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Brett Moore's house of horrors
How to make a living grossing people out
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
From the outside, it looks harmless enough: a big square garage-like structure tucked in the midst of an unassuming residential street somewhere near downtown Fort Wayne. Step inside, and there’s lots of light, lots of space… and what appears to be hideously deformed heads lining the wall from floor to ceiling. Everywhere you look, you’re met with bulging eyes, open wounds, discolored skin, and rotting teeth. And those are just the heads that look vaguely human. There are plenty of gargoyles, goblins, demons and werewolves leering from the walls and shelves, too.
Welcome to the world of Cosmetic Mutations, Brett Moore and Jerry Robinette’s not-so-little shop of horrors. Their business? Horror masks, sculptures, and make-up effects. The man behind the mutations is Brett Moore, a Fort Wayne native who creates these sculptures and masks right here in town, and ships them to clients all over the world.
Moore has an impressive resume, which includes years working with some of Hollywood’s leading make-up and effects people. Moore says that as kid, he loved horror movies, and would talk family members into taking him to see them at every chance he got. Then, one day, Moore saw a documentary video called Horror Effects. “That’s when it clicked, that someone is making that stuff,” says Moore. “That’s their job.” Moore began experimenting on creating his own effects using nieces and nephews as subjects (“freaking the neighbors out”). Learning materials and techniques involved a lot of trial and error. “It’s like the magician’s secrets,” says Jerry Robinette, Moore’s brother and business partner who primarily handles the web site and graphic design end of Cosmetic Mutations. “No one wants to tell you how to make yours look as good as theirs.”
Moore graduated high school and went to college in Pittsburgh. While there, Moore landed a dream job, working with make-up and effects artist Tom Savini, a legend in the world of “blood-and-gore” films whose credits include the first Friday the 13th, Creepshow, Dawn of the Dead and many others. Savini was Moore’s idol, the subject of the documentary Moore had seen many years earlier that turned his fascination with horror films into an interest in the craft behind the scenes. In fact, one of the reasons Moore had chosen to attend school in Pittsburgh was that he knew Savini was headquartered there. So, when a professor mentioned that Savini was looking for help in his studio, Moore, jumped at the opportunity. “It was a trip,” Moore says. “I went in there with my portfolio, and within half-an-hour I’m sitting at a table sculpting, and he’s working on a project right across the table from me.”
Moore worked on and off with Savini for about seven years before deciding to try his luck in California. He did stints with Rick Lazzarini at the Character Shop (responsible for the Budweiser frogs), Greg Cannom on a few movies (including Monkeybone), and several other make-up and effects artists. A desire to do it himself lead him back to Fort Wayne. He and Robinette began making masks in a “shack” and selling them on E-bay. Nearly a year ago, they moved into their current facility.
Moore explains that the process of creating a mask or sculpture is relatively simple. The artistic parts come at the beginning, with a detailed clay sculpture. Moore doesn’t necessarily have a definite idea of what he wants to do when he begins molding; he works it out as he goes along. Details come from a variety of sources. The eyes are glass and (perhaps not surprisingly) come from a taxidermist supply company. Peanuts make great rotting teeth. At one point during my visit, Brett and Jerry’s mother comes in with some hair samples she picked up at a local hobby store (these particular samples are too curly for one of their current projects, unfortunately).
The end results are both fascinating and disgusting, which Moore and Robinette would probably thank you for saying. But I have to ask the question: who the heck buys this stuff?
There are movie studios, of course, but Moore explains that there are plenty of other outlets for his work. The horror genre has become its own self-supporting industry, doing brisk business among fans who can appreciate the nuances of Friday the 13th Part 5 versus Friday the 13th Part 6. Moore gets a great response at horror and sci-fi conventions, and tells a story of one particular show they went to where people lined up to buy hockey masks Moore and Robinette had created in the style of Jason from Friday the 13th. Also at the convention was Ari Lehman, the actor who actually played Jason in the horror classic. “Everyone was buying them from our table, and taking them to Ari Lehman to have him sign them,” says Moore. “He said ‘hey, this is better than the one I had in the movie.’”
Of course, Halloween is a huge time for Cosmetic Mutations. “Some of our customers are these smaller stores that want something that Wal-Mart won’t have, something a little higher quality,” says Moore. Americans spend an estimated $7 billion on Halloween, making October 31st second only to Christmas in terms of dollars spent, and not all that cash goes to candy corn. Folks flock to haunted houses, haunted hayrides, and haunted forests, and owner/operators are willing to invest a lot of money to make their attraction stand out from the tens of thousands which spring up during that time of year. Moore and Robinette show me something in the works for a major haunted house project. I won’t describe it in detail, save to say that it’s a pretty sophisticated piece of work that they say will eventually involve animatronics, pneumatics, and lots of pumping blood. They say a haunted house operator could pay at least $1500 for it, probably more, and make up his investment in no time.
Plus, there is a relatively small but avid group of aficionados out there who collect this kind of original work, just like someone would collect paintings or sculptures or photography. Sure, maybe this piece of art is a zombie with rotting teeth and an oozing head wound, but among collectors, the pieces Moore and Robinette create at Cosmetic Mutations are highly respected.
Horror isn’t all Cosmetic Mutations does. Moore shows me a photograph of a sculpture he’s done of a soldier decked out in World War II gear. The detail is incredible, and Moore says that he’d like to find a home for this other side of his work.
A few years ago, Moore did the make-up effects for the local horror flick The Spell of Thirteen, and while he says more film work is in the future for Cosmetic Mutations, Moore also has an interest in passing on what he’s learned to others. “I get a lot of calls from parents who say their kids are interested in this stuff,” he says. He’d like to run a couple workshops or classes out of Cosmetic Mutations’ facility, and teach a new generation the art of freaking out the neighbors.