Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Hyper-realistic masks
Founder Landon Meier makes the most realistic (and surrealistic) masks on the market.
After graduating with a bachelor's in fine arts from Colorado State University in 1999, "I said, 'I need to do something cool,'" remembers Meier. "I wanted to be an artist."
Working as a picture framer, he soon had a bizarre epiphany: "How crazy and surreal would it be for an adult to be walking around with a super realistic, big baby head? I don't know if that was a dream or what."
Meier had learned how to make masks during his days at CSU through a friend who took him to Distortions Unlimited in Greeley. "We'd go to Distortions and I'd get to see all these awesome things Ed [Edmunds] was doing," he says.
He meticulously applied that knowledge when he made his first mask. "It took me a long time to make my first sculpture," says Meier. "It took me nine months coincidentally to make Cry Baby."
That's because of the amazing attention to detail. It really looks like a baby, down to the furrows in the brow and realistically wet teardrops. The reactions Meier got when he wore it blew him away, and he won all of the Halloween costume contests In 2001.
Over the years, he made two other versions of baby masks (Disgusted and Happy and sold a few a month for around $500 a pop as he worked as a framer, loan officer, and delivery driver. In 2009, he made a video on the 16th Street Mall in Denver. A couple of years later, some jokers were heavily featured on a New York Mets broadcast during a lengthy rain delay. Both videos went viral.
"It was a side thing," he says. "It's evolved into a job."
Meier has since worked social media by crafting hyper-realistic silicone masks of celebrities that sell for about $5,000 each. It started with a mask of Charlie Sheen in 2011, and Meier has since made masks of Mike Tyson, Ron Jeremy, Walter White from Breaking Bad, and Stephen Colbert.
The Walter White mask went viral after Bryan Cranston, the actor who portrayed the chemistry teacher turned meth cook on the AMC show, wore the mask at Comic-Con and subsequently took it on several late night shows. Beyond his babies, it's far and away Meier's top seller: He's made more than 20 of them since 2013.
In the past couple of years, Hyperflesh has gotten political. Meier made masks of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders in 2016 and followed up with Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un in 2017. "What's topical right now, what everybody's got their pantyhose in a bunch about, is politics," says Meier.
He's gone to Monsterpalooza both years with the intention of going viral, and it worked. (He even went as far as recruiting children to portray Trump and Kim in 2017 while he donned a tracksuit and portrayed Putin himself.) CNN's Great Big Story recently covered him, and it resulted in several orders. "It's resulted in an explosion of sales," says Meier.
The reaction stems from just how real each mask looks, and that takes a lot of time and skill on Meier's part. "It's a simple process," says Meier. Maybe at its core, but the simplicity is paired with a serious craftsmanship and meticulous attention to detail, down to the last eyebrow hair.
While he sculpted by hand when he first started making masks, Meier now starts by Googling good images of the subject and sculpting digitally in ZBrush. The process often requires hours upon hours of tweaking and re-tweaking.
Then he prints the mold on a LulzBot TAZ6 printer from Loveland-based Aleph Objects. A mold takes several days to print. Meier then applies the silicon to create the mask, using different tints for more realistic lips and other features. "You pull the mask out of the mold, and it's mostly pigmented," he says. "That helps sell the realism."
Once he's got the mask, he spends two or three workdays painting, adding hair, and otherwise finishing the mask. "Generally, it's about a week" from start to finish, says Meier.
The babies can be produced in more of an assembly line process, but it's still about two weeks of work to produce a batch of 24 masks.
He's done a few custom jobs, including masks of Tom Brady for Bleacher Report and Robert Downey, Jr. for another client, but prefers to focus on his own designs. "Celebrities are hitting me up," he says. While a few hip-hop stars have recently contacted him about projects, "I don't want to deal with a unique customer every time."
Challenges: Scaling handcrafted processes. It's hard to grow a one-man shop. "I've got to figure out how to bring on employees," says Meier. "It's be nice if after one mask, somebody else would do it."
At one point, some cheap Chinese knockoff baby masks entered the market, he says. "Fortunately, they're so bad it hasn't hurt my market."
Opportunities: Growth. Meier is considering taking on a silent partner in the promotion and events business to take Hyperflesh to the next level. "I have issues relinquishing control, but I'm going to have to do that at some level, not only if I want to make this more profitable, but also retain my sanity," says Meier.
He's also concerned about protecting his innovations. "I have spent the last 15 years developing my own process," says Meier.
Needs: A creative business model. That will likely involve bringing in more people. Right now, Meier specializes in making the premium masks to order while his girlfriend, Ashley Teasdale, has taken over the baby masks. "She's helping out," says Meier.
"I've never liked the idea of investor money," he adds. "Shark Tank called and wanted me to submit an audition. I turned that down."