Scary Stories: Little Spider Creations
Little Spider Creations, located in Denver, Colorado, started in 1991 selling Halloween masks for $6 each. Now, their custom props and design elements can be seen in the industry’s top haunted houses and amusement parks. Marcus Turner sat down with the founder of Little Spider, Marc Brawner, to learn more about the company and to share their scary story.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I first came across Little Spider Creations at Transworld. I was amazed by the level of design innovation shown in your work. I knew there had to be an interesting story behind what you do…and I greatly appreciate your time. Tell me a little about how you got to where you are now.
We’ve evolved from selling $6 masks to $500,000 haunted houses, so it’s quite a big difference.
We started in 1991. At the time, there were only a few companies doing this. We got started really slow. We were self-taught, and we just progressed into not only creating what the market would pay us to do, but what we enjoyed doing.
We started that and then got into doing sets for people. We got into doing miniature golf courses, then amusement parks. Most of our business is Halloween-related. Sets and props for amusement parks, full size haunted houses, and most of those are amusement parks. Those are really the only ones who have a budget to hire someone like us.
I see life as an onion. It’s layer upon layer upon layer and that’s who you become. We never planned to be doing 20 ft. dinosaurs and all of that, it’s just that we thoroughly enjoy what we’re doing. As another door opens up, we just move into it, adding additional layers, and that’s what we’ve become.
That’s how Little Spider got here. It wasn’t a well-designed plan. We just enjoyed what we did.
Tell me about the name Little Spider. How did that come about?
In 1991, I was sitting at a computer screen, trying to come up with a name for the company. I was trying different things, and it wasn’t coming to me. The second day, I was sitting at the computer, doing design work and trying to figure it out, and a little spider came from the ceiling and crawled down across my computer screen, and that’s where it came from…Little Spider.
Where do you come up with the inspirations for your designs? Are you a trained artist?
I’ve got 3 art degrees. I had an advertising agency that I ran, and we would come up with logos and designs and brochures. That’s basically my background prior to this.
I either use hand drawings or computer renderings. Our clients will have a general idea and we’ll ask them: “Do you want to design it, or do you want us to design it?” Generally, they want us to design it.
We ask them to give us a budget: the biggest budget they can afford to do, and what I’ll do is start with that budget and then blow you away by showing them what they can get for that kind of money. Let me be the designer. Let me the creative person for you. I try and solve their creative needs…no matter what that is.
Lately, that’s been working extremely well. They usually just turn it completely over to us. We’ve got several designers and creative people. On the bigger projects we come up with several committee meetings and just come up with ideas. We not only see what works financially for us, but ask ourselves: “How can we blow people away?”
They mostly always come back and raise their price when they see what we can bring to them for their initial budget. Because what we’re doing is so cool it’s not uncommon to have clients raise their budget from $15,000 to $50,000. Because they have never heard of someone doing customer service, custom work, and big format stuff that will last their lifetime. It’s never quite been done in the Halloween industry quite like we do.
What materials do you use use when making your props? It looks really heavy.
Mostly, on the large props we use polyurethane, $800 a gallon automotive paint, and styrofoam, so that our stuff will last virtually your entire lifetime.
How do you come up with the agents you use…like automotive paint and polyurethane. Is this a previous concept that you expanded on, or did you have to develop it through different experiences and trial and error?
The very first large sculpture we did was for a local retail store that asked us to do a 16 foot dragon to sit in front of their store. I started doing research and found out that people were using Styrofoam. That’s all I knew. I didn’t know the tools. I didn’t know how to hard coat. I didn’t know anything. I’ve got pictures of me and a grinder, a 5″ wheel grinder, taking a giant block of styrofoam, and just chopping it up. I mean I am covered from head to foot in this small beaded foam and I mean it is everywhere. Worse experience I’ve ever had. You can’t breathe, you can’t do anything, and from that I just knew there had to be a better way.
That client loved it and ordered a bunch more stuff for the next 3 years from us and it kept us going, but yeah we just started experimenting around. I had purchased a farm that had a horse boarding ranch, and I was trying to come up with a way how to sculpt this stuff without a grinder. I looked down on the ground and there was a horse brush – you know like a looped type of brush. I picked that up and started sculpting with it. Now we do 80% of our sculpting with that, and it’s now being used across the industry as a “go to” tool in the sculpting industry.
