mother, Antoinette, in a poor urban neighborhood after his parents split when he was six, growing up in the 1960's was as eye-opening as it was turbulent for Chris and two sisters still living at home. He would later attribute surviving youth without incarceration to an obsession with the guitar, the many hours spent learning it, practicing with Joe, his older sister Toni, and performing around the East Coast in his teens and early twenties. Music kept him off the streets in more ways than many of his friends who were finding them not so pleasant a place to be. A job at the corner drug store after school and weekends as a soda jerk, clerk, and delivery boy seemed to be the one other anchor Chris depended on growing up. Proprietor and pharmacist Mike Mancuso was a father figure to all the boys who worked for him. He held many heartfelt discussions in the pharmacy during slow hours, and shared a lot of his knowledge about medicine and life with them. Mr. Mancuso took a special interest in them all, but he hoped that someday Chris would follow in his footsteps and become a pharmacist too. Through his guidance and kindness, Mike would help many of his young employees avoid the street drugs many high school kids fell prey to in such an era of experimentation and excess. Many older teens and adults alike were attracted to the small pharmacy for that very reason, as well as the camaraderie it offered. The neighborhood store was a high profile place both to be and work. People from all walks of life frequented it, whether by necessity or preference. Everyone knew each other, but not all motives were as honorable as the owner of Jordan's Pharmacy.

By the 1970's, the old-style soda fountain gave way to high turnover seasonal sales promotions. The rowdy, if innocent, hi-jinks of local boys who hung out on the corner, dubbed "drugstore cowboys" by defenders and detractors alike, were slowly replaced by angrier gangs nobody liked at all. While the pharmacy was an oasis of help for all the community's residents, young or old, it was always a target for burglaries and armed robberies. The employees knew well how to load and handle the .32 revolver and 12-gauge shotgun kept handily in the back room, and displayed on more than one occasion to scare dangerous suspects away. The corner drug store's lessons were a balance between learning things necessary for survival, and avoiding those that weren't. Such a tradeoff wasn't easy as Chris attended high school, worked, and played music every chance he could get. He began struggling with alcohol and substance abuse by his fourteenth birthday, and would be haunted by addictions into his adulthood.

Insert/Bottom: Mugging with early high school bandmates "Holly Ridge" in 1971
Somehow... The Band Years

That interest in music accompanied him throughout high school, during which he formed several semi-professional rock bands with school chums that went as far as playing local school dances and a few bars. Initially, his first job out of high school was at a printing company as stock boy and paper cutter, where in 1975 he met many of the supporters of two professional bands he formed after graduating.

Magdalene skirted success in 1973, with a missed opportunity to open for Eric Clapton locally when their drummer left to join David Warner's new band. The reformed group in 1975 was literally run out of town, not because they were bad; but they had chosen a name nobody would advertise. Defiantly naming themselves after the local law enforcement agency, even after dropping the word "Pittsburgh" from the moniker, they still raised controversy among club owners who didn't want anyone to think "The Police" were going to be at their venue, even for one night. Perhaps ahead of their time, and playing more British rock than American rock and roll, they were nevertheless popular in underground circuits in the Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia tri-state area. One band in particular, called Trinity, in 1976-77 took a turn for the unexpected when they developed a following that took them to many venues along the eastern seaboard, landing them a summer gig at the Jersey shore. That ambitious engagement, ninety-six consecutive nights of three nightly shows, would prove disastrous both from a personal and professional perspective, and upon its completion, would greatly influence Chris's decision to leave the performance end of music, return to school, and become more entrenched in production. By 1979, he had decided to go back to college, leaving the world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll behind, at least for the time being. Through his musical friendships during that period, Chris met his first wife's brother, who later introduced them to each other.

Following an early parochial and public school primary education, his continued schooling in basic engineering through the Community College of Allegheny County steered Chris towards more scientific investigations of life. He began earnestly in 1980 under the tutelage of Dr. Eugene Zizka to learn the basics of physics, astrophysics, and astronomy, which proved a difficult challenge. Requiring a knowledge of advanced mathematics, which course enrollments were filled far in advance, he taught himself calculus for a year and managed to succeed in passing the science curriculum without the math prerequisite. Then he went back to earn the math credits when the courses were available. Struggling to maintain grades, working at night to support himself, Chris nevertheless tried to balance technical studies with more humanistic and artistic influences. He helped rebuild the college's literary magazine office through joint collaboration with then editor Dennis Tidline, taking particular interest in restoring the rundown, antiquated darkroom facilities. With the approval of adviser Penny Bloom and the help of mentor and student activity director Sam Mangieri, that earned him a departmental editorship in photography and layout for two semesters there as well. He generously contributed his knowledge of lighting and electrical maintenance to CCAC's theater in the round under the supervision of director Dr. Donald Jukes. He had a fondness for the humanities throughout his stay, with particular emphasis on sociology and anthropology. Chris always felt an affinity towards those professors who influenced his powers of critical thought, and would try to maintain contact with them over the years as much as possible; but he quit college after earning his associate's degree in basic engineering. He wanted to pursue his interest in the entertainment field.

