Why did you become interested in making creatures?
think that my first interest, or fascination, was the art of
simulation. This fascination led me to be very curious and obsessed
with practical jokes like fake dog crap, fake puke, fake rocks,
etc.,etc. I had tons of this stuff as a kid—it was all I wanted to
buy with my allowance. Ironically--probably because these items were
found most often at magic shops, and I was spending a lot of
time in them--my dad thought I wanted to be a magician. He must have
bought me $200 worth of books on magic before he realized that I
didn’t give a shit about magic! Well, the other major thing that
these stores carried regularly were latex monster masks. There was
an enormous explosion of popularity for masks in the mid to late
70’s,most likely attributable to the success of Star Wars, and the
now classic cantina sequence. That seems to have been a major
inspiration to a number of mask and creature makers, myself
included. It was a natural progression, therefore, that I should
become increasingly interested in the challenge of simulating living
Did you create monsters as a kid?
yeah. I have been very fortunate to have parents who not only
accepted my interests, but did everything they could to support and
encourage me. I never had a shortage of clay, drawing paper, books
on makeup and art…as a matter of fact, my mother and I would watch
Creature Features together! You can’t beat that with a stick.
Did your parents work as artists?
Neither of my parents were particularly drawn to visual art,
although they definitely had talent in a number of areas. My Dad was
a very good painter, and I can recall a specific painting he did of
what looked like a smooth cantaloupe fruit floating against a field
of ochre….very surreal, and very cool. My mother, after retiring
from a career in teaching and administration at a major
college, became an award-winning writer. She could also draw rather
well. My biological father is a very well-respected writer and
historian of Jazz music. He was best friends with Miles Davis! So
although there were no monster-makers in the family besides me,
there was definitely creativity.
artists and monsters inspired you growing up?
The first movie I can remember that really
scared the shit out of me was “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die”. It’s
amazing that today, it’s unlikely you’ll see extreme violence on
television, but sex and language? Absolutely. Well, this movie (made
in ’63) was always on T.V. when I was a kid, and it features what
has to be one of the most horrendously gory scenes ever filmed. A
‘monster-in-the-closet’ rips off a man’s arm, and the guy stumbles
around the room in shock for what has to be a minute, streaking his
bleeding stump against the walls—on TELEVISION. I was 4. This was a
sufficient trauma for me to want to conquer my fears and
start making stuff of my own. When I was 10, I saw “The Seventh
Voyage Of Sinbad”, and I was permanently imprinted. I still consider
the Cyclops to be one of the greatest fantasy characters ever
created. Later, of course, Rick Baker’s work, Rob Bottin’s, Dick
Smith’s—these all helped to cement my interests and my striving for
What brought you out to L.A.?
was running a mask company out of my basement in Philadelphia, and I
took some of my masks to a convention in Albany, New York in 1989. I
met a guy there who liked my masks, and said he was going to work
for a guy named Screaming Mad George in L.A., and would I like him
to show George some photos of my work. I had seen George’s work in
Fangoria and loved it, so of course, I said yes. George called me a
few weeks later to work on a flick called “The Bride Of
Re-Animator”, and he flew me out to sculpt. My work on that picture
was terrible, but it was a start.
Talk about Screaming Mad George--the man himself. Any neat stories
one story I always seem to remember when asked this question is one
that took place I would say, oh…in my first 15 minutes in
California. George picked me up at the Burbank airport, and had told
me he would be easy to identify because he had blue hair! Well, he
decided to dye his hair back to black the night before I arrived,
but he was still pretty easy to identify—he was wearing eyeliner and
eyeshadow! Anyway, we get back to his shop, and I’m all excited
looking at his showroom and all this great stuff he’s done over the
years, and he says, “Let me show you this type of clay I like that
you may not have heard of…”, and we go into the main shop area. He
brings out this bag of stiff, grayish mud and starts slapping it
onto a lifecast and says, “This is called WED clay, and we use it to
sculpt larger work out here---go on, sculpt something!” I’m standing
in the middle of this big-- shot effects artists’ studio, my first
20 minutes in the state, and he wants me to sculpt right in front of
him with this slimy shit that doesn’t look like you could make it
into much of anything! I tried—believe me, I tried—but that crap was
impossible as far as I was concerned. I ended up doing a couple
things in WED during that show, but I just could not get the hang of
it. All I ever wanted to use was Roma Plastilina. Looking back, I
honestly do not know how I survived so long WITHOUT WED!!! Slimy
mud? I refer to it now as golden mud. I am one of the only
people in the industry, I think, who sculpts maquettes out of the
stuff! It was all George’s doing, and I am eternally indebted to him
for that. As far as George the man goes, he is fantastic with
imaginative designing, and very generous as far as hiring new
talent. He honestly loves to see other people’s work. He is very
hard on you when you work for him in the sense that he wants you to
dedicate yourself totally to the craft. In that respect he is a
great deal like Rick Baker or Rob Bottin or Steve Johnson. They want
your complete commitment, and it is only now that I understand why.
