Rubber Gorilla Studios if your not familiar with them is a UK based Halloween mask making studio dedicated to designing and producing their own range of original, collectors quality latex Halloween horror masks.
All of their horror masks are handmade to the highest standards, they use quality durable latex and each Halloween mask is individually hand-painted and finished with the same care and attention ensuring you get the ultimate latex horror masks, great for horror movies, collectors displays, quality fancy dress, and of course.......scaring the hell out of people.
I have personally owned several Rubber Gorilla masks and the craftsmanship is truly top notch. I can't say enough good things about Neal's work. Be sure to check out all of the great Rubber Gorilla products by visiting their site... http://www.rubbergorilla.co.uk/
Now onto the interview....How did you get started in the business of mask making?
I suppose as a hobby it began when I was 16, I started collecting masks and quickly became curious as to how they were made, this proved quite tricky in the early nineties (yes I’m that old), in the UK with no internet to browse on and not many mask makers in England I knew of.... but I tracked down a mask maker whom I had a few masks in my collection of his, named Alan I’Anson, who was a brilliant artist and gave me some tips to get started, which I’m forever grateful for. One of his masks was Stan Winston’s Pumpkinhead........an unbelievable mask, I’m still yet to better.
But really it was just a hobby for me, I became a graphic designer by trade and sculpted garage kits in my spare time and really didn’t give it a proper go until after I took a year out travelling around Australia in 2003, whilst there I had a lot of time to think about my career and what I saw myself doing in the future....at the time I was feeling unfulfilled and felt I wasn’t doing what I was meant to do.
I decided.....when I return to England I’m gonna create ‘Rubber Gorilla’ and make collectors horror masks for a living!!Please describe in detail what lead to your passion for the horror genre and or the Halloween holiday? Also, if you have any fond childhood memories or experiences that may have sparked your love for the hobby?
As a child I was always fascinated with anything monster related, from those rubber skeletons and bats ‘n’ snakes or stretch monster, mego style monster figures, latex masks etc, from the age of three or four I always carried one of those rubber King Kong’s around with me......which is where my company name comes from.
When we were kids my older brother and I would play with those star wars figures, he would have Luke, Han Solo, Lando etc.......I just had all the weirdos from that pub!!
I guess I’m trying to say that nothing really sparked it, it was just something that was already there. Who or whom was the biggest influence in your life (doesn’t have to be mask related) and how did that effect who you are today?
From a personal point of view a farmer named ‘Bill Sharpe’ was a big influence on me.........I worked for him for 3 months on his farm in Australia. He was and is an incredible character, very optimistic and positive, a true believer in hard work is good for the soul. He worked harder than anyone I know and he loved it, although he was a bit of a wimp when it came to handling cold weather!!, it’s an Aussie thing!!
I remember he got really annoyed with me because at the time I’d never seen the sun rise (I'm not a morning person) so he made me get up at 5am and watch it with him. I tried to tell him it was very similar to it going down!
Also my Nana (Grandma), she was an amazing character, she lived through WW2 and was a very strong woman that would give anything for her family.......she had a lot of illnesses, but I never remember hearing her complain once, I miss her a great deal.
Speaking artistic influences......Jordu Schell and Casey Love are both amazing artists, I admire their work a great deal. Also Stan Winston, Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Tom Savini....there’s no shortage of people to look up to when it comes to creature makers. What do you do in your spare time when you are not making masks or doing something work related.
Mainly to get my thoughts away from mask making I walk my dog ‘Mr Harris’ through the woods or over the North Yorkshire Moors and stop off for a pint at the Slaughtered Lamb. We live on the coast so we go to the beach quite a bit, I also kayak and cycle. I used to sculpt garage kits as a hobby but I don’t have time for that since starting the business. I love messing around with short movies, hopefully I'll have another done in a month, they’re great fun to do.
Favourite movies, I’ll try keep this brief or I’ll be here a while.
