HURRICANE, W.Va. -- The inside of Dale Morton Studio Mascot Costumes in Hurricane is the kind of place you'd want to get lost in if you were a child. Hanging along the wall in one room is a collection of full-body suits with a shelf full of matching masks. You could be just about anything here: a tiger, a reindeer, a robot.
Morton's has it all.
For the past 20 years, the 43-year-old designer and costume maker has made the kinds of costumes seen in television commercials, at store openings and at ballparks and stadiums around the country.
He's made costumes for schools and businesses big and small. Morton makes the mascot costumes for Dick's Last Resort, a deliberately downscale restaurant chain where the wait staff is intentionally obnoxious. The chain has 11 locations around the country. He also made a robot mascot for film producer and director George Lucas' company THX.
Locally, Morton made the costumes for Charleston Area Medical Center's campaign featuring toddlers in animal costumes.
"That was a really great experience," he said. "They matched up the personalities of the kids with the costumes. It was just amazing to be part of that."
However, he didn't have anything to do with the mascots for the West Virginia Power.
Morton shrugged. You win some, you lose some. Besides, most of the work he gets comes from out of state.
Costumes and make believe have been close to Morton's heart for almost as long as he can remember. Growing up in the late 1970s and '80s, he was fascinated with movie makeup and special effects. He loved science fiction, horror and fantasy films.
"You used to be able to get magazines like Fangoria and Starlog," he said. "These were movie magazines about horror and science fiction. They'd have a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff, including occasional tips on how filmmakers made their costumes."
By the mid-1980s, Morton had started doing his own makeup for Halloween and special occasions. He also got involved in theater productions around Charleston and began making masks.
"I picked up what I could and I taught myself." He added, "And I had a lot of practice."
He also spent a lot of time in and out of Magic Makers, a costume shop in Huntington where he bought supplies. Morton got to know the owners and wound up working for them from 1991 to 1993.
While working for Magic Makers, he taught himself how to sculpt and how to make molds to create the oversized heads frequently used in mascot costumes.
In 1993, Morton left Magic Makers to pursue an education, while still occasionally making mascot heads on a contract basis for the shop. Morton studied at West Virginia State University and Marshall University and tried his hand at a couple of other jobs before going back to making costumes full time.
In 2000, he married, and then decided to go into business on his own. In 2001, he opened his first shop in Hurricane. In July, he moved to a new location, in an old house just a couple of blocks away.