A Crafty Career

Story by Holly Ruppel

While some people consider Friday the 13th as unlucky,the day has a lot of charm for Brian Wright.

Not only did the 26-year-old Burlington, N.C., native move to Russellville on that day in July 2007, but it’s the title of the popular series of “slasher” movies. This is somehow appropriate to Wright, who as a special effects makeup artist and creature designer, has made his career crafting aliens, monsters and horrors beyond the wildest imaginings of many.

Wright, who counts the horror film An American Werewolf in London and the music video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” as the greatest influence on him, said his fascination with the horrific began at an early age. He remembers watching A Nightmare on Elm Street as a kid and the profound effect it had on him.

“It got something in my mind working,” he said. “I was scared of it, but I wanted to see more.”

Wright was nine years old when his stepfather saw a television ad for The Original Hollywood Horror Show and decided to take Wright and his younger brother.

The show, which is run out of an old (and reportedly haunted) house in Snow Camp, N.C., is heavy on prosthetic creatures and special effects makeup.

As Wright made his way through the maze of horrors and monsters, a zombie placed its clammy, undead hand on his shoulder. Again, the curious Wright wanted to know more.

“It literally scared me so bad I had to know how it was done,” Wright said. “I couldn’t go through it again until I figured out how it worked.”

Wright subsequently pestered his stepfather to take him back to the house during the day, so he could see behind the scenes.

“He kept telling me, ‘No. You don’t want to keep bothering those people,’” Wright said.

But Wright persisted, his stepfather relented and they returned to the house during the day. At that time, Wright met the Horror Show’s creators, Emmy Award-winning makeup artist Dean Jones and his brother, Starr. Wright wasted no time in telling the brothers his career plans.

“I told them I wanted to learn what they did,” Wright said.

So Wright began working at the house during the summer, picking up trash, running errands and learning everything he could about creating creatures and masks. Wright was so passionate about learning his craft he would often skip class to work at the house.

“I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Wright said, adding he figured he should be doing that instead of going to math class.

Wright credits Dean Jones, who created makeup effects for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, with teaching him the basics and giving him invaluable pointers.

“Dean would always critique me,” he said, “telling me this needs more texture or that doesn’t look right.” While Wright said he learned a lot just by watching the Jones brothers work, he is largely self-taught.

“I had to teach myself about 90 percent of what I know,” he said, noting most of that learning was the result of practical application. This resulted in many cracked molds.

“I went through a lot of stuff and messed it up before I learned to do it right,” he said. “… a lot of trial and error.”

Eventually, Wright excelled, and at 16, while still working for Jones, began selling the masks he created on the Internet.

At 17, he secured his first motion picture work on the Michael Madsen film Vampires Anonymous, which was filmed partly in Wright’s native Burlington.

ince, Wright has worked with the art department on several other movies, including Cabin Fever. For that film, he helped create makeup and prosthetic sculptures and worked for KNB EFX, one of the biggest special effects houses in the industry.

Having worked with some of the best special effects makeup artists and creature designers in the business, Wright has a growing business of his own. When not working full-time at Peters Family Living, Wright busies himself with his professed first love, designing and creating masks and prosthetic creatures for customers stateside and overseas (among them a Predator mask for a customer in the United Kingdom).

In addition to custom orders for individual customers, Wright sells his work through Halloween Express, the seasonal retailer of Halloween costumes and haunted house effects. Wright is currently designing an eerie special effects picture frame for the franchise. It features several human faces wearing faces of distress and agony. Wright said when the piece is finished it will appear their skin is stretching in different directions.

“I’ve got stuff going out every day for Halloween,” Wright said.

Wright indicated his fan base grew rapidly after he posted videos of himself sculpting pieces on YouTube, the popular Internet site which allows users to upload videos. That has led to more exposure and more business, he said.

“I started getting e-mails and people wanting me to make them masks,” he said. “You can’t find some masks in stores.”

Wright said he enjoys running his own business and business is good. “It just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” he indicated.

But Wright’s work takes a lot of time and patience, so he can’t complete as much as he prefers. He considers each piece a labor of love, which is evident in the minute facial details such as pores, wrinkles and lines. Wright said he uses tiny dental tools to add such intricacies.

Wright’s work is in demand and he’s so busy he can barely keep up. “I have to turn a lot of people away,” he lamented.

Wright indicated in the future, he wants to expand operations so he can do more work. For now, Wright practices his craft out of his Russellville home. In his small living room, the head of an extra terrestrial being sits on a glass shelf, its sharp teeth settled menacingly in its snarling mouth. Nearby, a disembodied zombie man stares at the ceiling in apparent agony, no doubt wondering where he’ll find his next meal.

Evidence of Wright’s craft is settled all over the space. Ultra cal molds line the wall in the living room and an unpainted latex bust awaits finishing touches in the kitchen. A small storage shed on the property serves as Wright’s studio. Buckets of paint, various tools and boxes of clay share shelf space with a pair of zombie teeth and the mold for a witch’s head.

Wright makes molds in the storage shed then brings the pieces inside for casting and painting. On the small, plaster-covered table in the center of the room, a padded palette waits for a mad scientist, Wright’s next creation.

According to Wright, that will undoubtedly be inspired by Tales from the Crypt.

“Everybody’s begging me for a Crypt Keeper mask,” he said.

Wright said his ultimate goal is to get back to his haunted house roots.

“My future dream is to open up a haunted house,” he said, noting it wouldn’t be standard spook house fare. Wright said he wants to scare his patrons using all five senses.

“Really get into people’s minds,” he said, eyes gleaming.  

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