Cory Czekaj was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. Throughout his elementary years he and his parents would volunteer for the school as a family, creating fun stage props, hallway art, or theatre displays. Over the years, as his family continued to encourage creativity in the arts, Cory developed a love for special effects and dreamed of heading to Hollywood to work on blockbuster movies. It seemed to be a pipe dream, a goal that felt totally unattainable.
Guidance counselors were unhelpful. A summer program at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh wasn’t much help either, though there was plenty of art, it had nothing to do with the movies that were Cory’s passion. But when he started an internship at a local costume shop in downtown Buffalo’s arts district, he learned sculpting, moldmaking, casting, vacu-forming, fabrication, painting, and hairwork. There he had the opportunity to work on several professional mascot-style walk-around costumes for huge companies across the U.S. After high school, the company hired him and the owners then sent him to the annual Halloween tradeshow in Chicago as a representative and buyer for their company. Seeing the scope of the Halloween industry, Cory’s aspirations beyond the costume shop were reignited. He returned to Buffalo and started his own small mask and prop company out of his parents basement.
Over the course of the next year, he developed an entire product line, though in the process, his parents basement got destroyed and burnt. Attending the same tradeshow the following year on his own with his own business, to his surprise, his line got picked up by several very large distributors, mail order companies, stores, and haunted houses. It was time to get out of the basement and into an industrial unit with forklifts, loading docks, everything a manufacturing facility would need. He made a good run of the business for 4 years, each year growing the product line and producing several thousand parts a year for the industry. But, he still had the burn to make his way to Los Angeles and prove to himself that he was good enough to make it in the movies.
With a bit of money saved and no contacts in Los Angeles he made his way out to the coast and sent out resumes. He was hired at Steve Johnson’s XFX and floated around through multiple departments as he tried to figure out the best direction for his career.
Cory came to specialize in skin, working with foams and silicones, mainly geared to the field of makeups. He has worked for over a dozen of the largest shops in Hollywood including Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, Rick Baker’s Cinovation Studio, Greg Cannom’s Creations, ADI, KNB FX, Frontline Design, Fractured FX, Quantum Creations, and his home for the past 11 years at Stan Winston Studio/Legacy FX.
At these shops he has worked on over 80 feature films including AVATAR, TERMINATOR: SALVATION, X-MEN 2, SPIDER-MAN 2 & 3, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, THOR, SUPERMAN: MAN OF STEEL, THE HULK, IRONMAN 1, 2 & 3, THE AVENGERS, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, ALIEN VS. PREDATOR, THE CUROUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, TOTAL RECALL, ROBOCOP, THE FANTASTIC FOUR, TRON LEGACY, COWBOYS AND ALIENS, TIM BURTON’S ALICE IN WONDERLAND, PACIFIC RIM, INDIANA JONES NA THE CRYSTAL SKULL, and G.I. JOE: RISE OF COBRA. In between the movies Cory has also worked on several hundred commercials. The faster pace and accelerated deadlines that are common in commercial work have driven Cory to produce really fast but innovative silicone and foam gags. His department has had to do everything from creating water clear ice makeups to creating 18’ leopard seals with very short delivery schedules. The commercial work encourages and sometimes demands experimentation with chemicals to meet the demands of the rigorous scheduling. And the opportunity to bring the results of these experiments to bear on the longer form projects, helps Cory to continually push the envelope, always working with new materials and techniques for the makeups and suits he creates for the blockbuster films—the very types of films that seemed so impossibly unattainable to a crafty, young boy from Buffalo.