CON: Rick Baker INT
American Werewolf in London. Planet of the Apes. The Howling. Michael Jackson's Thriller. The Nutty Professor. The list goes on and on. Great man Rick Baker has been doing make up longer than most of us have been alive, which I'm sure he's thrilled to hear. But if there's a go to guy in the business for changing a black guy into a white guy, making Eddie Murphy fat or changing Benicio Del Toro into the Wolf Man (which shouldn't be hard), Rick Baker's your guy. It was cool to sit down and chat about his craft, how technology effects his line of work and whether or not he'll make the leap from make up to directing his own feature film. Rick was totally cool and I found a new respect for him as a man, due to his openness on talking about the movie making business.
What was your reaction to the film?
Itís so hard working on the movie for me to tell what itís going to be like. But Iíd see dailies everyday and get really excited. Just when weíre there filming itís really exciting. The most exciting part I think was we actually filmed stuff in a gypsy camp, on location in the woods. And thereís like twenty really cool gypsy wagons, we had all these Romanian people dressed as gypsies, villagers with torches and pitchforks. Itís like Ďwow, weíre in a Wolfman movie,Ē it was really cool.
How has the makeup technology-the process of changed over the years? How is that reflected in this movie?
The process has changed and the materials have changed a lot but not so much on this movie. I was very old school with this. Itís yak hair glued onto his face and a rubber nose. And it was even foam rubber, you know. Most of the time now we do things out of silicone which the advantage of that is itís a translucent material and you can get a nice flesh color and fleshy feel but since the Wolfman is dark, itís harder to lay on silicone. So itís pretty old school, itís foam rubber and acrylic teeth and yak hair.
Itís very common to hear filmmakers who are doing remakes talk about ďno, we really didnít refer to the original film that much.Ē But it sounds like Benicio Del Toro was certainly watching the original films and it seems like he, from what youíre describing, has this approach where youíre trying to be reverent and referential to the original films.
Can you discuss that approach?
I was just glad that this was there kind of take on the movie as well. I was really worried it was going to beóyou know when I first read the script it read like a CGI werewolf movie. But I couldnít help myself putting my two bits in saying, ďItís the Wolfman! It should be a guy in make up. There should be fog and there should be villagers and torches and there should be the poem in there. ĒEven a man whoís pure at heartÖĒ thing because at one point that wasnít going to happen, but itís like ďyou gotta put that in there.Ē And thatís coming fromóIím a fanboy. Thatís the stuff that made me do what I do. And I wanted to be true to the Jack Pierce makeup but still modernize it. Iím really happy the way it turned out; itís a very old school, gothic horror movie.
And it stays true to the mythology of the character?
Very much so, yeah.
Does the movement of the character change the design or restrict you in some ways of how youíd like the costume to look?
We can kind of limit that by what we do. We saw the feet [from the panel], we actually had leg extensions for some of the stuff. We had a couple of different feet we did; oneís very Lon Chaney Jr. where heís on the balls of his feet but we actually extended the pads on his foot so it has much more of a gothic feel. The problem was, as you saw, thereís a lot of running through the woods and at pretty high speed.
On this film and almost everything I do, I usually do a version to fit me first. Try the stuff out on myself, because thatís how I learned makeup. And I like it (laughs), ďI want to be Wolfman before Benicio.Ē So I do the makeup on myself and shot some stuff, and part of it was to convince them that this was the way to do it.
How do you look?
Much better than I do now. Yaí see Benicio, he can open his mouth wider than any normal human can. The pictures that were released on the internet pretty early on, thereís that shot with his mouth wide open and people thought things like it was digitally enhanced. But thatís his mouth opened that wide. The teeth are a lot bigger than what Lon Chaney had. These are built to tear up people and do some horrible things, so we had to get him a bigger set of teeth. What happens a lot of times when you put big canines on a monster and it opens its mouth and the canines donít even open up, thereís no way you can bite somebody, but with these you could.
Do you have much say in the movement? Because in the clip heís running through the woods kind of hunched over, do you have a say in that or is that Joe Johnstonís direction?
Itís a collaboration, so thereís a lot of people involved in the final decision.
Did you use ZBrush to design early on?
I did, yeah, I used some ZBrush initially. Funny thing was, the movie started off with a different director and he wasnít sure what he wanted. Benicio wanted Lon Chaney Jr. Which was good but I didnít want to just copy the make up of Wolfman, but I wanted to stay very true to it.
But I did thousands of designs. The very first design was Benny as Lon Chaney Jr. Wolfman. The second is what Wolfman is. But it took thousands of designs and the director finally leaving the picture to go back and say, ďIím not going to give the other guy a choice. Iím just going to make what I think the Wolfman should be. Heís going to have live with it because weíre out of time now.Ē This was two weeks before filming.
As a fanboy and growing up on this stuff, obviously itís a big undertaking to tackle a character like the Wolfman, is there anything you that you got to do that you really wanted to do?
