Hugo Excellence Award for TV Commercials to Optimus

For the first time in its 48 year history, the Hugo Awards has turned its Klieg lights on its own backyard to honor a Chicago production company with the prestigious Hugo Excellence Award for Television Commercials. 

Production and post house Optimus will be honored at the awards ceremony April 19 at a ceremony at the new Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel that surely will be filled to capacity.

Optimus president Tom Duff says he was very surprised at receiving news of the honor and calls it “very humbling, considering the esteemed company of famous Los Angeles and New York companies we’re now in.”

Duff says he has attending the Hugo Awards for years and once standing on stage presenting the award to L.A.-based Backyard, never dreaming one day he would be accepting the award.

Optimus president Tom Duff“All of us here are very excited and proud, since the Hugo’s are such a great Chicago institution,” he says.  “We’ve won many awards in the past, but the Hugo goes beyond that because it’s   community recognition and that’s huge, for the work we do and what we give back to the community.”

Like the Hugos, Optimus is a venerable Chicago institution, with the distinction of being the city’s oldest and longest-running post house and certainly one of the most prosperous, under Duff’s fiscally-sound leadership and the company’s ability to bend with the times and technology. 

Optimus continuously in business for 39 years

Editor Jimmy Smyth founded Optimus (a Latin name he asked his seminary-student nephew to come up) in 1973 and grew it to the largest privately-owned film/post company in the U.S. He moved the company to its present headquarters 161 E. Grand, although it has significantly expanded since the Smyth era.

Optimus partners Craig Leffel, Tom Duff, Scott Yurks, Glen Noren and Randy Palmer, in 1996In 1986, Smyth received an offer he couldn’t refuse. For some reason, St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch believed that owning a Chicago post division would save its Busch Creative Services (BCS) subsidiary substantial film/video costs and purchased Optimus for a reported and stunning $12 million.

Corporate by-the-books Busch and former sole enterprise Optimus were an unhappy marriage,  After 10 years BCS, with relief, sold the company for a “around $4 million” and excellent terms to Duff, who is now Optimus president, and partners Randy Palmer, Glen Noren, and Scott Yurks. (Craig Leffel became a partner two years later.)

First post house to add production services

Optimus was the first Chicago post house to branch out into full-service production, One at Optimus, and the building, which it owns, houses a staff of 90 editors, directors, producers, animators, colorists, motion graphic designers, online finishers and more. 

At any given time, notes Duff, major advertising clients are on the premises with projects in one or another phase of production/post.  And he can’t recall the many awards Optimus has won on his watch the past 16 years.

Sales figures are privately held, but suffice to say, the partners have made Optimus a case study of creativity at its best, determination, sound business decisions and financial success. So bring on the Hugo!  And let’s party!

Tickets for the 48th Hugo Television Awards are $100/person and are available at