Growing up everything seemed impossible when it came to my career aspirations and hobbies. Hollywood might has well been the Moon. There was no chance of getting there and dreaming out loud only got laughs and arguments at home and at school. Learning martial arts was a constant struggle of begging and it wasn’t until classes in the local community building opened up that fortune finally favored me.
My love for monsters inspired me to unleash my creativity and enabled me to pursue art. FAMOUS MONSTERS magazine and THE MONSTER TIMES introduced me to the creatures and obscure cinema. CHILLER THEATRE with CHILLY BILLY introduced me to the films every late Saturday night while FANGORIA shined the spotlight on the makeup effects artists. It was in those pages I discovered Tom Savini and George Romero were right out of Pittsburgh filming DAWN OF THE DEAD which was an hour and half away but it might as well have been China. If I couldn’t get there on my bicycle then it meant I wasn’t going anywhere beyond Windber, PA.
SLAP SHOT and ALL THE RIGHT MOVES were filmed in Johnstown which was only a few miles away and I was dying to catch a glimpse of what a film production looked like. I was too young to ride my bike that distance.
In order to make a few bucks I did a lot of work for my neighbor who was a taxidermist. Although he showed me very few techniques of his craft I paid attention to what he was doing and recorded it to memory as the words of Rob Bottin echoed in my brain that makeup effects was just a step above taxidermy.
I never owned a camera so the only documentation of my attempts are left to memories.
Nearly everything I read about effects was misinterpreted. I attempted to glue alginate to my face in hopes of creating prosthetics while my effort to make an IRON MAIDEN “Eddy” mask out of aluminum foil and plaster is particularly embarrassing although I did have a lot of success making Ninja weapons and recreating the retractable screwdriver filled with blood from DAWN OF THE DEAD.
During 7th grade I was VERY fortunate to have Mr. Lambert as my art instructor. He took teaching art very seriously while the rest of the school used the art room to make run-throughs for the football team or the stoners to draw about their love of Lynyrd Skynyrd. He put me in my place when I was asked to design for sports ball events by telling me my own work was far more important and I need to focus on it.
From 8th grade through 10th the art class was a joke because the teacher was anticipating her retirement. Every year the projects were EXACTLY the same: make a folder with a cover and write your name nicely on it. These folders were never filled with anything beyond that. The basics were never taught and I focused more on my Martial arts training as a distraction.
DRAW COMICS THE MARVEL WAY! was the dream book I’ve been wanting for years and I was lucky enough to find it in a bargain bin for $2 This taught me the basics I had no idea I needed. Fortunately I did stick with industrial arts class which taught me the proper use of tools as well as drafting but I was discouraged from moving on to Metal Shop because I was forced to take the college prep studies which I hated and I failed miserably most of the time.
When Mr. Lambert became my regular art teacher I quickly tackled the projects and got them out of the way in order to work on my own things. This got me into a lot of trouble with guys that were grades above me.
For the life of me I never figured out why they hated that my work got more attention than theirs. They physically threatened me and vandalized my work. It’s even funnier to me that I never cared about the recognition I received and they were terrorized by my 80 to 90 pound frame. This wasn’t going to get me anywhere out of Windber, PA. I just enjoyed doing it as the perfect escape and never thought of it as a competition. The only competition I was concerned about were karate tournaments that I also excelled in.
The school kept all of my work year after year or someone destroyed it before I could finish it. I didn’t think I was any good but I kept on learning. Thinking on it…I find it funny these jagoffs got so butt hurt and continued to feel this way long after graduation I’ve been told.
My Junior year of high school a rep from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh gave a presentation which ignited my interest. He talked of my idol Tom Savini visiting the school and I was super excited to know I could possibly actually meet him if I went there. Their industrial design course which eventually became the makeup effects program was in it’s infancy in 1985.
My passion for wanting to go there was met with yelling, receiving remarks like I could “never survive in that city”, “that’s not a career”, or having my interests deterred thanks to hearsay from some unknown so-called mystery artist that was always brought up to me that someone in my family allegedly knew.
Many of my friends that graduated from AIP have nothing but disdain for going there and the campus doors recently closed forever. They all are very successful, very talented, and made great connections because of that place. I still wish I went there but for reasons I am sure that will never be fully admitted to me I applied and never heard from them again except for the times I interviewed for a teaching position. The money they offered was a joke.
During high school my parents forced a meeting with the “guidance councelor” in an attempt to set me straight. This person continually tried to persuade me from attending art school and went on to say, “your grades aren’t good enough to get into college. Have you considered the military?” At least she didn’t goes as far to tell me I had the gifts to be a garbage man which was continually hurled to me at home while being called stupid over and over. She didn’t even recommend a trade school and I learned at that moment to keep my goals a secret because no one will listen.