Above right: The author at the Alpine Arena, 1976
over the hills...

During his college years, Chris found a niche in the regional music scene as well, with local sound system designer, David Short. He moved to the stage again, this time in audio production. Working for local and national acts between semesters and often simultaneously, he eventually became assistant stage manager at the only large scale supper club still working in the Pittsburgh area at the time, Monroeville's famous Holiday House Hotel. In its heyday, it was a venue that saw many Hollywood, Las Vegas, and local acts come through its doors (The Three Stooges revived their comedy career there in 1959 with a held-over three week engagement, sixties teen idol Bobby Rydell had a record breaking week of performances in 1962, and comedian Dennis Miller even performed on the comedy room stage in the 80's before he was known outside of Pittsburgh).

From 1980 through 1984, Chris honed skills in live lighting and sound production in the HH's main ballroom, doing hundreds of shows for a diverse lineup of performers from Motown legends to rock stars. The challenges of producing live performances greatly appealed to him. He worked throughout engineering school, learning many advanced techniques of sound reinforcement, including multiple-monitor and wireless microphone stage mixes with up to thirty-two piece orchestras in an intimate 1000-seat capacity, cabaret-style club setting. During semester breaks, he traveled back and forth to Los Angeles for two years between 1980 and 1982, where he delved into learning more about electronics and lasers. With the help of avante garde keyboardist and optical synthesist, Mike Berhosky, the street corners and night clubs of Venice and Santa Monica also became his stages and haunts while he absorbed many diverse ideas and made new friends there.

  The Production Phase and far away...

His efforts eventually earned him other positions in the entertainment business, first with Laser Images, Inc., the California headquarters of founder Ivan Dryer's brainchild, Laserium. Learning the ropes of optical synthesis from Hanson Shisler, one of Laser Image's star performers, Chris performed hundreds of live laser shows in the mid-1980's at Pittsburgh's Buhl Planetarium (now an annex of its Children's Museum). In 1985, Laser Images transferred him to San Diego's Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater, home of the world's first permanent IMAX dome installation.

A year later, he married talented Ohio artist Suzy Miscevich, living in San Diego, and whom he had met six years earlier while playing the Youngstown and Pittsburgh rock and roll club circuits. Her connections with the southern California art and entertainment scenes eventually led to her career as a Hollywood scenic artist, and guided Chris into the circle of artists, technicians, and artisans who helped make San Diego his home for the next half decade. Performing as a laserist at the Reuben H. Fleet for two years, Chris helped principal laserist Brian Opitz develop and encode the first "Lights Out Jazz" show for Laserium, (which primarily had been themed upon classical and rock music until that point). Laserium set the stage for his introduction to other mediums of artistic and technical expression.

The many Faces of Chris Lugar (clockwise from top left):
In concert at CCAC Amphitheater (1980); Backstage at Monroeville's Holiday House with actor and teen idol James Darren (1981); Hiking above the snowline, Sierra Nevada Mtns (1980); At the HH onstage monitor desk with America's road manager (1981); rehearsing in a hotel room (1983); Below the snowline climbing Angora Peak, S. Tahoe (1980); Riding "C2," his favorite Pinto, in California's "Desolation Wilderness" (1982); Center: skating Oceanfront Walk on Venice Beach with "Kama Kosmic Krusader" (1980)
An Experimental Era  


A Collision of Worlds: These photos capture the essence of a dichotomy within which Chris Lugar's creativity gestated in the years before he began working in the film business. On one hand, he always loved nature, and surrounded himself in 1986 with avian as often as human friends on the West Coast. Quesa, a young umbrella cockatoo, takes lessons in manners from Chris while vistiing her owners in the top left photo. His own Yellow-fronted Amazon pal, Alfi, puts up with her keeper's attempts to get her to wear her tossle cap on Christmas day on the right. Below them are two Macaws, a hybrid "Milligold," on the left side of the tree, and a Scarlet to its right, both at an aviary of a friend north of San Diego.


