Hidden inside a Brooklyn warehouse are the makings of a winter wonderland.
With rounded glasses and a big gray moustache, Lou Nasti looks like a real life Geppetto, but he says he doesn’t mind the comparison.
“My nick name is Geppetto because I look like Geppetto. Most people who know me, they call me Geppetto," he says, "I guess in some respect I don’t mind being Geppetto, it’s kind of a fun name.”
Nasti is like Geppetto in more than just looks. He’s been interested in animation since he was 6 years old and his career began when he made the cover of The New York Times for a robot he built at age 19. Since he opened his company in 1969, Nasti’s been making mechanical displays and most of them are Christmas themed. He showed me around his workshop in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. From the outside it’s not much to look at. It’s a plain brick block of a building. But inside, there’s a holiday spectacle.
With the flip of a switch, Nasti’s display room comes to life. The room lets Nasti’s clients know what to expect from one of his displays. As Christmas music plays in this creation, scenes of a toy workshop unfold through hand crafted figures. Among the blinking lights and teddy bears, Nasti points out several small details. A dog nips at a boy’s sock, a cat carefully eyes a fish in a tank, and handwritten letters to Santa are scattered in mail slots.
“We try to create an atmosphere within a total interior of a space. Once you’re in there, you’re in a magical land.”
Even though he’s done displays all over the country and internationally, Nasti says he doesn’t play favorites. According to him, if he’s not proud of every display he does, he’s made a mistake. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.
“The more I look at a display I’m building, the more I find that I can do that better. Change that, turn that, add this, add that. I can continue to tweak and polish them forever.”
This year, one of his biggest displays in the city is Park Avenue Plaza. It features teddy bear soldiers and ice skating penguins. But even if a display falls just shy of his standards, the public seems to love them.
“I will stand in the crowd, but no one knows who I am. I just listen to people’s comments and I see their reaction. They don’t have to know I’m the creator. I’m very touched that the comments are very positive.”
It takes a long time, sometimes months to build these displays and Nasti works on Christmas all year round. But he hasn’t gotten sick of it yet. Nasti says he and his workers will play Christmas music in July. But every year, there’s one display he finds most difficult.
“The hardest display there is to do is the simplest thing of putting up a Christmas tree in my own home. So I guess I’m the shoe maker with holes in his shoes.”
Nasti says younger generations have been slow to pick up the craft but he hopes his twin 4-year old grandsons take an interest in animation.