The one thing that Iím a little disappointed about at this point is the transformation. Because we made some stuff and didnít shoot it. And Iím still pushing for getting more involved in it, even if itís CG. I like to do CG for fun myself. I think itís a continuation of my design. Iíve seen these films and wish I did more of it. I do a lot of stuff with Eddie Murphy, fat people and make up that is really hard to do. But I want to make monster movies, ya know?
Seems like thereís almost a ground swell of filmmakers who are pushing back at CGI and it was heavily embraced for the past 10 years. Do you sense that happening at all?
A little bit, thereís a bit of a backlash to it. I embrace the technology, itís really nice to be able to do things we canít do. Thereís a limit to what I can do with make up or animatronics. Like I just saw in Batman, itís cool that you can actually take his face [for Two Face]. We couldnít have done that, but I donít think itís the answer to everything. Itís an amazing tool but itís only as good as the artist behind it. Thatís why you see some great CG stuff and some really shitty CG stuff.
American Werewolf [in London] is such a definitive werewolf transformation. How do you all these years later look at doing another? Do you reinvent it? Do you build off it?
Thatís the problem too. One thing with the transformation in this movieóin ĎWerewolfí, we had naked David Naughton, four legged hound from hell. There was a big span between. You had a whole body change and then change to this four legged thing. Here youíve got Benicio Del Toro, whoís practically a f*cking Wolfman anyways, and then Benicio with a little bit of hair on him. We didnít have this far to go. I said, I donít know howóto be honestóI donít know how to do this transformation. I donít know how we make it ĎAn American Werewolf in Londoní kind of thing out of this slight change. His nose is only this much longer and his teeth is a bit longer. We came up with some ideas that we threw out there but I donít know what theyíre going to end up doing. In ĎWerewolfí the transformation was a big showcase, and I think the showcase in here is the performance of the actors and the make up.
So, itís much more about a man who is kind of a wolf than an actual wolf.
Yeah, heís not a four legged thing. Yeah, heís feet get a bit more dog like and the hands grow claws. But also, how do you do it and try to make it original? After ĎWerewolfí and ĎThe Howlingí movies, how many times do we see stretchy faces and claws busting through and all that stuff?
Do you see that though, or is it mostly implied?
I donít know yet, we havenít done anything. Nothingís happened.
How do you see the future of make up? Do you think itíll remain old school? Is the technology jumping forward?
Well, itís changed a lot, like I said, in the materials, like with silicone and things. So we can do some very believable, very realistic things. I can be two feet away from somebody in make up and not even know.
The computer stuff is taking over part of our work and I think itís great to do things we cannot do. What we do is an additive process. To do Two-Face like they did in the movie where they can actually cut into his face is great. Or like the Harry Potter thing where they took the guyís nose off. That was really cool.
Do you intend to go into CG as well?
You know, Iím reaching the end of my career and I donít want to have to restart another business. I donít like the whole business aspect of it, I like making the shit. I do a lot of CG stuff for fun. I do a lot of things they do in animations. I donít know if you guys ever saw this, about 8 years ago, I did a Monster Mash video. I never got a chance to finish it but I got a whole band. Did you see Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman playing drums and the Bride? I did pretty good recreations of those characters in a rock band doing Monster Mash, just for fun.
The old Universal classics are heralded for their subtlety. Whatís your take on that? Did you also provide the guts for it?
Dave Elsee who worked with me did most of that stuff. I had mixed feelings on it. Iím not a big gore hound but monster gore is different to me than killing a teenager in any way that you can and Iím not lecturing any person who does it. I donít know how I rationalize that but it seems different to me. I donít know how this film is going to come out; I was actually surprised that they put as much gore stuff as they did. We definitely shot some gory stuff, but whether itís going to end up in the movie, I donít know yet. I think thatís Universalís decision of whether itís going to be an R or PG or whatever.
What else are you working on?
Nothing. I just finished, I just got back from England a week ago. Iím gonna take some time off. Iíve gotten to a point in my life, where I donít know wanna be a slave to my business and I want to do the things I want to do. So, Iím just waiting for something to come along that makes me want to do it.
What about directing?
Like I said, I think Iím the one person in Hollywood who doesnít want to. I have seen how you canít really direct a movie. Iíve seen people who are really established directors who canít do what they want to do. I donít need the headaches. All movies. Theyíre filmed by a committee. Theyíre decisioned by a committee. Like I said, I had a thousand designs, because youíve got an army of producers who have suggestions too. ĎWhy donít you put big monkey ears on him?í Because heís the Wolfman, thatís why. Itís a stupid idea. ĎWell, put big monkey ears on him and letís just see it.í
Is there another classic one you want to remake?
Frankenstein. That more than anything is what really made me want to do this. I have a Frankensteinís laboratory pretty much recreated, and thatís where I shot a lot of the Monster Mash and live action stuff.
What if they offered you to direct?
I donít know, I donít think so. If they said, ĎHereís a pile of money. Give us a film, weíre gonna have nothing to say,í then Iíd be more interested. Iím never going to direct. Itís saidÖÖyou got people whoÖÖyou know what, I wonít go there, never mind.