Beaming Up: On the other hand, the insert on the left shows a sequence of slides shot at Laser Images' Van Nuys Studio A in 1982, in which the author experimented with creating motion picture effects with a high-powered argon plasma laser. A beam of raw light produced from a 20 watt argon gas laser is projected vertically from the ceiling around the author using scanning mirrors. A mixture of ammonia and water is sprayed into the air surrounding him, and as it is vaporized in the beam, creates crystalline images on film. As the volume of liquid spray is reduced, the image of the author becomes more pronounced in the frame, seemingly appearing out of a cloud of shimmering aquamarine light in real time. Such an effect could be used to simulate "materialization" or "transporting" effects in science fiction cinematography.


Parlor Tricks?: In the center photograph, taken at Bigger Than Life Inc. in 1987, Chris safety tests the logistical and practical design of a 20 foot internally illuminated inflatable to be suspended high overhead. His internal-gusset lighting and suspension systems were precursors to helium lights long before they were in use for motion picture photography. This one was headed for Spring Break at Daytona Beach. Paul Polson's (of Seattle's Big Air, Inc.) first "eagle" inflatable design dwarfs the beer can in the background.


Painting With Light: Laser light is the "purest" light known, and a one watt krypton gas laser, properly tuned with the right optics, can produce frequencies of reds, greens, blues, and yellows that are stunning to see. The 1985 image at the bottom was created by the author in the dome at Pittsburgh's Buhl Planetarium, using a combination of multiple exposures, with the now defunct Laserium 600 Series laser and Ziess II star projectors. The first exposure was a one minute burn of the red "lumia" cloud pattern. The second was a 30 second exposure of a pair of analog color-modulated swept spirals to create the funnel-like cones. Then, the Ziess was used to burn the Northern hemisphere stars onto Kodachrome 64 flim for three minutes. Titled "Twin Souls of Ocelis," the projected image actually was over 25 feet high and forty feet wide. Its scale is close to that of the center photo, where the author's height can be used to compare its real dimensions.

Life happens.

Living in southern California allowed Chris to develop contacts that would aid in his own research and writing later, as well as help keep him anchored in the world of entertainment. While working there, he formed a close alliance with colleague Michael Schartman, the Space Theater's head technician at the time. Mike gave him the opportunity to learn the optical and mechanical intricacies of the revolutionary Spitz Star Projection system, developed specifically for use in OMNIMAX tilted domes (the Space Theater's trade name for IMAX which most people still recognize today), where the traditional old-style Zeiss projectors looming overhead like giant ants were too distracting to the audiences.

They spent many pre-dawn nights maintaining and repairing the temperamental laser and star projector optics, developing new ideas for their shows in the tilted dome theater, and in their "spare" time, they built several large homemade telescopes, only able to be moved in pickup trucks, to take out into the California deserts at night. Observing the universe beyond their little world gave Chris ample opportunity to dream in an environment conducive as much to philosophical as scientific exploration. It was there that he began to formulate his first experiments with dreaming and altered consciousness.

Laser Images drew upon creative minds from around the world, culling ideas from ideologically diverse disciplines that crossed centuries of culture for its ethereal themes and presentations. Chris felt grateful to be part of that cadre of elite philosophers, craftspersons, and artists, but trying to live on a techno-artist's salary in California compelled him to consider other employment. A chance encounter while visiting a local tropical bird store introduced him to Mark and Sharon Petrarca, its owners. Impressed by what he saw when just buying birdseed for his parrot, he struck up a conversation with the congenial, bright man who looked to be about his age behind the counter. He learned that the Petrarcas were originally from Pittsburgh, and half-jokingly, Chris asked what it would take to work at a store like his—a small complex just north of downtown with over three hundred tropical birds, its own seed company, and breeding facilities not far away. Mr. Petrarca asked if he was working anywhere at the time, but rather than try to explain what he did, Chris presented the aviculturist with two passes for a late night laser show, inviting his wife along.

Their acceptance cemented a lasting friendship. Later, Mark would ask him why he wanted to work at a pet store when he was involved with such an eccentric job like being a "laserist." The answer was somewhere between wanting a less stressful and high profile job free of any radioactive pollutants, and needing a second income. Two weeks later, Chris was working at Our Feathered Friends, one of southern California's premier tropical bird stores. Within a year, he was promoted to manager.

