Michael Loh – Behind The Mask
Wow. That pun was so terrible….
Michael Loh is currently an artist living in Shanghai, China who is playing to his strengths and the passion in his heart by way of an art-form that you just don’t come across too often: mask-making. I’m not talking the plastic Halloween masks with string that you buy at your local Wal-Mart, but hand-crafted, well-designed, original masks and props that look like they were taken off the set of a big Hollywood-budget movie. It’s hands-on, artistic craftsmanship at it’s best combined with all the nostalgia of your favorite classic sci-fi and horror flicks.
I would love to tell you that I’m some seasoned writer that stumbled across Michael Loh when I flew to China on a journalistic quest to find unique artists around the globe. I would love to tell you that my excursion lead me to his studio, where I basked in the creative glory of everything from helmets that were fashioned after iconic superheros like Flash and Captain America, to masks and full body suits inspired by the Predator movies. And while I’m sure that all of this would be possible if he still lived in NYC, where I could catch up with him, the actual way that I found Mike was when I approached Kyle Chaney, Jr. about an interview and the actual (Facebook) conversation basically went something like this:
Kyle:“You should do an article on Michael Loh.”
And yet, the best most unique things to come my way always do through word-of-mouth. Michael Loh is that kind of guy that a friend tells you about and you’re instantly grateful.
Before he moved to China, Mike always had a fascination for the masks and special effects that he saw in movies, noting that Predator was one of his all time favorites. “I hated drawing faces so I drew and designed a lot of characters with masks on them,” he says. “Back in high school I did make a Predator mask out of tons of plaster bandages but that was it. At the time I did a lot of paintings and drawings. You should see my sketchbooks. It’s all superheroes that have no human faces, just dudes with big masks.”
Mike grew up in the NYC area, living on Long Island (a town called Baldwin which is, ironically, not too far from where I’m currently typing this -small world, huh?), Queens, and Brooklyn before moving to China. After attending the Fashion Institute of Technology, Mike partnered with someone at Marvel Comics to create an independent comic book company. Unfortunately, the 9-11 tragedy would see the end of Mike’s venture.
“We had high hopes and then 9-11 happened and our investors kind of dropped out not feeling secure in the state of things to come. I had invested 3 years into it and a lot of my own ideas for original characters, painted cover illustrations and a bunch of concept designs. I even came up with a bunch of stories for comics and stuff. It all fell apart and I felt kind of disappointed. At the time my sister was working in Shanghai, she told me ‘get your ass over here and get yourself a job!’ I landed in Shanghai 1 year later exactly on 9-11.” He laughs at the irony of that last sentence.
Mike landed in China where he worked for seven years as a product, advertising and graphic designer, but his true passion was gnawing at the back of his mind. “My heart wasn’t in it anymore,” he says. “I left those industries with a lot of knowledge about marketing and selling a product, combined with my passion for art, and channeled all that into what I am doing today.”
After gaining commissions and selling his work, Mike was able to start his own company at the end of March, Uratz Studio, inspired by the name he uses online to market himself. Adding video games such as Darksiders and Crysis to his list of inspirations, Mike began making custom masks outside of the realm of movies such as the mask he created for one of Plan B Comics’ flagship characters, Z: The Dream Warrior. “Since most of my art is so personal and unique, people just want my ‘style’ on some idea of theirs,” he says on creating original work for people. “I have a lot of lee-way and have been fortunate enough to work with people that wanted a unique voice to a piece they are wearing.”
Mike prides himself on being able to create original characters in his own style, as opposed to imitating what’s already been done. “I’m aiming more to be an artist with my own style so that I can create original masks and props. I’ve gained a lot of fans for my original work and people respect that.” His take on the Four Apocalyptic Horsemen, which he calls The Hunters of the Apocalypse, is nothing short of creative. One of the hunters, given the name Plague, but representing the Horseman of Conquest, is a former scientist of germ warfare who conquers his enemies using disease. If you look closely his snout resembles a gas-mask, effectively combining story and design. The thoughtfully crafted spikes protruding from the head represent the crown of the rider of the white horse. Mike symbolizes the idea of conquest by creating a spear-head shape in the breather portion of the mask’s mouth/snout.
“It’s my life long dream and I believe in the material and the potential of it,” Mike says of his personal project, The Four Hunters of the Apocalypse. “It’ll be awesome if John Davis, the original producer for Predator, calls me up and says, Hey Mike let’s make this movie happen!’ “ Mike chalks up a big laugh. “Fingers crossed!”
I don’t know Mike personally, but if there’s anything that I’ve gathered from speaking with him, it’s that he’s always thinking beyond the artwork that he is creating into the nuances of what brings that art to life. “What I’ve learned from Herb Tauss, one of my professors at F.I.T. who passed away now, is to judge and create art in terms of Strength and Power instead of ‘Pretty’ or ‘Ugly’. With that state of mind it doesn’t matter what tools you are using, whether it be digital, traditional or metaphysical.” He laughs again.
That’s another thing I learned about Mike. He’s always laughing, and he’s just a cool guy.
Thanks for reading as always, guys. Until next time.
Michael Loh is the head of his own company, Uratz Studios, based in Shanghai, China. He is currently accepting work and has created original masks and suits for various clients, including those living in the United States. He can be contacted at:
Deviant art: http://michaelloh.deviantart.com/