Erich Lubatti is one of those artists I knew
of long before I met him. I saw his art in various places on
my ventures through the internet. When I met him, I found one
of the nicest and most gracious person you will ever meet.
Erich never has an ill word for anyone and is genuine. So what
does the title mean? Well, Erich really is the artist's
artist. Got a problem with castings, ask Erich, got a question
on painting, ask Erich. He has such a breadth of experience
and has diligently studied the craft of makeup and mask making, that
he has been through it all. He takes his lead from another
person with similar qualities that he has learned from. A man
named Dick Smith.
Note: Erich came up with a unique way to
display his pictures. They are arranged in chronological order
from his earliest work to his very latest. Follow along and
see how he has grown with each picture. All of his work will
be in the archives soon and you will be able to search by his name
and read all the details of each image (stay tuned for that).
So it was good ole Frankie that set you off on Monster making at the
tender age of 3? When did you start getting your hands wet? What
were some early creations?
As far back as I can remember, I was pretending to be Frankenstein’s
monster as a kid…still do, sometimes. I played The Monster once at a
local haunt I supplied masks, props and effects to. There’s
something about that character that appeals to me immensely.
Karloff’s performance was/is a key factor in it’s appeal, but, even
reading the book and watching all of the other film versions (aside
from a few), have that same magic. At the risk of sounding
ridiculous, I relate to The Monster. As a kid, I was always taller
than the other kids. Maybe that played a part in it, who knows. As
an adult, I’m taller than most other adults; I’m 6’8”. There’s also
that whole breathing life into your creation thing with
brother had two copies of the original printing of Dick Smith’s
Monster Makeup Handbook, and he gave me one of them when I was about
10 years old. I still have it, by the way. I used to copy those
makeups as best I could with whatever I could get a hold of. I’ve no
pictures of those early makeups, unfortunately. I also picked up
Dick’s makeup kit at Toys-R-Us around the same time. “Flex Flesh”
was marvelous! Of course, I learned a little later on
that it was just gelatine.
The very first
latex mask I made was a Frankenstein-type mask. It wasn’t wearable.
I made it shortly after “The Bride” came out and wanted to do
something like they’d done with Victor in that film. It wasn’t the
horrific patchwork of miscellaneous flesh I’d envisioned in my head,
at the time, but how many first masks ever turn out as expected for
anyone? Impatience got the better of me. I couldn’t wait to mold and
cast it! I think I’d spent a total of three days working on it.
So Pro Basketball did not loom large as a career choice
know, I can dribble just fine, but the P.E. coaches in school used
to yell at me for slobbering all over the court. Honestly, I’m very
poor at most sports. So, no, Pro Basketball as never an option; no
matter, how much pressure coaches tried to put on me back then.
you drawn to latex masks at a young age? Any in particular?
Yes, I was. I was an avid reader of Famous Monsters of Filmland
growing up, and it always had great ads selling Don Post masks. Don
Post masks were my first real introduction to latex masks. I loved
them all! The first Don Post mask I ever owned was the original
Darth Vader they put out. I loved that thing! I mowed countless
lawns to get a hold of it. My second Don Post mask was their 1978
version Tor Johnson. I was a bit older when I got that one (maybe
12), and studied every inch of how it was sculpted and painted. I
even repainted it with RMGP. It wasn’t much of a paintjob, I just
went over the mask with similar colors; I was afraid to ruin it.
Famous Monsters also ran those “You Axed For It” columns that would
have a little photo of Dick Smith’s, or Rick Baker’s, or John
Chambers’ work. I used to study all of those photos for hours on end
and think that, maybe, one day I could do something like that. Thank
God for Forry!
LMC: What drew you to the Tor Johnson mask?
The expression. The simplicity and the impact it had on people. I
was also very aware of who Tor was and the films he was in. I bought
it at a local pumpkin patch around Halloween and wore it home. Just
riding in the car nonchalantly, watching other people’s reactions to
it was a crack up for me. Another interesting thing about this mask
is that this mask horrified my fiancée. One of her relatives wore it
while crashing a slumber party at his house. All the girls flew out
of the room…I wish I could’ve been there to see it!
Do you have any horror stories of projects that went terribly awry
when you were younger?
are always those incidences where mold-lock occurs, or the plaster
isn’t put on in layers properly and it delaminates, or impatience
gets the better of you and you pull a mask from the mold before the
latex is set thoroughly. All of those happened when I was starting
out. Back in 1987, we had a big earthquake here in California that
killed a bunch of molds I had stored. That was pretty horrifying for
me, at the time.
