Meet the Columbus scare-masters who create your nightmares - if you dare

Jesse Tigges, Columbus Alive

Whether we admit it or not, everyone loves a good scare. You may bury you face in your hands, or stare - with eyes peeled - at the screen when the monster leaps out to seize its victim during a scary movie. Or you may yell out in surprise while creeping through a haunted house. In either instance, your adrenaline is pumping, and you're having a visceral reaction.

But don't blame the movie monster or the twisted man in the mask wielding a chainsaw at the haunted house. It was the person who created these horrors - in their own minds - and made them a reality - with their own hands - that you have to thank for your terror sweats.

These makers of macabre aren't just in Hollywood. Columbus is home to more than you may have realized.

Two Columbus companies, Scare Factory and Unit 70 Studios, trade (primarily) in haunt industry creations. They produce masks, props, massive animatronic monsters and statues for haunted parks, rides and houses, as well as props and special effects for live theatre and movies. It's a big business that keeps these companies busy year-round.

A surprising number of independent folks do the same thing, only on a smaller scale in their homes and art studios. Some of these special effects artists work (or have worked) full-time or seasonally for Scare Factory or Unit 70 Studios, and others in total autonomy. What they all have in common is a love for "the scare."

While the five individuals profiled here all create "haunt industry" products, they actually work in a much larger field known as special effects. When most think of special effects these days, they think of the digital world (CGI, motion-capture, animation, etc.). Special effects have, of course, been around much longer than computers - as handmade creations have been used to enhance, well, really anything, not just the horror industry - and will continue to be viable, even as we move further along in this digital age.

"The only reason I say 'haunt industry' is because that's where I primarily am," said Tony Colque, during an interview in his garage studio in mid-October. "But really that's just one facet of the bigger [industry]. Nowadays people do things for Comic Con, productions for all kinds of different movies. It's really just an effects industry … it could be anything."

It really could be anything.

Colque has been creating special effects for more than six years. He's sold a number of his own pieces - masks, props, busts and human-size or even bigger statues - through his company Metal Water Studio, "a professional FX costuming, sculpting, conceptual and effects studio," as his website states, while also currently working full-time at Scare Factory.

Likewise, Katie Golonka works full-time at Scare Factory as an art assistant. She also provides her prosthetic services for local film and photo shoots and anyone wanting to look really effing scary. Nikos Fyodor Rutkowski, who is also a fine art painter, creates masks in his Cave Bear Studio, which is housed inside 400 West Rich.

"I have no problem doing anything. I'll do Christmas stuff. I'll do anything that someone wants sculpted. The horror [inspired products], monsters and creatures are probably the most fun and [the ones] I enjoy most making up - something like the Jackalope," Rutkowski said, pointing to the demonically possessed bunny-meets-antelope.

Jason Glenn, a CCAD student who crafts mostly busts, but also masks, and Cory Seymour, a self-taught mask-maker, are both newer to the local special effects industry. Both have done seasonal work for Unit 70 Studios. While they hope to make it a career one day, they're more than happy to just be practicing - and perfecting - their art right now.

"You have so many artists with so many different styles that there's very little overlap; many people capable, available and willing to do these things," Seymour said during an interview at his father's house where he makes his masks, because there's not enough room in his apartment. "For a long time I wanted to go into special effects, but it wasn't my path because I love living in Columbus. I missed not knowing if I could do it. This isn't exactly the same thing, but it's in the field, and I love having the opportunity."

While Seymour is the newbie of this group, his words about having opportunity in Columbus contain more than a kernel of wisdom.

There are buyers that can, and have, reached out to local special effects creators for their products from all over. Rutkowski and Colque have found commercial viability through their mask and bust-making endeavors, and Colque has even sold a number of pop culture busts for hundreds of dollars to collectors and fans.

There's also a demand for those who want to standout during Halloween. Anyone can go to a costume shop and get something unoriginal and of poor quality. How many variations of "sexy" whatever will be roaming around house parties and HighBall this year?

Colque said some want a custom mask and are willing to pay for a handmade-from- scratch creation. He also said some customers have "tweaked" molds he's made of other masks to fit what they wanted - think a blue devil instead of red, or adding different creepy facial accoutrements - for a less expensive, but still high-quality mask.

There is another big reason the special effects industry will always be in demand. The industry is defined by adaptability.

