At Six Flags Great Adventure, fall has been synonymous with Fright Fest and its cutting-edge, movie-quality zombies for nearly 30 years. Gifted special effects artists and bold, in-your-face scare actors and have transformed autumn into a popular season of terror without the use of masks – instead utilizing elaborate air brush makeup, custom prosthetics, and intricate hand painting. Although the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily sidelined the theme park’s iconic Fright Fest, park management was determined to maintain the world-class look of its zombies during its new HALLOWFEST event while protecting the health and safety of its artistic team, scare actors, and guests. Six Flags Special Effects Makeup Supervisor Andrea Kovalik met the challenge by putting a new twist on an old Halloween tradition.
Kovalik may not have had the “typical” childhood. Raised in family where Halloween was a passion and way of life, Kovalik’s parents transformed their Jackson, NJ home into a haunted house each fall, complete with an indoor graveyard and skeletons rigged on pulleys. But when they brought her to Six Flags Fright Fest for the first time, four-year-old Kovalik was terrified of the scare actors playing zombies. To help calm her fears, Kovalik’s father dressed her like a zombie and brought her back to the theme park. The plan worked.
Under the watchful eye of her parents, she roamed the midways in full costume and makeup, often scaring guests. While girls her age were dressed as fairytale princesses, Kovalik clutched a plastic severed leg and preferred a darker look with hallowed eyes and bloody boils. She became a regular fixture at Fright Fest each year.
By the time she turned 12, Kovalik had begun applying her own makeup. Her skills evolved quickly and her look took a dramatic turn – with razor blades and safety pins seemingly lodged into her skin, and the illusion of a zipper splitting her face in two. She even drooled blood from edible capsules down her frilly, dirt stained, white dress.
It was no surprise when Kovalik became an official Fright Fest scare actor at age 17. In a backbend, she walked on all fours, growled, howled, and delivered memorable moments of terror for thousands of guests. But her talents pulled her in a different direction – into the special effects makeup room.
At the age of 20 with obvious talent but no formal training, Kovalik was invited to join Six Flags’ special effects makeup team. Her first supervisor introduced her to the basics of air brush makeup. For the next five years, she was committed to developing her craft through self-education and experimentation. In 2019, Kovalik was promoted to special effects makeup supervisor, and designed and created her own prosthetics. This skill helped prepare her for the next challenge in 2020.
Due to the global pandemic, Six Flags introduced an extensive, new safety protocol to keep its guests and team members safe. This meant that the traditional, in-your-face Fright Fest would have to be temporarily replaced by a less amped, more eerie HALLOWFEST. With thermal scanning, touchless bag checking, social distancing, enhanced sanitization, and masks as key elements of the “new normal,” Kovalik, 27, was faced with the daunting task of maintaining Six Flags’ incredibly high standard of zombie artistry in a masked, COVID-19 world. She experimented with various ideas and materials until she landed on the perfect solution – a latex mask cover for a surgical mask that her artistic team could seamlessly blend with the rest of the actor’s face using their advanced airbrush and hand painting expertise.
“We knew that just wearing regular costume masks over surgical masks would destroy the quality of our product. We pride ourselves on the seamless, authentic ghoul look that we’ve created over the years,” Kovalik said. “Our new latex mask covers provide a covering for half the face, and we’re able to blend the mask into the rest of the face as seamlessly as possible. The end result maintains our high Six Flags standard, and some say the look is even scarier.”
Kovalik designed more than 40 different latex mask covers for 120 different HALLOWFEST characters. She created the masks from her own molds and sculptures, and hand painted each one. Ear loops from the medical mask slip through slits in the latex mask cover to keep it in place on the actor’s face. Both masks cover the actor’s nose and mouth. Each actor has their own latex mask cover that is sanitized daily. The medical mask is discarded after every use.
Kovalik’s team of eight artists wear protective masks, sanitize their makeup tools, and work outdoors. “Safety is always our top priority, and thanks to our new mask covers, we can deliver the same high-quality scare our guests expect while keeping everyone safe.”
Kovalik credits her job’s artistic freedom and her supportive team of artists for her mask cover invention. “My job gives me the freedom to create and bring my ideas to life. But the best part of my job is my team – we’re all so supportive of each other and each other’s art. I have my dream job, and it’s changed my life,” she said.
HALLOWFEST runs weekends and select days until Nov. 1. It features “Thrills by Day” and “Chills by Night” with 16 different Halloween-themed attractions plus the park’s world-class thrill rides. For more information, visit www.sixflags.com/greatadventure Reservations and advance tickets are required and available at www.sixflags.com/reserve. Most HALLOWFEST activities are included with park admission, active Memberships and Season Passes. Chills By Night begins at 6 p.m. and is not recommended for children under 12 and those who scare easily.