”These are my people,” is what Rick Baker says shortly after being introduced to the Comic-Con crowd attending his panel. Certainly no better way to ingratiate yourself with these fanboys and horror nuts, but then again, Mr. Baker doesn't exactly have to. He's horror movie royalty – in fact, he's just movie royalty in general. Not many people can lay claim to having won seven Oscars and changing the face (pun intended ) of cinematic make-up. Baker can.
The panel was more or less a chat with the genial effects wiz about his career and thoughts about the ever-changing landscape of the way visual effects are created. The crowd was shown a mini-retrospective on the man's work, which ranges from AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON to THE NUTTY PROFESSOR to THE WOLFMAN. A special treat was in store, however. Included in the video was a brief glimpse of MEN IN BLACK 3's sets and aliens, all of which were quite cool and very 60s. Seeing the aliens, I was struck by how retro the look, harkening back to the days of “Star Trek” and “Lost in Space”. Jemaine Clement (of “Flight of the Conchords” fame) plays the villain, Boris, and he in particular looks like a refugee from a classic “Trek” episode – if crossed with a biker (he seems to be wearing goggles, but the lenses are actually stuck in his eyesockets). Baker noted that he wanted on the first film to create these retro-type aliens, but was rebuffed by director Barry Sonnenfeld. Now, thanks to the fact that a good portion of MEN IN BLACK 3 takes place in 1969, he's gotten the chance to envision these swingin' extraterrestrials.
”Wouldn't it be cool in 1969 to have retro aliens? Big brains, big bug eyes and stuff? Stuff like I wanted to do in the other movies. They should be totally different, a totally retro feel. And they agreed to it, thank god, and so I got to make a whole bunch of cool stuff.”
Baker also took a crack at the film's notorious production delays. “We're still waiting to see what the script for Men in Black 3 is,” Baker joked. “I probably shouldn't have said that.”
When the topic of CGI came up, Baker seemed to embrace the tool, but he was also quite clear on making it known that he's a practical effects man all the way.“I actually embrace the technology,” Baker said about his digital competition. “For twenty two years now I've been doing my designs on the computer. I got photoshop 1.0 and have been using that ever since.”
”I'm all for using any trick in the book, in your bag of tricks,” Baker went on to say. “The computer is another great tool. When it's used properly. With make-up, it's still an option, having something on the set, on the day, is still an option. I hope that day never disappears. Something I say all the time as well is, a really good actor in really good make-up, and they're looking in the mirror... They're seeing a different face. They know now what that character is. I've known that from the first time I made myself up.”
”When you have a guy in a motion-capture suit, I don't think you're going to get the same performance out of him as you are when he looks in the mirror and he knows what he is.”
Understandably, that last quote roused the audience into a fit of applause.
When asked about what his biggest challenge on a film has been, Baker explained that it's everything but the fantastical aliens in the MEN IN BLACK flicks. “People tend to think that something like Men in Black would be a challenge, which it is. The biggest challenge on Men in Black is trying to come up with aliens we haven't seen many times, but aliens are actually easier to do than human make-up. The Nutty Professor, for example, those make-ups are so much harder to pull off than any alien we did in Men In Black. Good old-age make-up is really hard to pull off. I try not to do those jobs sometimes because it's hard to win. People just don't buy it, because you see human faces every day, you're much more critical of it. Any film where I had some human-type make-up, those were more challenging, actually.”
A challenge he can obviously handle...