"A lot of times people don't think about how much special effects can enhance what they're doing," Golonka said during an interview at 400 West Rich, where she's storing her tools and materials while her home studio is under renovation. "Special effects have a demand because it's such a versatile thing. You're looking for someone to solve creative problems. We need someone to be decapitated, but I can't actually decapitate my actor."

Golonka creates prosthetics, special effects that are physically attached to a living face or body (wounds, zombie-like appendages and anything involving grotesque human forms). What really distinguishes her is how she fell in love with the special effects industry.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that Colque, Glenn, Rutkowski and Seymour all grew up loving horror movies and wanted to build their own frightening creations. Golonka was different; she abhorred the genre and refused to even be in the room when a scary movie was on. Until her parents took her to a live theatre performance with spurting blood and gory special effects.

"My parents took me to see this Tecumseh play, and there was a warning that there's violence in it," Golonka said. "So they took me on a back stage tour, and I saw how they did the blood packs and how they do the scalpings. It was really cool. I was able to watch it and not be scared anymore - that blood is made out of chocolate syrup."

Special effects have come a long way since chocolate syrup blood, which is why Glenn wanted to go into the industry. He was awarded a scholarship to the Tom Savini's (makeup artist for films "Friday the 13th" and "Dawn of the Dead") Special Make-up Effect Program at the Douglas Education Center, but was unable to attend due to a family illness and instead went to CCAD. He'd planned to study two-dimensional illustration there, but a second unexpected occurrence changed Glenn's path.

"When I started at CCAD I wanted to be a cartoonist - Disney, Disney, Disney. I was taking a design class and my teacher told me to get ahold of the 3-D illustration teacher. My first year, I was hooked. I see where I went from the start to what I'm doing now; it's night and day," said Glenn, who along with Rutkowski will be part of the "Fear Hundred 4: The Mystery of the Haunted Carnival" art show at 400 West Rich on Oct. 31.

If there's one reason a number of artists specialize in the special effects medium-even more so than having two special effects companies based here-it's the 3-D illustration courses offered at CCAD.And, more importantly, the man teaching those courses, Mark Hazelrig.

Hazelrig has seen thousands of students go in and out of his classrooms, but in 1989 he had a conversation while visiting a friend in Hollywood who worked in the special effects industry that reverberated all the way back to Columbus.

"We sat down over beers and he said, 'If you're going to write a class to train people to do stuff to get a job out here, what would you do?' We made a list of 12 projects and figured if you could do all those, you could be useful," Hazelrig said during an interview at his CCAD office.

According to Hazelrig, Scare Factory hired its first special effects creators - himself included - two years later from the CCAD 3-D illustration program borne out of that conversation.

This spring will mark the end of Hazelrig's 3-D illustration course, as he'll retire after 42 years of teaching. As Glenn puts it, "This is the last year they're doing 3-D illustration. They're going digital. It sucks. There's nothing here to learn mask-making or anything else."

"Everybody gets replaced. That was something I learned in the Marine Corp," Hazelrig said stoically.

Golonka, who was turned from frightened to enamored after seeing how special effects worked, studied theatre at the University of Indiana. She feels digital just can't match the real thing.

"I think [digital] works really well for blending special effects. But if you don't use any practical special effects then it shows in the actors' performances. There's something about it … that's way more impressive. It's the total look. I prefer the original 'Star Wars' over the new ones."

Still, everyone interviewed, including Hazelrig, said hand-crafted special effects will always be a viable industry - in Columbus, Hollywood or anywhere.

"There's movies, and then there's theme parks, and themed restaurants, and themed everything else," Hazelrig said. "I don't know if CGI could do that stuff. You can't walk through it. There are a lot of talented people who've come through here. I think I've had over 4,000 students, and some of them get bitten by the bug, and they stay bitten. Computers are nice, but they don't smell like latex."

Photos by Meghan Ralston

Nikos Fyodor Rutkowski

Age: 35

Hometown: Columbus

Neighborhood: Weinland Park

Favorite horror movie: "Cabin in the Woods"

Anthony Colque

Age: 28

Hometown: Cincinnati

Neighborhood: Clintonville

Favorite horror movie: "From Beyond"

Katie Golonka

Age: 25

Hometown: Columbus

Neighborhood: Franklinton

Favorite horror movie: "Sleepaway Camp"

Instagram: @Horrorsfx

Jason Glenn

Age: 38

Hometown: Columbus

Neighborhood: South Side

Favorite horror movie: Tie, Rob Zombie's "Halloween" and "House of 1000 Corpses"