PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — When Christina Kortum was 20, she never would have imagined that she’d have a lucrative career in special effects makeup and prop-making. Now with her 50th birthday around the corner, she can look back on all of the experiences that have marked her 30 years in the industry.

Thanks to movies like Star Wars, Kortum grew up interested in makeup and movies, but she didn’t know that that industry was accessible to her. She went on to study at San Jose State University, where in her college years, she became heavily involved with haunted houses. 

One night, she was walking through a haunted house wearing the same costume and makeup that she sported at an office party. A security guard directed her to “go back to where she was supposed to go” because he mistook her for one of the actors in the haunted house. “Your makeup and costume are so good we thought you worked here,” she recalled the security guard saying.

“And he goes, ‘Do you want to work here?’ And I was like, ‘Uh, is that a thing?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, come back tomorrow night.’ So I did and I was completely hooked,” Kortum said.

Despite graduating from SJSU with a creative arts degree, she ended up in the technical field.

“It was a great time to be in the IT and technical fields back in the early 2000s. The San Francisco Bay Area was booming when it came to tech jobs,” she said. “But I had this background in art. I volunteered at the computer lab in college. So that’s where I started to realize, ‘oh, I can do computer stuff through art.’ I could finally come back to it, but it was hard.”

For years, working at haunted houses every October was her main creative outlet. She’d be working in IT by day, and a creative special effects makeup artist by night.

It wasn’t until she moved from California to Portland that she realized she could combine her two worlds, and eventually Ravenous Studios was born.

“So it was really the first time that I realized you could have a job that you just absolutely love because you were able to bounce between the two sides of your brain, and I just jumped in full force,” she said.

Since her big leap of faith, Kortum has contributed to big projects such as NBC’s Grimm, Netflix’s Everything Sucks! and the promotional campaign for American Horror Story: Double Feature that was awarded by the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild earlier this year.

“I worked with some amazing people on that commercial. That is actually one of the highlight reels,” she said. “It’s kind of like a ‘pinch me moment’ when you’ve grown up watching these things, and then you’re actually there and you’re like, ‘Whew, I’m part of this.’”

One of Kortum’s mentors is who told her about the opportunity to work on the AHS campaign. She thinks mentors are especially important for people working in smaller towns or markets because it can be isolating.

“There’s all this baggage that comes when you try to do something creative. A lot of people have opinions about how you should do it, why you should do it. It can be almost deafening to a young artist,” she said. “My advice to any artist wanting to get into this is go to it and learn what you love.”

Decades after Kortum’s initial introduction to haunted houses, she is still contributing to each Halloween season. Portlanders can see some of her work at the city’s Underhill Haunted House.