If you’re a wrestling fan, you probably watched WWE SmackDown Live last Tuesday night. After six months on the shelf due to an injury, Wyatt Family member Erick Rowan made his return on the brand’s latest episode, reaffirming that his allegiance lies with Bray Wyatt. The bearded Rowan, known for wearing a creepy sheep mask, debuted a brand new iteration of the mask on the night of his return – one of the coolest/scariest masks to ever appear on WWE programming.
What you may not have realized is that Tom Savini had a hand in designing it.
Savini, a longtime wrestling fan (he was recently spotted in the crowd during an episode of SmackDown), began working with WWE back in 2011, and he more recently brought friend and fellow makeup artist Jason Baker along for the ride. Being a huge wrestling fan myself, I reached out to Baker for some insight into what it’s like fusing the worlds of horror and pro wrestling.
Baker explained that his work with WWE began in 2014. WrestleMania 30 was approaching, and Tom Savini needed a hand designing one of the night’s most important costumes.
“It’s all because of Tom Savini,” Baker recalled. “Tom and Gino Crognale created the ‘Skull King’ crown and armor for HHH’s entrance for Wrestlemania 28 in 2011. Two years later, HHH called Tom again for a new crown for Wrestlemania 30. Gino was in Atlanta working on The Walking Dead for KNB EFX, so Tom called me up, asked for my help, and the rest is history.”
From there, it became something of a WrestleMania tradition for Savini and Baker to partner up and together bring a little horror magic to the annual sports entertainment spectacle.
“Tom and I made HHH’s crown for WrestleMania 30 and 31 – 31’s crown was a collaboration with Lemur Media,” Baker explained. “[We also made] Stephanie McMahon’s ‘Skull Queen’ masquerade mask for 32 and the ‘faceless army’ mask for HHH’s entrance for 32, which was sculpted by Jason Adams. Tom, Jason and I just finished a new mask for Kalisto that he premiered last weekend at WrestleMania 33. Tom is the brainchild. Everything goes through him. We all collaborate to make the best thing possible.”
With their horror backgrounds, Savini and Baker proved to be a natural fit with Erick Rowan, allowing their work to be regularly showcased on WWE programming. Rowan’s masks have evolved since he debuted back in 2013, and the duo has been behind them all.
“We’ve made all of Erick Rowan’s masks,” Baker told me. “I hadn’t watched wrestling in almost 20 years. So when Erick Rowan contacted us, I had to look him up. But once I did, I was very excited. Rowan is such a unique character, and getting the privilege to help add something to that was a dream come true. Now, I enjoy [wrestling] again.”
You may recall that Rowan’s recent return was teased with a series of horror movie-esque promo videos that hit social media. As it turns out, Baker himself directed those creepy trailers.
“I’ve done two sets of promos with him so far,” Baker explained to me. “[They were] produced by Andy Westfall and Mark Yancey was our D.P. Those were an absolute blast! Erick Rowan has such a presence and he knows horror and what he wants to get across on film. So again, several people aiming towards the same goal.”
“Working with the WWE has been an absolute honor,” Baker added. “Everyone from their corporate headquarters in Stamford, CT to the wrestlers to the traveling staff have been nothing but kind and amazing to work with. They’ve treated Tom and I with nothing but absolute respect and admiration. Tom and I have built some great friendships. So whenever [the wrestlers] come to Pittsburgh, Tom invites them over to the studio to see the monsters or whatever we’re currently working on. Tom is such a blast to work with and so are the wrestlers. They’re very passionate about what they want and we’re very passionate about giving them more than they expected.”
“Whoever needs whatever done, we’re ready to accommodate them.”