It’s been close to a 10 year process developing the paint and hard coats. We’ve gone from using $100 a gallon to $800 a gallon paints. It’s been through trial and error only that we’ve learned how we did what we did. Every year at Transworld the other sculptors have practically begged me to give them my methods : where do we get our hard coat? What are our techniques, our equipment? I know they’re our competition, so I don’t share all of that, but I will share some. It took us 10 years on our own, so we have to keep a little bit secretive.
How has failing taught you how to be successful?
When most people fail, they’ll just give up. My personality is to figure it out, to make it better. To prove to people I know what I’m doing. Because of that type of motivation it’s moved us forward.
We’ve been trying to hire people for the last 2 months to help us. We’ve grown 6 times greater than we’ve been in the last 26 years. It’s just exploded.
We’ve been looking nationwide for sculptors, painters and carpenters who can help us out. Unfortunately, they’re not in the state of Colorado. They’re outside the state.
People keep telling me I’m living the life they wish they could. They’re salesmen. They’re working in the lumber yard. They’re doing something, but not being creative. The only difference between me and them is I’m either stupid or stubborn enough to not stop.
When it’s difficult, that’s when you kick into gear. Those are the only ones who survive—especially in the Halloween industry. You’re up and down and up and down.
I always have younger people who want to break into the industry and they keep asking me, “How do you do it?” I tell them, “You really don’t want to do this.” It’s only when art makes you want to be an artist that you can’t do anything but be an artist your entire life. Every part of your being tells you: “You have to do this.” Those are the only people who really last. The only ones who are going to survive this. (The ones who say),”I don’t care what it takes, I’m going to do this.”
We’ve offered internships. We’ve offered for people who approach us to come in and work for a few days and they don’t last. These are the ones who tell us they want to do this, but they aren’t willing to take the chance to see if they really can.
Kevin Alvey (of Gore Galore)—what a success story. A great, a great guy, and a great product. Now look where he’s at. It’s the same thing – he just stuck to it. It’s the people like him, who are going to do this regardless, they are the ones who end up succeeding eventually.
Even if you don’t succeed financially, at least you did what you wanted to do.
I’m totally amazed by people, who on Saturday and Sunday say “I dread going back to work.” My goodness I can’t wait until I go back to work! Look what I do for a living. I make creatures. I make Haunted Houses!
What’s next for Little Spider? I know you mentioned a reality show. That sounds neat. I know I’d watch that show.
We’ve had a production company that has been pitching the idea to 10 to 15 networks. If the networks like it they will then purchase 6, 10, or 12 episodes. If they purchase it then we’re up and running full force. It’s in the sales position right now, so we’ll see how it goes.
Are you ready for something like that – something that completely transforms your life and makes you a celebrity?
I love watching Distortions on “Making Monsters”—you know, it’s one of the coolest shows. Ed has got such a personality. He was made for that show. They have just exploded as a company. They tell me the exposure alone caused them to grow 4 to 5 times in one year. I’m not sure we’re ready for that. We’ve done that already.
I hate having people looking over my shoulder and watching what I do, but I’ve got 3 boys that I want to eventually come in and run the business. I want to take what I’ve taken and made a decent life out of, and make it so my boys can take it to the next level. One of the ways to do that is to get the word out about who we are and what we do, and what better way than television? That’s pretty much the only reason why I’ve agreed to this.
My family and I talked long and hard about this. We’ve got a lot of faith in how the show is going to go. It’s not going to be about a bunch of drama that’s been fabricated. There’s plenty enough of that in my business and in my family.
We’re the odd, odd, odd family. We really don’t care what people think. My son drives a tricked out hearse out in LA. We’re a Christian family working the Halloween industry—there are all kinds of story lines that they can latch onto.
How do your clients find you? Do you have to go them or do they come to you? Is it all word of mouth?
It’s starting to (come to us). We’ll be working with one amusement park. Another may see what we did and they’ll ask, “Hey, who did this for you?” It’s becoming more word of mouth, but mostly it’s been the trade shows. We’ve tried doing marketing through direct mail, and email, and it just doesn’t work.
How much of your business is related to Halloween and the Haunted Attraction Industry?
Right now about 95% of the work we do is Haunted House or Halloween-related. We’re doing a HUGE project for Six Flags / Magic Mountain. I can’t discuss it because we have a non-disclosure, but I can tell you that no one else in the world has done a Haunted House like what we’re going to present. Everything is custom. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.