Rick Baker

Paramount Pictures

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An American Werewolf in London

There’s a reason that, 33 years after its release, John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London remains a gold standard in on-camera special effects. The detailed and inventive use of makeup and animatronics by Rick Baker and his team meticulously fashioned a transformative threat to one man’s body that proved to be enduringly terrifying and enthralling, not to mention a bit cheeky. While CGI and other digital techniques age remarkably quickly, the indexical standard of animatronics and makeup create an ever-convincing case for the relative permanence of older means for producing spectacle. It’s simply a different thing when the effect was genuinely there, on set, alongside the events and people filmed. Hollywood spectacle has changed dramatically over the past thirty years, and Rick Baker’s career is evidence of that, with his role behind the scenes increasingly combined with the work of digital engineers. Yet Baker has always embraced the opportunity to collaborate with other disciplines of special effects, from puppeteers to stop-motion animators to today’s armies of talented digital artists. So here is a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the only person to have won an Academy Award for Harry and the Hendersons.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

“Apes on Horses! Apes on Horses!” exclaims a giddy title from Badass Digest‘s Devin Faraci in an article about new Dawn of the Planet of the Apes photos being released into the wild. As he continues in his assessment of these new stills from the Fox marketing team, he calls out the fact that early footage never quite sold this new apes film, but these stills do. Their greatest achievement: a sense of realism not yet seen in any of the numerous attempts to bring the Planet of the Apes world to life. Even as impressive as Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was in 2011, there was still a bit of an uncanny valley gap with Caesar (played in motion capture by Andy Serkis). The most impressive CGI ape in that movie was the most exotic, an orangutan that didn’t quite get a lot of screentime. Most of the effort went into creating Caesar (and the film’s climactic battle on the Golden Gate bridge), and even he still had a bit of shine. This time though, the wizards of WETA  have absolutely created a photoreal group of apes that have increasingly human characteristics. Such as intricate facial expressions, emotional response and yes, the ability to ride horses and fire guns. It’s even more impressive a feat when you consider how far the craft of visual effects has come since the first Planet of the Apes film was released in 1968. It’s a history I’d like to explore for a moment in photos.

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IntroCostumeCameo

While some actors can’t even get their mail without being spotted, there are others with the exact opposite problem: costume actors. It’s strange that someone can play such iconic characters as the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man or Michael Myers and then completely go under our radar. For example, the following actors, mostly known for their costumed characters, have also appeared unmasked in other roles you might not have even noticed…

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coming to america club

Despite its arrival two years after the surprise success of ‘Crocodile’ Dundee, the similarly premised Coming to America hardly seemed like a knockoff. Sure it is also about a strange foreigner who visits New York City and experiences a comical culture clash, but the 1980s were actually so full of movies of this nature (see also Moscow on the Hudson, Splash, Brother From Another Planet, Big Business, both The Muppets and Jason Take Manhattan and maybe even Big, which along with ‘Crocodile’ Dundee II had just recently come out ahead of this), so it wasn’t a big deal. Besides, with Eddie Murphy at the peak of his career at the time there was no way this thing could fail. This weekend is the 25th anniversary of the release of Coming to America (specifically yesterday), and although a lot of obvious parts are dated (some of which actually make the movie funnier now), it remains a rather timeless metropolitan fairy tale. It’s still one of the top three Murphy comedies (the other two being Trading Places and Beverly Hills Cop, of course), features some amazing make-up work by Rick Baker that would be still be worthy of its Oscar nomination if done today, excellent African dance choreography from little known Paula Abdul and in recent years it provided tons more laughs via the meme in which any dialogue spoken by James Earl Jones is dubbed over scenes of Darth Vader. As ripe as the plot would seem for a remake, hopefully it […]

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As any of us who’ve dressed up as movie characters for Halloween know, it’s the distinctly designed roles that make for the most interesting costumes. Nobody is dressing up as Alex Cross or Aaron Cross this year — not because their movies weren’t popular, but because the characters don’t have a very recognizable look. Peruse the popular suits for sale and clever homemade ideas this year and you’ll find mostly characters who wouldn’t be what they are without the craftwork of costume designers and makeup artists. That’s why I consider theirs the Halloween categories at the Oscars. And yet, the best and most common outfits and frightening faces aren’t necessarily those that tend to be recognized by the Academy. This year’s list of popular movie-related costumes predominantly consists of superheroes, which has been the norm for a while, but there are even more timely examples represented now thanks to the The Avengers featuring so many masked and caped crusaders. Also, we had another movie starring the Caped Crusader. And while once again Linda Hemming will be nominated for a Costume Designers Guild Award for a Batman movie (she was nominated for Batman Begins and won for The Dark Knight), it’s very unlikely that The Dark Knight Rises will earn her a second Oscar nomination let alone win (she won her first time nominated, for Topsy-Turvy).