Halloween ‘of course’, The Thing, An American Werewolf in London, Old Boy, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Haute Tension, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Shaun of the Dead, From Dusk Till Dawn, The Devils Rejects, Sin City, Dog Soldiers, Creepshow, Frontiers, Irreversible,.....loads, loads more! What was your first sculpt and or mask making experience? Were you a natural or did it take time to hone your skills? How much have you learned since then?
Ha, Ha......I remember my first mask very well........it was a papiere mache michael myers mask, and I thought it was the dogs b#ll#cks at the time, looking back it was ridiculous and looked nothing like him at all. When me and my partner watched the remake of Halloween, we just looked at each other and laughed when Myers was in his cell making all those masks.......that was me as a teenager!!.........good job I don’t have any sisters!!
I have a photo of it somewhere, I should put it on my website, to show people with enough hard work anything is possible....because I was Sh#t!!
So, no.......it took me years to get to the standard I wanted, even now I’m not at the level I’d like to be. I suppose it’s like any skill, if you want to be as good as you can get, you just have to keep doing it. What project have you worked on in the past that you would consider your favourite
My doll mask ‘Hamble’ is one of my favourite masks, it’s probably one of the worst sellers, but I don’t care, I love making that one, it’s really creepy. Also I’ve done a custom Minotaur mask that turned out really well, but I prefer the simple killer masks like The Fowler and Ishmael. How has being a husband, father, or being in a relationship affected your work and are they supportive of what you do?
I’ve been in a long term relationship and throughout my partner ‘Sarah’ has supported every decision I took to create ‘Rubber Gorilla’, I also have a few friends that encouraged me and convinced me that I couldn’t fail. But there were a lot of people that would think it was a terrible idea and thought it would be a complete failure, to be honest that just makes me want to do it more!!
Luckily Sarah is as enthusiastic about the genre as I am.........our home is a little bit like the museum of monsters and madmen!....we just need a little train running though it. What projects have you accomplished in your career that you feel really cemented your legacy in the business. Was there a point where you took a step back and said, "Wow, how am I going to get all these orders filled"?
Well I feel far from cemented in the business at the moment, I’m sure I have a lot more to do to get there, but in my 3rd year once I had a good selection of masks to offer, the Halloween period just went crazy with orders, I had no idea that Halloween was getting so popular in the UK, I’m still shocked by how busy it gets. So, yes over the Halloween period you have to prepare the best you can with stock....but whats popular one year may not be the next so that can be very tricky.
I always put a stop on orders rather than take too many though............the quality of the product has to take priority over quantity, I never want any customer to be disappointed when they open that box. What were some other low points in your career (if any) when you had to take time to reflect and ask yourself if this business isn’t right for you?
Yes, the first 2 years were a big struggle and many times I questioned whether I could make it a profitable venture, I worked 2 jobs until I had enough sculptures to call it a business, in year 3 things started to run a lot smoother. Also getting a good website is essential.....it was a nightmare getting one sorted out, I ended up teaching myself web design and did it myself.....control freak?, maybe!!What upcoming project if any can you share with us? And what are your plans for the upcoming year?
I have another short horror film that I’m making with the help of a couple of friends, I’m also getting involved in a new horror film festival here in Whitby, England called Bram Stoker International Film Festival, this October. They’re showing a restored Nosferatu in 3D!!! for the first time, that should be very cool......some of the films coming in are amazing, many from the USA.
I’m also exhibiting at Scarecon’09 expo in May, this is for Halloween theme park attractions to see what’s on offer in England, I haven’t done one of these before, so should be interesting, the theme park Halloween attractions are starting to get a lot bigger here now, we’re not quite at the Universal Studios standard yet though.......theirs are amazing.
As for new masks, my 2nd Nosferatu is going into production now, a pumpkin slasher style mask is on the way, another doll and a Baphomet, I have a big list of others but not sure which are coming first yet..........I’ve been wanting to redo my werewolf for ages, but I hate doing hair.....I end up with more stuck on me than the mask!
A GIANT thanks to Neal for sitting down with us for this interview. Neal is truly a one of a kind guy and his work is just amazing. If you haven't owned a Rubber Gorilla piece do yourself a favor and pick on up. You will not be disappointed. Thanks again Neal...
here are just a few examples of Neal's work....