Dreams too...

Being closely connected with such eccentric animals, learning from the Petrarcas how to breed, raise, and train them thrilled Chris. Still, a third chance to widen the scope of an already esoteric string of careers unfolding in sunny California came. Bigger Than Life, Inc., one of the world's first manufacturers of giant cold air inflatables for advertising and entertainment, had an opening for a shop carpenter. His wife, who was working as their lead artist and foreperson, referred him. Quick to seize upon that opportunity to delve into a relatively new, developing, highly specialized medium wide open to innovation, Chris soon found himself working as their chief engineer, among other duties he held. He was in charge of designing electrical, inflation, illumination, automation, and any other systems their projects would call for that had to be invented.

Chris brought years of road experience from bands, as well as knowledge of production, optics, physics, and electronics to their modest 52,000 square foot shop in El Cajon, California. Sometimes working 100-hour weeks, he designed new technologies for inflatables and redesigned old ones. It would lead the way for his introduction to special effects masters from Hollywood, for whom he would design several intricate motion picture gags, inflatable costuming for live stage performance at San Diego's SeaWorld, stage props for heavy metal madmen Motley Crue's "Girls, Girls, Girls" tour, and even a motion-controlled inflatable for a National Safety Council promotional safe driving campaign.


Big Ideas: From monster In N' Out burgers in the Valley to mammoth Jeeps on Big Bear's ski slopes, inflatables on a grand scale dominated the author's time engineering them in California. The famous Anheuser-Busch six pack auditorium really was a 'big deal.' Fully inflated, it was almost 50 ft. long, 35 ft. high, and 25 ft. wide..It weighed nearly 6,000 lbs. deflated, requiring a special trailer complete with its own generator and winches to load and unload.
The "Buckle Up" Boys: Vince & Larry made a lot of noise promoting seat belt safety in the 80's-literally. This talking inflatable featured an internal audio motion-cue system designed by the author. The sounds of screeching brakes and a car crash following their speech triggered the dummies to lurch suddenly forward in their unbuckled car seat, effectively getting their point across to surprised audiences.

That highly stressful career came to a grinding halt in early 1988 shortly after Superbowl XXII, the last major project he worked on in California. A headfirst fall through a structurally deficient roof, twelve feet onto concrete, nearly ended his life. He survived open skull surgery to remove blood clots from the epidural layer of his brain and recovered, but with permanent partial memory loss, as well as other residual brain damage, multiple skull fractures, and a reconstructed fractured wrist. After ending his five-year marriage and losing his home, he moved back to Pennsylvania in the spring of 1990. Ironically, after a long convalescence, Chris reemerged onto the film scene, enjoying a boom in filmmaking that helped him establish a career as a freelance film electrician in the Pittsburgh area. Among his film credits are Tim Robbins' cult classic political satire Bob Roberts (1992), Steven King's The Dark Half (1993), August Wilson's The Piano Lesson (1995), The Mothman Prophecies (2002), and dozens of local and national television commercials, movies, and shows.

On The Cutting Edge (Now and then...)

Besides working on many local and national film and video productions, he has continued to pursue music production at a personal level of writing and studio performance. Along with "Dreamsongs," included in The Incredible Dream Computer, some other works include his solo album, "Through The Eyes Of A Stranger" (1997), and a collaborative acoustic effort, "Two Live Dogs"S.O.S." (2002).

In addition to film and video work, Mr. Lugar has maintained a presence in the inflatables world.Traveling to Seattle in recent years to assist with Macy's West Coast Holiday parade, he has served as one of the principal float technicians for giant inflatable designer and close friend Paul Polson's Big Air Productions, Inc.

Chris is also a dedicated vegetarian, food and peace activist, and women's rights advocate. He lives north of Pittsburgh, PA in a small community called Emsworth, hometown of his second wife, Cody. A former YMCA director, art gallery manager, financial consultant, interior designer, and currently registered nurse, they met the year he returned from California and married in 1999. Between professional projects, Chris devotes time to his family and other interests. Some of those he enjoys are photography, organic gardening, raising tropical birds and fish, two-wheeled vehicles, stone masonry, and being a grandfather. He can be contacted via email:


in writing through his studio: MODIOLUS OPERA & DIE P.O. Box 99716 Pgh., PA 15233or through his publisher's website: www.trafford.com/ContactUs/default.aspx

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