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Article updated: 7/30/2013 4:51 AM

Lisle man's monster mash is a real smash

By Jamie Sotonoff Dann Gire

J. Anthony Kosar's artwork is the stuff you see in nightmares.

Monster faces with real teeth and shiny, glaring eyes, blood-covered zombies, devilish creature masks -- all of it covers the walls of Kosar's work space, Kosart Effects Studios in Westmont.

Kosar, 27, of Lisle -- winner of this season's "Face Off," the Syfy network's special effects competition -- admits his dark-themed art contrasts with his nice-guy personality.

"But I do like the darker things," he said, smiling.

And Hollywood likes him.

At age 27, Kosar already has a resume packed with movie, theater and commercial work, including the Halloween masks you see in retail stores around Halloween (his Rod Blagojevich and Rahm Emanuel masks were big sellers).

He worked on "Avatar" and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" as an intern, helping create special effects like 13-foot-long snakes, aliens and life-casts for stuntmen. The highlight for Kosar, though, was meeting Stan Winston, the late Hollywood special effects guru whom Kosar has admired since he was a kid watching "Jurassic Park."

While Hollywood regularly beckons, Kosar prefers to stay rooted in the suburbs, where he can work into the wee hours in his studio on whatever project is capturing his imagination.

"You don't necessarily have to be in L.A. to work in this industry. People are nicer here," he said. "Plus, by not going out and working for a studio, I can do my own thing."

That "thing" might be painting, sculpting, mask-making or teaching. A big part of Kosar's business is teaching special effects classes -- everything from "The Art of Mask Making" to "Monster Dentures." The classes are open to the public and taught in his studio, attracting everyone from groups of Hollywood special effects artists to local retirees.

"I'm having fun and making monsters," he said, summarizing his job.

Kosar was an artistic kid, says his dad, Joe, who worked in the medical field before quitting to help his son run Kosart Effects Studios.

While a student at Lisle Senior High School, Kosar remembers having an encouraging art teacher but a lack of art offerings available.

That's why Kosar now regularly speaks to art students at suburban high schools and recently made a special "Boaris Frankenswine" painting of a monster pig for a local school charity auction.

He's also hosting an art show by students from his alma mater, The American Academy of Art in Chicago, where he was valedictorian of his class. The exhibition, "Illustration 2013," is viewable by appointment only Aug. 2-23.

College is where Kosar's creativity and passion for art took off, as did his career.

"It was the first time I felt at home and was with like-minded people," he said. "I mean, somebody had to create everything you're looking at. Nothing was designed without an artist."

After college, Kosar was approached a few times about submitting a video to "Face Off," but he wasn't interested. He didn't see the benefit. And besides, he prefers being a behind-the-scenes kind of guy.

"I had worked hard for my professional reputation, and when you do something like this, you don't know how much control you're going to give over ... but the show did a good job of focusing on the actual art rather than the drama," he said. "I finally decided to do it, because I thought no matter what, it couldn't be bad for my career."

After winning the competition, he was overwhelmed by demand for his work and all of the positive feedback he got from people in the horror industry -- one he says is growing by leaps and bounds.

"I've been able to be selective about the jobs I've been taking, so I can enjoy my 'Face Off' success," he said. "When your 15 minutes lasts only so long, you have to make the most of it."

His future also will include more shows in the gallery space of his suburban studio.

Besides the student art show, he's also planning to continue his big annual "dark art" show at Halloween -- his favorite holiday.

"It's different art than most people are used to seeing," Kosar said. "Each piece is kind of like a nightmare."

-- Jamie Sotonoff

Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for people from the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know of someone who would make a good feature story, email them at dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com.

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