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CON: Rick Baker INT

Aug. 1, 2008by: Johnny Moreno

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.

Rick Baker

What was your reaction to the film?

Its so hard working on the movie for me to tell what its going to be like. But Id see dailies everyday and get really excited. Just when were there filming its really exciting. The most exciting part I think was we actually filmed stuff in a gypsy camp, on location in the woods. And theres like twenty really cool gypsy wagons, we had all these Romanian people dressed as gypsies, villagers with torches and pitchforks. Its like wow, were in a Wolfman movie, 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. Its 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 its a translucent material and you can get a nice flesh color and fleshy feel but since the Wolfman is dark, its harder to lay on silicone. So its pretty old school, its foam rubber and acrylic teeth and yak hair.

Its very common to hear filmmakers who are doing remakes talk about no, we really didnt refer to the original film that much. But it sounds like Benicio Del Toro was certainly watching the original films and it seems like he, from what youre describing, has this approach where youre 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 beyou know when I first read the script it read like a CGI werewolf movie. But I couldnt help myself putting my two bits in saying, Its 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. Even a man whos pure at heart thing because at one point that wasnt going to happen, but its like you gotta put that in there. And thats coming fromIm a fanboy. Thats the stuff that made me do what I do. And I wanted to be true to the Jack Pierce makeup but still modernize it. Im really happy the way it turned out; its 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 youd 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; ones very Lon Chaney Jr. where hes 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, theres 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 thats how I learned makeup. And I like it (laughs), I want to be Wolfman before Benicio. 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. Ya see Benicio, he can open his mouth wider than any normal human can. The pictures that were released on the internet pretty early on, theres that shot with his mouth wide open and people thought things like it was digitally enhanced. But thats 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 dont even open up, theres no way you can bite somebody, but with these you could.

Do you have much say in the movement? Because in the clip hes running through the woods kind of hunched over, do you have a say in that or is that Joe Johnstons direction?

Its a collaboration, so theres 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 wasnt sure what he wanted. Benicio wanted Lon Chaney Jr. Which was good but I didnt 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, Im not going to give the other guy a choice. Im just going to make what I think the Wolfman should be. Hes going to have live with it because were out of time now. This was two weeks before filming.

As a fanboy and growing up on this stuff, obviously its 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 Im a little disappointed about at this point is the transformation. Because we made some stuff and didnt shoot it. And Im still pushing for getting more involved in it, even if its CG. I like to do CG for fun myself. I think its a continuation of my design. Ive 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 theres 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, theres a bit of a backlash to it. I embrace the technology, its really nice to be able to do things we cant do. Theres a limit to what I can do with make up or animatronics. Like I just saw in Batman, its cool that you can actually take his face [for Two Face]. We couldnt have done that, but I dont think its the answer to everything. Its an amazing tool but its only as good as the artist behind it. Thats 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?

Thats the problem too. One thing with the transformation in this moviein Werewolf, 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 youve got Benicio Del Toro, whos practically a f*cking Wolfman anyways, and then Benicio with a little bit of hair on him. We didnt have this far to go. I said, I dont know howto be honestI dont know how to do this transformation. I dont know how we make it An American Werewolf in London 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 dont know what theyre going to end up doing. In Werewolf the transformation was a big showcase, and I think the showcase in here is the performance of the actors and the make up.

So, its much more about a man who is kind of a wolf than an actual wolf.

Yeah, hes not a four legged thing. Yeah, hes 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 Werewolf and The Howling 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 dont know yet, we havent done anything. Nothings happened.

How do you see the future of make up? Do you think itll remain old school? Is the technology jumping forward?

Well, its 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 its 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 guys nose off. That was really cool.

Do you intend to go into CG as well?

You know, Im reaching the end of my career and I dont want to have to restart another business. I dont 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 dont 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. Whats 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. Im not a big gore hound but monster gore is different to me than killing a teenager in any way that you can and Im not lecturing any person who does it. I dont know how I rationalize that but it seems different to me. I dont 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 its going to end up in the movie, I dont know yet. I think thats Universals decision of whether its 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. Im gonna take some time off. Ive gotten to a point in my life, where I dont know wanna be a slave to my business and I want to do the things I want to do. So, Im just waiting for something to come along that makes me want to do it.

What about directing?

Like I said, I think Im the one person in Hollywood who doesnt want to. I have seen how you cant really direct a movie. Ive seen people who are really established directors who cant do what they want to do. I dont need the headaches. All movies. Theyre filmed by a committee. Theyre decisioned by a committee. Like I said, I had a thousand designs, because youve got an army of producers who have suggestions too. Why dont you put big monkey ears on him? Because hes the Wolfman, thats why. Its a stupid idea. Well, put big monkey ears on him and lets just see it.

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 Frankensteins laboratory pretty much recreated, and thats where I shot a lot of the Monster Mash and live action stuff.

What if they offered you to direct?

I dont know, I dont think so. If they said, Heres a pile of money. Give us a film, were gonna have nothing to say, then Id be more interested. Im never going to direct. Its saidyou got people whoyou know what, I wont go there, never mind.



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9:06AM on 08/01/2008
Mad props to Rick Baker. I've been a fan of his work since I saw An American Werewolf In London" back in the early 80's. Lately he's been doing some quality Z-Brush work!
Mad props to Rick Baker. I've been a fan of his work since I saw An American Werewolf In London" back in the early 80's. Lately he's been doing some quality Z-Brush work!
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