Callosum Studios’ Jason Baker has been creating masks, and props for WWE for many years now, and he has been integral to the development of Bray Wyatt’s Firefly Fun House project, alongside masks for Finn Balor, Triple H, and bands including Code Orange and Slipknot. We talk to Jason about his creative process, the lore of Bray, and how he feels about the legacy of his mentor, Tom Savini.
“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” – Oscar Wilde
Mention the word “mask” to a hundred different people and you will likely conjure one hundred different images. From superheroes to horror villains. Halloween outfits to eccentric rock bands. Doctors to wrestlers. There is even an existential argument that we all wear masks everyday of our lives, but that is a discussion for a different day.
One man who has more experience with masks than most is Jason Baker. Owner of Callosum Studios, Baker is literally the man behind the mask when it comes to movies, sports entertainment, and the music industry. Having cultivated a relationship with industry titan WWE, Baker’s work has most recently been seen on the faces of Superstars such as Asuka, Triple H, Finn Balor and notably Bray Wyatt.
With such a range of personalities and larger-than-life characters in wrestling, each with their own quirks, Baker seems to thrive when bringing other people’s ideas into reality. But what’s it like to work with Superstars like Balor and Wyatt to create the physical embodiment of their imagination?
“They’re both very creative people. That’s part of being an effects artist, it’s one of the things Tom Savini drilled into my head in the ten years that I worked for him. With Tom it was always “figure it out”. You have ‘x’ amount of money and you have ‘x’ amount of time and your imagination, now go.” said Baker in a recent interview with Soundsphere’s Dom Smith.
“It’s trying to think outside the box of things to do. Prime example for Finn’s mask, the plastic sheet company we order from didn’t have any in that size to colour it. So we did some research and we actually used polyester clothing dye to dye the plastic so he could see through it.”
“Coming up with something for Finn, you have the luxury that he’s not going to work in it, he’s not going to wrestle in it. As for Bray, he works in a lot of the things we make for him, so it has to be light, it has to be durable, it has to be comfortable. It has to be safe, not only for him but for the other wrestlers.”
Heralded as one of the most creative minds professional wrestling has ever seen, Bray Wyatt has entranced audiences for years with his warped imagination. From a Mr. Rogers-style kids TV host accompanied by puppets, nightmarish Fiend character and most recently accompanied by a masked Jack the Ripper-style Uncle Howdy character, there is no disputing that Wyatt can set social media ablaze with each new idea. It has however been Baker and his team that creates the striking imagery to make those plans pop on screen.
“Honestly I feel like you’re giving me more credit than I deserve. It just all goes back to Bray. It’s his barbeque and I’m just glad I get to come and eat at the table! He’s just so inventive and he’s also collaborative, so I’m just blessed to make monsters with one of my closest, dearest friends in a genre that doesn’t usually have these types of characters.”
Away from the wrestling industry, Baker’s work caught mainstream attention last year when he created the masks for supernatural horror movie, Black Phone. Starring Ethan Hawke and produced by the renowned Blumhouse Productions, the film’s plot follows an abducted teenager’s (Mason Thames) attempts to communicate with the outside world using a mysterious phone in the house of his deranged captor.
Becoming both a critical and financial success, the spotlight was well and truly stolen by a sensational turn by Ethan Hawke as the movie’s villain, The Grabber. Based on a short story by Joe Hill, it is perhaps thanks in part to Baker and his team that the film could easily be based on a shocking real-life story.
“When we got the call from Blumhouse to possibly work on Black Phone, I thought the producer’s account had been hacked!” recalls Baker. “I was like there’s no way this guy wants to talk to me about a movie. I just thought I’ll give it a shot, it’s probably just going to be some 1-800 dial number anyways. I called and it was actually him and we got the job.”
The visceral and unhinged performance by Hawke was only enhanced by the old-school masks his Grabber antagonist donned throughout the movie. Naturally this has led to a groundswell of support for a spin off prequel exploring the character’s motives, something Baker adamantly stands against.