In order to prevent sounding bitter I’ll put this in a nutshell: I always wanted to work in the arts and up until college I was constantly discouraged by EVERYONE except my art teacher/mentor Arthur Lambert. He was the only one that believed in me and told me that I am responsible for what ever happens in my career and life. Words that I have lived by to this day and I’m honored every time he comments on one of my FACEBOOK posts.
What seemed to be a stroke of luck I somehow easily excelled above the smartest classmates in the introduction to computer programming class during my senior year and I actually enjoyed accounting (Mr. Morrison was another great teacher from High School). However I had to turn down a job with the FBI (yes, really) so Cambria-Rowe Business College seemed like an easy way out of getting yelled at more than usual.
College for me started three days after graduating high school where I majored in Computer Programming and Management. The year I spent there was well worth it and it was very beneficial. My management and accounting skills helped nail my college internship at Optic Nerve Studios over three other applicants and it was a tremendous help to my Grab-it Pack business. The management training was also beneficial when I went on to supervise departments in Makeup Effects shops. My grades were decent despite having five classes a day and working a stressful a job in the evening.
Remember how being a bus boy at a disgusting restaurant was my second most hated job? Well stocking shoes at a shoe store was my all time most hated job I ever had. On top of a lot of homework and studying I had to call in everyday to see if I was needed. It could be from half an hour of work up to eight when the mall locked up. They never told me what I was in for day after day nor was I told when my paycheck would arrive so I had to check on that weekly. The old lady supervisor was a tyrant. I would hate her too if she wasn’t such a pathetic person that I usually laughed at. I could never take her seriously when she attempted to be mean with her lisp. The only time I gave that place any thought is writing about it now. The owner was a nice guy though and she buttered his ass every time he came around. He liked me and she hated that.
To make matters worse I just wasn’t happy with the subject matter I was studying and having a social life was more frowned upon more then usual. While speaking with my friends that went off to college away from the vortex of small town thinking I saw how happy they were and the new opportunities they were discovering. I REALLY wanted to experience that.
In order to get into a college I had to find one that would accept the credits I accumulated. Slippery Rock University did and I got in. I enjoyed my time there because I met some amazing people that I am still friends with. I was introduced to hardcore punk, Eides Entertainment, the Electric Banana, Bob’s Subs, got in touch with SHAW BROTHERS STUDIOS, met some great professors, and gained a giant VHS movie poster collection for free which eventually saved my ass financially on eBay years later. How I regret having to sale all of those.
This was my first time truly being alone. I could get caught up with life and finally develop some social skills that I severely lacked. Much to the disappointment of some I changed my major from Business to Art. This was the first step of doing what was right for ME.
SRU was a decent school but I wanted more out of my education. After purchasing Tom Savini’s Grande Illusions and trying to decipher the lessons I approached my sculpting instructor to help me out. This was the second time I mentioned to anyone that I wanted to be a special makeup effects artist and work in the film industry. The first time was my dentist. I look forward to writing that story because he deserves a full post. Another major step in doing what was right for me.
The art professors were an honest group and they all knew me even if I wasn’t their student. The writing was on the wall when they all told me I was too weird and out of place at SRU.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania offered more of what was aligned with my goals and it wasn’t out of State. The art institute was still out of question (remember the “Make a Thing. Make a Living” ads) and make up schools that advertised in Fango were way out of the realm of reality. Like I said Hollywood might as well have been the Moon.
Going to IUP just felt great all around. I loved the campus, there was a great comic book store I visited regularly, I really liked the town, and I was over whelmed with the courses I could take as well as the interest some professors took with students wanting to learn beyond the courses they taught. Most of all I discovered where my talents were severely lacking and it was time to get caught up. My creativity and ideas were there but my technical skills were very sub par. It was because of this that my major was fine arts so I could take classes in theater, communications media, and art. This was perfect for my goals.
Sprowls Hall was home to the Art department and brief home to the Theater Department because their building was being renovated. This was a blessing to me because I was introduced quickly to most of the instructors that would shape and support my journey.
During my exploration I discovered the Computer Art room which was mysteriously locked at all times. WILLOW and YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES introduced CGI and I became fascinated with this witchcraft from reading INDUSTRIAL LIGHT AND MAGIC’s book from the library. Wouldn’t it be great to combine my knowledge of computers with my love of makeup effects? This was brand new and where I wanted to go! I needed to find out more.
The Art department office personal were always extremely helpful and treated me very well. They informed me cautiously about who was in charge of that room and class.
I will not mention his name because he doesn’t deserve the exposure especially since I can’t find anything on him online.