Special Effects Makeup Artist. Nationality: American. Born: Binghamton, New York, 1950. Family: Married Elaine Parkyn, 1974. Career: Worked for the TV production company Art Cloakey Productions, then for Dick Smith; also worked on music videos, including Michael Jackson's Thriller ; established Cinovation Studios, 1993. Awards: Emmy Award, for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman , 1974; Academy Award, for An American Werewolf in London , 1981, Harry and the Hendersons , 1987, Ed Wood , 1994, The Nutty Professor , 1996, and Men in Black , 1997; British Academy Award, for Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes , 1983, and The Nutty Professor , 1996.
The Thing with Two Heads (Frost) (+ ro as policeman)
Live and Let Die (Hamilton); Black Caesar (Cohen)
It's Alive (Cohen); The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (Korty—for TV)
Death Race 2000 (Bartel)
King Kong (Guillermin) (+ title ro); Zebra Force (Tornatore); Track of the Moon Beast (Ashe); Food of the Gods (B. Gordon)
Incredible Melting Man (Sachs)
The Fury (De Palma); It Lives Again (Cohen)
An American Christmas Carol (Till)
The Howling (Dante) (consultant only); Tanya's Island (Sole)
Funhouse (Hooper); Incredible Shrinking Woman (Schumacher) (+ ro as Sidney); An American Werewolf in London (Landis)
Videodrome (Cronenberg); Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (Hudson); Thriller (Landis) (+ ro as zombie)
Cocoon (R. Howard) (as consultant); Into the Night (Landis); My Science Project (Betuel); Teen Wolf (Daniel)
Max mon amour ( Max, My Love ) (Oshima) (as chimp consultant); Ratboy (Locke); Captain Eo (Coppola)
Harry and the Hendersons (Dear) (monster designer); It's Alive III: Island of the Alive (Cohen); Beauty and the Beast (Franklin—for TV)
Coming to America (Landis); Gorillas in the Mist (Apted) (+ assoc producer)
Missing Link (Hughes)
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (Dante) (co-pr)
The Rocketeer (Johnston)
Lorenzo's Oil (Miller)
Body Bags (Carpenter—for TV)
Wolf (Nichols); Baby's Day Out (Johnson); Ed Wood (Burton)
Batman Forever (Schumacher)
The Nutty Professor (Shadyac)
Escape from L.A. (Carpenter)
Men in Black (Sonnenfeld)
Critical Care (Lumet); Mighty Joe Young (Underwood)
Life (Demme); Wild Wild West (Sonnenfeld)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Howard); Nutty II: The Klumps ( Segal)
The Visitor (Burton)
Octaman (Essex—for TV) (designer of Octaman costume)
The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant (Lanza) (designer of gorilla suit)
The Exorcist (Friedkin) (asst)
Squirm (Lieberman) (design)
Star Wars (Lucas) (sequence supervisor) (+ ro as Hem Dazon)
The Santa Clause (Pasquin) (exec pr)
The Frighteners (Jackson) (designer of The Judge)
Batman and Robin (Schumaker) (designer of Nora Fries and copsicles); The Devil's Advocate (Hackford) (designer: demons)
Psycho (Van Sant) (designer: Mrs. Bates)
Closeup (Little Neck, New York), no. 3, 1977.
Cinefantastique (New York), Spring 1978.
Starburst (London), October 1982.
American Cinematographer (Hollywood), June 1994.
Écran Fantastique (Neuilly), September 1996.
Écran Fantastique (Paris), no. 24, 1978.
Taylor, Al, and Sue Roy, in Making a Monster , New York, 1980.
Cinefantastique (New York), February 1982.
"Baker Issue" of Cinefex (Riverside, California), April 1982.
Cinefantastique (New York), July/August 1982.
Écran Fantastique (Paris), October 1984.
Segnocinema (Vicenza), vol. 6, no. 21, January 1986.
Cinefex (Riverside), May 1991.
Cinefex (Riverside), December 1994.
Cinefex (Riverside), September 1996.
Écran Fantastique (Neuilly), September 1996.
Current Biography , vol. 58, no. 3, March 1997.
Cinefex (Riverside), June 1997.
American Cinematographer (Hollywood), June 1997.
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If Dick Smith began the family of contemporary special makeup effects artists, Rick Baker is his eldest and most successful son. His early experiments with simple cosmetics apparently set the stage for the complex prosthetic appliances and creatures he would later design and create. Even though experienced enough at a young age to achieve professional results on shoestring budgets, his collaboration with Dick Smith on The Exorcist and his Emmy Award for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman began Baker's rise to the top of his field.
