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.

Rick Baker

What was your reaction to the film?

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

It’s very common to hear filmmakers who are doing remakes talk about “no, we really didn’t 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 you’re describing, has this approach where you’re 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 be—you know when I first read the script it read like a CGI werewolf movie. But I couldn’t help myself putting my two bits in saying, “It’s 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 who’s pure at heart…” thing because at one point that wasn’t going to happen, but it’s like “you gotta put that in there.” And that’s coming from—I’m a fanboy. That’s the stuff that made me do what I do. And I wanted to be true to the Jack Pierce makeup but still modernize it. I’m really happy the way it turned out; it’s 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 you’d 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; one’s very Lon Chaney Jr. where he’s 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, there’s 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 that’s 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, there’s that shot with his mouth wide open and people thought things like it was digitally enhanced. But that’s 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 don’t even open up, there’s no way you can bite somebody, but with these you could.

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

It’s a collaboration, so there’s 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 wasn’t sure what he wanted. Benicio wanted Lon Chaney Jr. Which was good but I didn’t 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, “I’m not going to give the other guy a choice. I’m just going to make what I think the Wolfman should be. He’s going to have live with it because we’re out of time now.” This was two weeks before filming.

As a fanboy and growing up on this stuff, obviously it’s 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 I’m a little disappointed about at this point is the transformation. Because we made some stuff and didn’t shoot it. And I’m still pushing for getting more involved in it, even if it’s CG. I like to do CG for fun myself. I think it’s a continuation of my design. I’ve 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 there’s 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, there’s a bit of a backlash to it. I embrace the technology, it’s really nice to be able to do things we can’t do. There’s a limit to what I can do with make up or animatronics. Like I just saw in Batman, it’s cool that you can actually take his face [for Two Face]. We couldn’t have done that, but I don’t think it’s the answer to everything. It’s an amazing tool but it’s only as good as the artist behind it. That’s 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?

That’s the problem too. One thing with the transformation in this movie—in ‘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 you’ve got Benicio Del Toro, who’s practically a f*cking Wolfman anyways, and then Benicio with a little bit of hair on him. We didn’t have this far to go. I said, I don’t know how—to be honest—I don’t know how to do this transformation. I don’t 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 don’t know what they’re 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, it’s much more about a man who is kind of a wolf than an actual wolf.

Yeah, he’s not a four legged thing. Yeah, he’s 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 don’t know yet, we haven’t done anything. Nothing’s happened.

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

Well, it’s 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 it’s 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 guy’s nose off. That was really cool.

Do you intend to go into CG as well?

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

What about directing?

Like I said, I think I’m the one person in Hollywood who doesn’t want to. I have seen how you can’t really direct a movie. I’ve seen people who are really established directors who can’t do what they want to do. I don’t need the headaches. All movies. They’re filmed by a committee. They’re decisioned by a committee. Like I said, I had a thousand designs, because you’ve got an army of producers who have suggestions too. ‘Why don’t you put big monkey ears on him?’ Because he’s the Wolfman, that’s why. It’s a stupid idea. ‘Well, put big monkey ears on him and let’s 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 Frankenstein’s laboratory pretty much recreated, and that’s where I shot a lot of the Monster Mash and live action stuff.

What if they offered you to direct?

I don’t know, I don’t think so. If they said, ‘Here’s a pile of money. Give us a film, we’re gonna have nothing to say,’ then I’d be more interested. I’m never going to direct. It’s said……you got people who……you know what, I won’t go there, never mind.

Source: AITH

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