“No! You know why? Anakin Skywalker. That’s why! Darth Vader was the coolest villain ever and he’s forever ruined because you can never not see him as “little Annie” or just sad crybaby Anakin Skywalker. I love those movies but it just ruined Darth Vader.”
“I don’t want to know where The Grabber came from. I don’t care, because the more you know about something and the more you know about someone, that gives you more of a chance to empathise with them. I don’t want that. He’s a fucking child killer! Leave him as that. What’s wrong with being pure unadulterated evil?”
Horror movies have long held a close relationship with masks. Jason Vorhees has his hockey mask. Michael Myers a white William Shatner one. Leatherface the faces of his victims. It seems somewhat apropos that a modern day horror villain should follow in the footsteps of those iconic characters. But the process is no longer as linear as grabbing whatever mask the local costume shop has left and slapping some paint on it as Baker recollects.
“For Black Phone we didn’t know anything about The Grabber as a character. Scott Derrickson, the director, never told us anything, there was nothing in the script. Nor did I want to know, I didn’t care because this is not The Grabber’s story. It’s Finney’s story. That’s one of the things I loved about the film, it’s always about Finney and his sister.”
“One of the things we did talk about, is where the masks came from and that was my job. It’s not my job to know what The Grabber’s favourite breakfast cereal is. It’s my job to know where the masks come from. Stay in my lane is what I guess I’m trying to say. When talking with Scott (Derrickson) and figuring out what he wanted and what his ideas were, we took those and we interpret those into the masks.”
“One of the things he wanted from Tom (Savini) and I, was he wanted it to be old and “antiquey”, almost vaudevillian where they used to do the old magic mask sort of thing. So Tom and I took a lot of aspects from that and from Greek tragedy masks. We did this during Covid, so what little antique stores I could get into or look at, I would go and photograph the way porcelain cracks and the way colour bleed out over time.”
“Scott had some great ideas that (The Grabber) tried to fix them, but he wasn’t very artistically inclined, what would people use? They’d use stucco or plumber’s epoxy or just really rough materials to kind of hab dash it in a way. So all of those little notes we got from him we used and worked into the masks.”
Further branching out and into the passionate world of rock music, Baker has recently collaborated with Code Orange on their latest project, something that struck an accord on different levels.
“Working with Code Orange is such a blast. Plus the fact they’re also Pittsburgh-based makes it that much fun. We can get together and discuss ideas at Primanti Bros instead of on a zoom call.”
“Creating the mudman was a fun challenge. We had to create both a grotesque look for the underlayer, then create a machined clear overlayer and still make the two come together and yet still look separate. I’m very proud of how it came out.”
With one of the best portfolios in the business and a client list as impressive as you are likely to find, you’d be forgiven for thinking Baker’s indelible footprint will be forever cemented in pop culture, but the man himself has a much more laid back attitude to his potential legacy.
“When I die, as long as my kid thinks I was a good dad and my wife thinks I was a good husband? It’s all I need man. Everything else is just cherries on cheesecake. That’s one of the things I learnt from Tom, worry about the people who are important to you.”
“I know I have responsibilities, I know I have things I have to get done. When I wake up in the morning I’m excited, I love my life, I love my job. I have the most wonderful wife on the planet, my kid is so cool and I love hanging out with her. And I get to do something I absolutely love and I get paid to do it. What complaints do I really have?
And as someone most would consider a master of his craft, what would Baker’s advice be for anyone looking to get into his fascinating line of work?
“Just look into it! You have literally the world’s information at your fingertips. This little device we carry around in our pocket can do more than just show you adorable cat videos or people falling down on ice. You can just go onto YouTube and type in ‘how to make a mask’, ‘how to sculpt a mask’. Start looking into contacting people, hitting people up on social media, you never know who might take the time to write back to you and answer.”
“If you’re passionate about something, look into it and start doing it. All the great effects artists started making stuff in the bedroom. And then when their parents got mad at them for ruining the carpet they moved it into the basement or garage and they just kept going. There’s schools out there, there’s courses online. If there’s something I haven’t done in a year or two I’ll go online and I’ll look up a video and give myself a refresher.”
“Just pursue it and I wish you the best of luck!”
Watch Dom’s full interview with Jason here:
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