Jason Baker spent his childhood turning friends into zombies for his low-budget monster flicks.
In 2008, the Seattle native decided to turn the horrifying hobby into a career by enrolling in Tom Savini’s Special Make-Up Effects Program at the Douglas Education Center in Monessen. Not only did Baker get to learn from his idol, but he has also went into business with him.
“Growing up my three favorite movies were ‘Creepshow,’ ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ and the ‘Night of the Living Dead’ remake,” Baker says. “I had no idea Tom was involved in all of them until I saw a behind-the-scenes feature on a DVD.”
Now, Baker is an expert on Pittsburgh’s own Godfather of Gore, directing the documentary “Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini,” which is streaming on Shudder.
Last year, the student and the teacher paired up to open Callosum Studios, a special effects workshop in Point Breeze.
In medical terms, the corpus callosum connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Baker says you need both sides firing on all cylinders to run a practical effects studio.
Although horror movies and TV shows are their bread and butter, they’ve made costumes for World Wrestling Entertainment stars and musicians such as The Misfits, Slipknot, Code Orange and Lady Gaga. They’ve built sets, created props and designed album covers. They are currently putting terrifying final touches on a Blumhouse production starring Ethan Hawke.
But it was the pandemic that helped put Callosum Studios on the map.
When Covid hit, film gigs died off. To bide his time, Baker started to play around with face masks, ditching the standard cloth version for ones with more bite. The social media response was fiercely favorable and Savini and Baker were able to hire 20 out-of-work special effects artists to keep up with the demand for their masks.
Styles range from a flesh-eater and a skull to a jack-o’-lantern and a Jason Voorhees-inspired goalie mask. Each one is formed out of durable plastic attached by two adjustable parachute clips in the back with heavy nylon strapping. The double-layered cotton filters are removable.
The crew continues to crank them out as they wait for the entertainment industry to return from the dead.
Baker is living his dream by creating nightmares. While success takes a lot of (fake) blood, sweat and tears, his advice for aspiring special effects artists is simple.
“Just do what I did; get a crappy camera, run around in the woods with your friends and make a bad slasher,” he says. “One of the things I absolutely love about his industry is that so many artists who are considered icons will make a time to talk to you. It’s all about giving back and helping each other out. If it’s not fun and it’s not done out of love, what’s the point?”