LMC: At what point did you decide to make a
career out of it? How did you go about perfecting the craft?
guess the thought of anyone actually making masks professionally
occurred to me around 14, or 15. I was making some props to be used
in a friend’s Super-8 home-movies, at the time, and he turned me on
to a makeup artist living in Arizona who was making latex masks and
selling them, mostly to collectors. That guy was David Ayres. I
wrote him a silly little letter introducing myself and asking about
a zillion questions; not knowing anything about
him, or much about mask making, in general. I’d done some things,
and learned basic sculpting and mold making from books I found in
the library, but I was the proverbial sponge trying to suck this
guy’s mind! It turned out that Dave had worked at Don Post Studios
back in the mid to late 70’s! He put up with my impatience and
constant questioning for quite a few years; teaching me MUCH, in the
process. He, in turn, put me in touch with Dick Smith. I’m forever
grateful to Mr. Ayres and Mr. Smith...for not putting a hit out on
me for being annoying! In fact, I just recently became reconnected
with my old friend, Dave! Luckily for him, I’m not quite as much a
sponge as I used to be.
Is Dave still working in the field? Any golden nugget tips from
Yes, he sure
is! He’s focusing on special makeup effects, mostly. I know he has
some things in-the-works right now, but I’m not at liberty to
discuss them. I can say they’re all film-related.
The best advice I
ever got from Dave was to study (I mean really study)
human anatomy and try to recreate as best I could all the intricate
planes and shapes of the human form in my sculptures; even if they
were fantasy or horror-oriented. Because that accuracy is what will
sell the idea to the audience or the buyer.
What were you’re expectations for a career in
this type of work?
I really didn’t have any expectations going in. I was making masks
and selling them through local costume shops, in the beginning. I’d
been buying makeup supplies from these shops for several years, and
the owners probably felt obligated to buy my stuff. At first, they
were commission deals. Then, after they saw customers were buying my
work, they would buy like 5-10 of them at a time. As a teenage kid,
this was pretty damn exciting for me! My first experience selling to
a manufacturer came through one of the costume shop owners. She knew
of one of her suppliers who was looking to expand into mask making.
They’d just bought-out a small operation and wanted to add some
original designs to the existing line. I did freelance work for them
(sculpting and molding only) for several years, before being hired
on as their Mask Department Supervisor. The first mask I sculpted
for them was a Frankenstein mask. It was a good learning experience
for me. I think I grew a lot as an artist
there; teaching myself to sculpt quickly, work with a crew, the
ins-and-outs of the business, and (ssshhh...don't tell anyone!)
learning to use an airbrush on-the-job! Up until that point, I
hand-painted all of my masks with brushes and sponges. The look on
my boss’ face when I told him I didn’t know how to use an airbrush
was priceless! But, there I was airbrushing my very first day on the
What were some of the things you found different working in this
capacity as opposed to garage, hobby work?
I was still working on my own stuff in my garage before and after
work…the company was even purchasing some stuff from me as freelance
designs. It was, overall, a really nice learning experience for me.
The thing I found was different was I didn’t have to pay the bills
or worry about overhead! “Oh, we need six drums of latex delivered
next week, I’ll call it in right now”. That was neat. There’s always
the compromise of working under someone, though. The owners all have
to have their input on a design. Although, sometimes that’s a good
thing. Other times, it’s not. There was also the daily routine of
constantly having to watch over 12 other people (most of whom know
very little to nothing about mask making, latex, or anything of this
genre), and paperwork. Nowadays, it’s getting to be the same thing
all over again! Only this time around, it’s MY
business and MY hassles associated with it! I’m even
looking at the possibility of hiring employees this year. The
about some of your theater work.
EL: Most of the work I’ve
done for theater has been for two long-time friends of mine, David
and Rebecca Brock. Mostly Community Theater. Due to budget
restraints, my work was always produced here in California and
shipped to their location (West Virginia). Detailed instructions on
how to do this, how do that, and what NOT to do would be provided by
me, also. My friends , as well as the actors and some stagehands,
executed the makeups and/or effects. It’s not very satisfying as an
artist to have to do it that way, but that’s what was within the
I did a lot of character makeups for
them. Some using just colors to transform the actors, but I also did
some prosthetics; slip latex pieces. For one of the plays, I had to
make five gallons of blood. So, I provided enough dyes and powdered
Methocel to make five gallons. They mixed it out there, it looked
great they said, and used it. The opening night, every costume, the
actors, and the stage floor were stained immediately! DUH! A nasty
little learning experience, that was.
There was a local play I made one
makeup for called, “Addict”. Again, one of the costume shop owners I
was associated with called me and asked if I’d be interested in
helping out a local high school teacher. He didn’t have much money
to work with, but he needed a fairly elaborate burn makeup on an
actress. I took it on after some pleading from the shop owner. I
made gelatine facial appliance for her, along with a singed-hair
bald cap. The theater instructor wanted the actors to apply their
own makeups, so I went in one day and taught them (free of charge)
how to apply both the gelatine piece and their straight makeups. It
ended up being like doing six hours of Community Service. The
enthusiasm of the kids made it fun, though. The girl playing the
burn victim pulled it off well, too!
haven’t done much theater work after that. That’s not entirely true.
Doing makeup for haunts is very much theatrical; it’s live theater
in the round.