Saturday, January 16, 2016

THE MAN BEHIND THE MASKS: Q & A WITH PETE INFELISE

Pete's "Dragon"
It's been a while since MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD checked in with Pete Infelise, monster mask maker supreme, a.k.a. The Yellow Phantom. In his Devil's Workshop, Pete creates some of the highest quality masks available today.

I've met Pete and have corresponded with him for the past several years and I can tell you, besides being an all-around nice guy, he loves what he does and puts his best into every one of his creations.

In this Q&A, Pete talks about his creative process, his inspirations, and his new baby, a vacuform mask-making machine.

Early Devil's Workshop masks (Death's Head and Phantom).

MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD: I understand that you teach. What subject and where? Do you have an art background?

PETE INFELISE: Yes indeed, I have been an instructor at a digital arts college in the Chicago suburbs  for the past 15 years. I teach a variety of classes, including web design, digital video and motion graphics classes. I do have a formal art background in fine art as well as an MFA in computer arts.

MMW: What drew you to mask-making and, in general, what inspires you to create a mask?

PETE: I was drawn to masks at an early age. When I was ten years old, I would pedal my bike over to the local Mom and Pop party store to visit the mask display during the months of September and October. I would stare and gawk at all the wonderful Don Post and Be Something Studio masks on display. I did this often as a kid, and it never grew old. In fact, I still love to visit the few costume shops that are around every Fall season.

Before I learned to make masks, I would buy cheap dime store masks and re-paint them. I suppose this was the start of what eventually lead me to making my own masks. I finally made my first mask when I was 20 years old. I took to the process rather quickly, and made a few dozen different designs over the next two years from 1995-97. I’m not sure what exactly drives me to make masks, but I can definitely say I still have a strong passion to do so.

MMW: Is The Devil’s Workshop a rented studio that you work out of or are you a “garage” mask-maker?

PETE: I work out of the garage as well as a small studio in my basement.  The Chicago Winters are too cold to work out of the garage year round, so I tend to spend the majority of the time in the basement.

Creations from the Devil's Workshop basement studio.




MMW: During a typical workday, do you have any favorite music you listen to, watch movies, etc.?

PETE: I listen to a TON on music. Music is easily my biggest passion in life other than monster masks. While making masks I typically listen to a pretty straight diet of heavy metal. Motorhead, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica, Rob Zombie to name a few. Outside the studio I don’t stick to any specific genre. My record collection includes a lot of Blues, Jazz, Rock, Hip Hop and Electronica.

MMW: What is your creative process? Do you start with a photo, a sketch? What do you use for sculpting material and tools?

PETE: It really varies from mask to mask. When I’m sculpting an original design, I always start with sketches and lots of reference photos. Otherwise, if I’m sculpting a character from a movie, I try to gather screen shots and reference photos. My “Cover Projects”, which are based on old pulp magazine or vintage comic covers, are usually the biggest challenge as I’m creating a 3D sculpture from a single 2D illustration. So I have to create a good portion of the sculpture from scratch.

In terms of the materials, I have always sculpted in WED clay. It works a lot faster than oil based clay, is easier to clean up, less expensive, and it can be reused.  I use pottery plaster for my molds. As far as the rubber, I prefer Monster Makers latex. For the paints, I tend to use acrylic and ink based paints that I mix into liquid latex,  which keeps the paint flexible.

MMW: Once the positive image is completed, then what?

PETE: Once the sculpture (the positive) is done, it’s off to the molding booth to make the negative. The time it takes to make a mold varies greatly depending on the size and complexity of the mask. It may only take an hour to mold a small half mask, or 8-plus hours to mold a large piece.  Once a mold is cleaned and dried out, it can be used to create latex castings, which are positive copies of the original sculpt. These latex casts are trimmed, painted, and finished off with hair (if the character calls for hair) and shipped off.

Pete's garage studio.

MMW: Are the masks produced and painted by you or are they sent to a “mask maker”?

PETE: Everything is done in-house by me. I am the mask maker that they get sent to!

MMW: What determines the number of masks that you make available for sale?

PETE: It depends from mask to mask. The biggest edition I’ll do these days is 25 pieces. I’m a big fan of doing runs of 13. I really got burnt out making too many copies of masks back in the late 90’s, and I took a few years off from mask making.  The fun fades quickly when you find yourself making 40 or 50 copies of a mask. When I returned to mask making in 2002 I began the process of working in much smaller runs and I find that it helps me maintain the love for mask making.

MMW: Your latest in a series of masks inspired by vintage comic books ads is the “Moon Monster”, and is a vacuformed mask. Was it difficult to find someone to produce them for you?

PETE: Yes, very difficult. I tried for good year to find someone to produce them for me. After being unsuccessful in the search I finally decided to do it myself. It took me a good eight months to figure out how to screen print on plastic. I bought a vacuform machine that I use in my studio. I did outsource the production of the boxes and t-shirts.

The vacuform machine that made the "Moon Monster" masks.

Prints of the iconic Moon Monster from vintage comic book ads.

MMW: Trick or Treat Studios offers a terrific line of masks. Tell me a bit about your relationship with them and which of their masks have you worked on?

PETE: Yes indeed, Trick or Treat puts out a killer line of masks. Justin Mabry, the art director of Trick or Treat Studios, is a good friend of mine. Not only do we share a very similar passion for the history of monster masks, but also the same artists inspire us. I was very fortunate that Justin asked me to join the Trick or Treat team a few years ago. In my humble (and biased) opinion, Trick or Treat Studios is making the best mass-produced masks on the market today. The quality is amazing, and the licenses that ToT gets are awesome!

MMW: What are your plans this Halloween [last October, 2015, when this Q&A was originally started]? Do you have a yearly tradition?

PETE: We have a few Halloween traditions. My wife and I throw our annual “Monster Bash” for Halloween. We also go totally over board with decorating the yard. We get a LOT of trick or treaters each Halloween and it’s fun to put a little scare and fun into their Halloween night.

Photos from Pete's 2015 Halloween "Monster Bash"/


MMW: Don Post or Topstone?

PETE: Whew, that one is too tough to answer. It’s like the chicken or the egg. The mask geek in me adores each, and both companies left an impression on the industry that truly can’t be measured. The original Keith Ward Topstone mask illustrations and ads are truly iconic, while Don Post Studios established a new level of quality and had a much longer legacy.

But, I really can’t answer that because I don’t have a favorite between the two. I can say this… Be Something Studios will forever be my personal favorite mask maker. Growing up in the Chicago area, we had BSS masks in all the local costume shops. They are very near and dear to me. I still think they made the most “wearable” monster masks of any studio. I also feel that BSS masks were generally scarier than Don Post or Topstone masks. They had an “edge” to them that none of the other studios had. Vintage Be Something Studios masks make up the biggest portion of my personal collection.

MMW: Until next time, thank you, Pete Infelise! Keep pourin' the latex!

Visit The Devil's Workshop -- Click HERE!

Check out Pete's monster mask blog HERE!

Check out Pete's previous Q&A HERE!

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