All these guys want to know that you are truly serious about this
work, and are willing to sacrifice the time and effort it takes to
be a master of it. As a newcomer, it’s really hard to get used to
this ethic, but it gets instilled in you eventually no matter
what---assuming you really do care about this work.
you catch any big breaks?
big break was definitely George’s doing. He put an awful lot of
trust in me, this green new kid from Philly who had never worked on
a film before. I subsequently had a nightmarish first 2 or 3 years
out here, struggling financially, having to learn lessons about
Hollywood politics the hard way, leaving everything I had in
Philadelphia; but I am so glad I took the chance. I have been lucky.
Ever consider at that time quitting and going back home?
suppose I never really considered that option because it would be
too pathetic. Going back to Philadelphia with my tail between my
legs was not my idea of success. I was absolutely determined to make
it out here.
You’ve worked with a lot of shops and people. Any funny stories you
friend Mark Villalobos played a pretty rotten trick on me once when
we worked together at the Chiodo Brothers years ago. I had left a
maquette there that I was rather happy with, and I came in the next
day to find it crushed underneath a pile of books that had been
haphazardly piled on it. Mark and a few of his friends watched me
out of the corners of their eyes as I sputtered indignantly for a
second or two until I realized that the base of the maquette didn’t
quite look the same, that the ‘sculpture’ was actually a crude
facsimile of the real one, and that they had hidden my sculpture.
It was effective. I didn’t like Mark. It’s a wonder that he is one
of my best friends now! Another great story that is similar is a
trick that my good friend Ken Brilliant played on a fellow at Kevin
Yagher’s shop on ‘Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey’. He had 2 copies of
a mask that the guy had sculpted. One was the ‘hero’, the good copy,
and one was a bad copy, the first one out of the mold; it had air
bubbles and various other imperfections—it was not going to be used.
Well, Ken’s job was to use a Dremel tool to grind down the seam, so
as he sees the guy coming towards his table to check on the
progress, he gets the bad copy from under the table and just tears
right into the face with the Dremel as if he’s lost his mind.
Needless to say, this guy was horrified and not a little pissed off.
Even more so when he realized the joke.
about your history in the mask making world when your career
started collecting masks at the age of 12. By the time I was 17, I
had nearly 100. Masks have always been one of my favorite things.
Growing up, my Mom actually collected replicas of African tribal
masks which were hung all over the house. This was a very early and
potent stimulus for my creative leanings, particularly because these
masks were so expressive. I still think that character is the
most important aspect of maskmaking, and these African masks had
that in spades. Well, by collecting my own masks from such an early
age, I became very familiar with the companies that created them;
Don Post, Savage Eye, Be Something Studio, Distortions Unlimited,
Death Studio, and the like. It got to the point where I could
identify the maker by just looking at the mask on the shelf! With
the exception of Savage Eye ( a French company that no longer
exists) and Be Something (in Illinois), I’ve worked for almost every
major mask manufacturer in the country, and learned an awful lot. I
first got the idea of trying my hand at selling my stuff when I was
a junior in high school. I would go down to the local costume shops
in Philly and show them my stuff, and they would buy ‘em. When I
graduated in ‘85, I put together a little color Xerox catalog that I
advertised in Fangoria. I was ecstatic when I went to my P.O. box
one afternoon and there were several requests for my catalog. I sold
a few masks by mail, but not many. Not long after, I worked at a
company called Death Studios (located in Indiana) in the Fall
of ‘87 for a man named Jeff Keim. I learned more there about latex
production, and how to finesse their overall quality
then anywhere else I’ve ever been. For anyone who isn’t familiar
with Jeff ‘Death’ Keim’s work, ACQUAINT YOURSELF IMMEDIATELY. He is
a genuine mask scientist, and the creator of some of the highest
quality masks in the world. The masks I did after this stint in
Indiana are probably the best examples of a true leap in quality for
me. In March of the next year, I took 6 or 7 designs to this HUGE
trade show in Chicago. I sold quite a lot there. While there I also
met another one of my mask idols, Ed Edmunds, who started
Distortions Unlimited in 1978. I ended up doing some sculpting for
him in ‘88.