Working in all genres, Baker excels at designing anthropomorphic creatures (the mutant killer babies of the It's Alive series, the cantina sequence aliens of Star Wars , Bigfoot in Harry and the Hendersons , the zombies of Thriller , the aliens in Men in Black , the Grinch), deformed humans (The Thing with Two Heads , The Incredible Melting Man , Ratboy , the geek in Funhouse , the beast of Beauty and the Beast , the judge in The Frighteners , the plastic surgery citizens of Beverly Hills in Escape from L.A. ), and animals. In fact, one could argue that he "specializes" in creating animals. His apes (The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant; King Kong ; Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan , Lord of the Apes ; Gorillas in the Mist ; Missing Link; Mighty Joe Young ) impress and wholly convince because the smallest "human" gestures and facial expressions carry through the layers of makeup. His werewolves (The Howling , An American Werewolf in London , Teen Wolf , Wolf ) frighten and disturb not simply because they are grotesque, but because they too convey a human agony.
An expert at combining mechanized appliances with masks, body suits, and cosmetics, Baker brought to life some of the most impressive special effects of the pre-digital effects era (before 1990). His full-body, on-screen transformations of The Howling , An American Werewolf in London , Starman , and Videodrome advanced the ability of film to graphically visualize metamorphoses without dissolves, mattes, stop-motion photography, or digital technology. Hydraulic devices implanted underneath an actor's makeup could alter any part of the human anatomy. The lengthy and detailed presentations of lycanthropic change in The Howling and An American Werewolf in London included extending fingers and legs, expanding torsos and faces, and growing fangs, claws, and hair. Starman employed the same techniques to show a new-born infant instantly growing into an adult male. These narratively grounded transformations yielded to pure hallucinations in Videodrome. The inorganic and the organic freely swap places: a television set becomes a lump of eroticized flesh and the protagonist's hand mutates into a living gun. These groundbreaking techniques set an industry standard—until digital effects supplanted them.
When digital effects became the dominant technology for rendering on-screen transformations, making Baker's mechanized appliances obsolete, Baker returned to more "conservative" cosmetic applications. Stating that how makeup looks proves more important than how it is done, he eschewed the very technology he propagated and moved towards a more "human" emphasis. In this way, Baker's recent award-winning work seems almost a homage to Jack Pierce and the Westmores. In Coming to America , The Nutty Professor , and Nutty II: The Klumps , Baker transformed Eddie Murphy into a number of eccentric characters; each one accomplished through "traditional" techniques employing full body and facial prosthetics. In Gorillas in the Mist , Missing Link , and Mighty Joe Young , Baker constructed ape suits and masks so flexible and responsive to the human form that, anecdotally, many viewers failed to realize they were watching actors playing apes. In Wolf , his makeup for Jack Nicholson and James Spader was actually subtle given its topic. Instead of on-screen, fully body werewolf metamorphoses, Baker showed isolated specifics: a hirsute palm, a pointed ear, a toothy smile, and most effectively, lupine eyes. The werewolf contact lenses he designed created a just noticeable distortion of pupil shape and color. In Ed Wood , Baker changed Martin Landau into Bela Lugosi and in Wild Wild West he created Kevin Kline's disguises by updating classical cosmetic techniques. Some of Baker's most accomplished recent work focuses on depicting the aged human body: Eddie Murphy becomes his own grandmother in The Nutty Professor and Nutty II: The Klumps ; Albert Brooks plays an ld doctor in Critical Care ; Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy turn into 90-year-olds during the course of Life. In all these examples, the makeup (whether prosthetic or cosmetic) does not draw attention to itself; it appears highly naturalistic.
Although Baker creates his effects without relying on digital technology, he does not retreat from it. Whatever the required effect, Baker and his Cinovation Studios crew will utilize any and all means to accomplish it. Combining models, puppets, and makeup with digital effects, Baker created an amazing menagerie of aliens for Men in Black. Mighty Joe Young employed the same combination of techniques and added to the mix actors in full gorilla costumes. The Nutty Professor and Nutty II: The Klumps used computer technology to depict rapid on-screen transformations between Buddy Love and Professor Klump. In Wild Wild West , Kenneth Branaugh's legs were digitally "amputated" to make his Dr. Loveless even more sinister. For Life , digital imaging aided the design of Murphy and Martin's prosthetic makeup.
Baker's five Oscars for special makeup effects (including the first one ever awarded by the Academy in 1981) place him as one of Hollywood's top production artists. His ability to utilize prosthetic technology, traditional cosmetics, puppets, mechanical appliances, and digital effects should keep Rick Baker in demand in a field which mutates as quickly as some of his own creations.
—Greg S. Faller