Rick Baker is not a movie star, but his work on camera has earned him as much (if not more) acclaim as many of the biggest actors in the world. He’s a man who managed to become a household name among movie lovers not for acting or directing or even writing, but for making monsters with his own two hands.
In more than four decades of work as a special makeup effects artist, Baker crafted some of the most iconic images in the history of science fiction, fantasy, and horror cinema, some of them so realistic you’d swear a werewolf was about to reach through the screen. He holds the record for most Oscar nominations (12) and wins (7) in his field, and he’s far from the only great artist in it. He’s an absolutely towering figure in modern movie history, and now he’s closing the creature shop.
In an interview this week with California radio station KPCC Baker announced that he’s retiring from makeup effects work in motion pictures.
“I said the time is right, I am 64 years old, and the business is crazy right now. I like to do things right, and they wanted cheap and fast. That is not what I want to do, so I just decided it is basically time to get out. I would consider designing and consulting on something, but I don’t think I will have a huge working studio anymore.”
Baker’s love of makeup effects began early, when he started building his own fake body parts and masks as a teenager. Eventually, he reached out to his industry idol, fellow legend Dick Smith, and became a kind of apprentice to the artist. Baker’s big break was working as Smith’s assistant to create the incredible demon effects in The Exorcist. From there, the hits just kept coming. Baker built the suit for the title character in the 1976 remake of King Kong, and actually ended up playing the character himself. He provided the many special makeup effects in Michael Jackson’s legendary video for “Thriller.” He made gorilla suits for Gorillas in the Mist so lifelike that audiences couldn’t tell them apart from the real thing. He brought aliens to life for Men in Black, revived a classic franchise in Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes (pretty much the only good part of that movie), completely transformed Jim Carrey in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and helped bring a superhero to life in Hellboy. Oh, and for what might still be his crown jewel, he created the greatest werewolf transformation sequence ever committed to film for An American Werewolf in London.
So, why stop now? Well, maybe it just felt right, but part of it is definitely the changing special effects business. Increasingly sophisticated computer effects unfortunately mean less demand for the kind of work Baker does. In recent years, he shut down his once bustling California workshop because the work he was being asked to do simply kept shrinking.
“The building was great when I was doing How the Grinch Stole Christmas, or Planet of the Apes, but the industry has changed. Big make-up films don’t seem to exist anymore, and I was hoping that something would come along. I did Men in Black 3, which was good for that, but the last film I did was Maleficent and I could’ve done that in a garage basically.”
So, Baker’s moving on. He’s set up an online auction for the many props, masks, and other artifacts he kept from his work over the years, and though he won’t be making monsters for movies anymore, he’s definitely still creating.
“I do all kind of crazy things. I paint, I sculpt, and I do digital models. This part of my life now I am basically retiring from the film industry and looking forward to just doing what I want to do.”
So, we’ve just seen one of Hollywood’s great artists end his career on his terms, and while it’s sad that we’ll probably never see another new Rick Baker makeup effect again, it’s nice to know he got to do it his way.
I want you all to know that I will continue creating for as long as I am able to. I am excited for this new chapter of my life.— Rick Baker (@TheRickBaker) May 29, 2015