By Eric Peterson | Oct 28, 2019
San Dimas, California
Silicone masks, props, and costumes
San Dimas, California
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Silicone masks, costumes, and props
Andrew Freeman started a silicone mask business in his Glendora garage as a side hustle. The intersection between digital technology and a recession proved a perfect storm for many effects houses.
These weren't just any masks: The level of detail and strikingly twisted designs made an indelible impression.
Frangadakis had worked with Freeman at a special effects house before joining Immortal Masks in 2012. "I was the supervisor and he was the lead sculptor," says Frangadakis. "At the time, there was a lull in practical effects in film. Not only that, there was a lull in films being shot in Los Angeles. So there was not enough jobs for all the effects companies that existed in L.A. to go around."
After seeing what was coming out of Freeman's garage, Frangadakis sensed an opportunity outside of effects. "Bottom line, we just made cool things," he says. "Why market only towards an industry that isn't buying? We applied what we were doing in the effects industry to a commercial product, an emerging commercial product, and it just paid off."
Immortal's premium-priced masks (most retail for $500 to $700) found buyers at theme parks and haunted houses. Envelope-pushing designs like the Hellhound and the Immortal -- as well as a whole circus of demented clowns -- were in high demand as a simpler alternative to a six-hour makeup job.
The consumer market followed. The price point didn't scare off serious mask aficionados, who were willing to pay for quality -- and nightmare fuel. Over the years, that's involved masks of Santa and Mrs. Claus, aliens, rhinos, and zombies, as well as full lines of body suits, props, and other products.
"It's basically a Hollywood-level creature anybody can buy," says Frangadakis, pointing to his and Freeman's inspirations in the special effects industry: "We have a shared love of Rick Baker and Stan Winston."
Frangadakis helped Freeman and his wife, Michelle, take Immortal Masks to the next level. "What they were looking for is someone to run the business," says Frangadakis.
A big growth spurt followed. With the reach of the Internet, Immortal Masks captivated a worldwide market with one increasingly disturbing mask after another. The company has steadily expanded and since moved from the garage to shops in Hollywood to its current 16,000-square-foot facility in San Dimas.
Every employee has a hand in production. "There's a mold prep department, a casting department, a seam and patch department, paint department, finishing department, which is teeth, and hair and horns, and then QC and shipping," says Frangadakis. "Our output is 100 masks a week."
Frangadakis notes that the operation recently doubled that number with the same crew. The keys: experience and process improvement. "We pushed our crew to see exactly what they're capable of. To our delight, they're capable of a lot."
Freeman sculpts many of the molds from his own designs "and conversations we have late at night," says Frangadakis, but Immortal has worked with a number of well-known artists. "We've been fortunate to have a lot of our heroes work for us," says Frangadakis. One example: Steve Johnson, the creator of Slimer in Ghostbusters, sculpted the Kevin, Uncle Tickles, and Rat masks for Immortal.
Immortal Masks has brought a number of innovations from the film industry into its manufacturing process. Flex Fusion "was our first carryover from the film industry into silicone masks," says Frangadakis. The system builds masks around encapsulated mesh in five-panel cowls made by full-time seamstresses.
The end result is a more resilient product. Silicone masks "are very fragile," says Frangadakis. "That protects the masks against tearing." That's critical in Hollywood -- "Time is money on a set," he notes -- but transfers over to the broader market in the form of a more durable and expressive mask.
Recent growth has been dynamic, with revenues consistently doubling every year. Catalog products account for about 90 percent of sales, with custom work comprising the remainder.
Challenges: Immortal releases 25 to 30 new masks every Halloween season, whereas most competitors release about eight. That means the main challenge is "to keep outdoing what we've done before," says Frangadakis.
Opportunities: Licensing deals. Immortal Masks is releasing its first Court of the Dead masks licensed from Sideshow Collectibles, a leading high-end collectibles brand. "We're fans of theirs and they're fans of ours," says Frangadakis.
The film and TV markets have also come around. The special effects dip that led Freeman and Frangadakis to new markets has reversed with Netflix and other streaming platforms getting into content production in a big way.
Work on film and TV productions "has come creeping back around full-circle," says Frangadakis. Immortal has recently provided masks, props, and costumes for such productions as Bright and Titans, as well as a slate of undisclosed projects.
"The dawn of the digital era is what beat us up 10 years ago," he adds. "There's been a big resurgence in the need for practical effects. . . . There's so much out there to be working on."
Needs: To maintain client relationships as the company grows. "We're on the cusp of being corporate, but still a mom-and-pop shop," says Frangadakis. "I spend a lot of time with my customers, whether it be Universal Studios or a person buying a clown mask in Michigan. It helps us get a lot of feedback. So our need is consistently to get that feedback from our client base and not become this nameless, faceless company."
Even with the specific skill sets Immortal requires, workforce is not a need, he adds. "That's the benefit of being where we are: Our talent pool is just unmatched."