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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).

LMC: 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?

EL:  Yeah. 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 Frankenstein.

My 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.

LMC: So Pro Basketball did not loom large as a career choice J ?

EL:  Ya 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.

LMC: Were you drawn to latex masks at a young age?  Any in particular?

EL: 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? 

EL: 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!

LMC: Do you have any horror stories of projects that went terribly awry when you were  younger?                                   

EL: There 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?

EL: I 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.

 

LMC: Is Dave still working in the field?  Any golden nugget tips from Dave?


EL: 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.

LMC: What were you’re expectations for a career in this type of work?           

EL:  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 job.

LMC: What were some of the things you found different working in this capacity as opposed to garage, hobby work?   

EL: 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 horror!

 

LMC: Talk 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 budget. 

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!

I 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.

 

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