Lord of the Masks
Self-taught teen artist has built a business on his elaborate designs inspired by heavy metal bands like GWAR, with whom he is interning this summer
Gruesome nightmarish characters are Tyler Pasquale's passion.
For the last five years, he has been working to sculpt original masks — first simple, small clown faces, now elaborately detailed and anatomically correct visages. Two years ago, he started selling his masks through his Wicked Corpse Designs website. In July, he will be interning with a band that inspired his interest in masks: GWAR, a metal band that dresses in elaborate costumes.
"I was scared of horror movies, but I have always liked them," Pasquale said. "I like how you can hide behind a mask and become another character."
He has created skulls, scarecrows, dolls, gas masks and alien-looking creatures. Pasquale's current project is a bat-like bust that isn't wearable. He said he prefers to make non-wearable masks and highly detailed collectible pieces. He studies human anatomy to make sure that every detail is correct, down to muscular structure.
Pasquale was initially inspired by bands like GWAR and Mushroomhead that dress up in costumes and masks for performances. The 17-year-old will be "couch-surfing" at the homes of GWAR members this summer during his internship.
"Before I knew I was pregnant, Tyler's father and I went to a GWAR concert and had an incredible time," Tyler's mother, Donna Crognale, said, "and now he is going to intern with them. He is Oderus' love child or something."
Mask-making isn't a cheap hobby. When he was 12, Pasquale didn't have the money to buy the mask kit he had found online. He started mowing lawns around his neighborhood and eventually had enough money to buy some latex and plaster. He needed an armature — a framework used to produce sculptures — but he didn't have enough money.
"My dad wouldn't get me an armature, so I took his ghost Halloween prop and I ripped its head off. I sculpted on that," Pasquale said. "I wanted to make the coolest Halloween mask ever, something with so much detail that I would never need to buy another."
Pasquale's first mask didn't turn out exactly as he imagined. He didn't give up. He learned how to make molds and finally saved enough money for an armature.
Pasquale's mom took him to Burbank, Calif., to attend Monsterpalooza, a monster-related art festival. He met Casey Love and Jon Fuller, two of his inspirations, at the event. Fuller is a mask-maker and owner of Monster Asylum. His work has been on television shows such as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and featured on The Travel Channel's "Making Monsters." Love is a mask-maker whose work was most recently featured in "Men in Black 3."
"It was, like, all of a sudden, he was home," she said.
Crognale has supported her son's passion from the beginning. He works to buy all of his own materials, so that he doesn't need financial support. She helps him make contacts and find new opportunities. She found him a job at Adventure Landing's Haunt Nights and put him in touch with Patrick McGill, the owner of Evil Seed Sauce Company. McGill commissioned Pasquale to make custom "hoodies," or sleeves, for his hot sauce bottles.
"When I first started, everyone said that I was going to fail," Pasquale said. "I kept working, and I proved them wrong."
The mask-making process begins with an idea. Pasquale makes a rough sketch of the concept. Then, he sculpts the concept out of clay. Once he is pleased with his sculpture, he makes a two-part mold out of plaster. He pours the latex into the mold to make the actual mask.
When the mask is cured, he smooths out any flaws. He's meticulous and aims for perfection in his craft.
"It is like Christmas every time you make a new mask, especially if it is a new design because you never know how it is going to turn out," Pasquale said.
Pasquale recently worked with local director Blair Richardson on her new horror film, "Kitty Kitty"; he helped design the main costume, a large cat. The movie, a short horror film about adultery, is in the last stages of production. Richardson hopes the film will be ready for release later this summer.
"He is really nice, super-sweet and really fast. He knocked the whole suit out in a day," Richardson said.
Richardson said she took a bit of a risk with Pasquale; she knew he was good but didn't know his background. He ended up raising the spirits of the filmmakers, who needed a recharge after they changed the story. Pasquale scrapped what had been started on the costume and started over, finishing quickly and bringing hope back to the cast and crew.
"He saved my butt," Richardson said.
" ‘Kitty Kitty' was phenomenal. I had no experience building a full suit. I sculpted the whole suit in a day and a half. It was really fun getting to work with new materials like foam latex," Pasquale said.
Devin McDonagh was another special effects designer for the film who continues to work with Pasquale.
"He has contacts way up in the food chain and friends with huge names," McDonagh said. "He has been very successful and is very talented. He deserves the success. He has earned it."
When Pasquale worked at Haunt Nights last Halloween, he planned to only build props. He ended up acting and having his own scare zone.
"The haunt forced me to come out of my shell. It was hard to scare people, and I didn't know what to do," he said. "But within a couple of days, I developed my character. I would climb up walls and run through other people's scare zones. It was great getting paid hourly for art."
Pasquale's career dreams include owning a large-scale mask-making company and getting more involved with the movie industry. But he is making a name for himself before he even graduates from Terry Parker High School. He has sold hundreds of masks in the past two years to customers around the world (wickedcorpsedesigns.storenvy.com); they sell faster than he can make them, forcing him to understand supply and demand.
"I have to keep in mind what sells and what is going to bring the profit to keep me going. By making things that other people want, you get to learn new concepts based on the requests of others," Pasquale said. "I would love to just make my own designs when I feel like it, but I need to make money for my supplies."