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31 Days of Horror - October 2011

They said it couldn’t be done. A fifth year of 31 Days of Horror? 31 more terror, gore and shower scene-filled movies worth highlighting? But Rejects always say die and never back away from a challenge, so we’ve rounded up the horror fans among us and put together another month’s worth of genre fun. Enjoy! Synopsis: Two American friends backpacking through the UK are attacked on the moors by a werewolf. Jack (Griffin Dunne) is mauled to death, but David (David Naughton)survives the attack with bite and claw wounds. Dreams where he runs naked through the woods tearing into animals with his teeth hint that something is wrong, and visits from a decomposing Jack seem to confirm it. Something is very wrong indeed. Thankfully, it’s also very very funny.

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Men in Black 3

Men in Black II is one bad sequel. Everything the first film got right the second film painfully got wrong. Will Smith played Will Smith, the funny-for-two-minutes pug from the first film sang because someone thought it was funny, a two-headed Johnny Knoxville showed up for some reason, and Rosario Dawson was just, well, kind of there. That’s what the second installment was in a nutshell: “just there,” a limp and lifeless blockbuster. How does this 10-years-later sequel fare in comparison? Saying it’s a vast improvement is too easy, since even if this third installment is utterly banal, it’d still look favorable in comparison. For the most part, Men in Black III corrects past mistakes, even going as far to capture some of the original film’s magic. The film begins with Boris, played by an unrecognizable Jemaine Clement escaping a prison (which is on the frickin’ moon!). Once Boris has broken out, he plans to get revenge on the man who took his right arm: Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). The villain travels back to 1969 in attempt to kill the younger K (Josh Brolin), who also foiled his world domination scheme. To save his partner, a much older J (Will Smith) travels back in time as well, where he enters the world of a less advanced MIB and less grumpy K. And, of course, he runs into other 1960s staples: racism and Michael Stuhlbarg as a kind-hearted alien named Griffin.

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What is Movie News After Dark? It’s a thing that happens nightly, bringing you news from the world of film, television and pop culture. Mostly film. Thus, the name. We begin tonight with a shot of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad? Quick show of hands: who among you is not excited about this movie? Those with their hands in the air can kindly leave the room, while the rest of us do more news.

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What is Movie News After Dark? Like a giddy schoolgirl come home to tell her diary the news of the day, it’s excited to share with you all that has happened while you were paying attention to other, more important things. We begin with the news of the night: Marion Cotillard has confirmed that she’s not Talia Al Ghul in The Dark Knight Rises, her long rumored role. She will instead play Miranda Tate, a ecologically minded businesswoman who “is fascinated by Wayne Enterprises. They go through difficulties, and she wants to help provide the world clean energies. She’s a good guy.” Or a good lady. Which is it, Ms. Cotillard?! If that is your real name! 

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In just a few weeks we will be getting our first Men in Black film in nearly ten years, and hopefully the Men in Black sequel we deserve. Director Barry Sonnenfeld‘s first installment was a real head-turner, a rare type of blockbuster that could be touted as being something like a modern day Ghostbusters, though it was its own original breed of film. The 2002 sequel, however, was not that, forgetting nearly everything that made the first film unique. Thankfully, Sonnenfeld is well aware of this. The Get Shorty and Addams Family director is hoping to bring the series back down to where it all began: character and plot-driven action, not another aimless gag after gag sequel. From his different 3D approach to having what he calls a real nasty villain again, Barry Sonnenfeld declares Men in Black III a return to where the series started off so well.

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Doug Beswick’s career, like many creature makers, began with a love and practice of Stop Motion Animation. My understanding is that he met Rick Baker when they both worked at Cascade Studios (most famous for doing the claymation for the series Gumby & Pokey) and later had joined Rick’s crew as a mechanical, animatronics designer. I don’t know the details of how and why Doug decided to open his own shop, but his facility was in a small, industrial park, north east of the San Fernando Valley in Sunland. Prior to my arrival, Doug had gained some notoriety with a couple of projects. The first was Terminator in which, Beswick had built and animated the endoskeleton miniature for the few full body shots of the robot walking. The second was a Disney live action film entitled My Science Project. For that film, Rick and Doug had teamed up to build an impressive, miniature, mechanical Tyrannosaurus Rex puppet. It is interesting to see how logical progressions occur (albeit rarely) in Hollywood. Doug had built a sophisticated, miniature, mechanical puppet that looked phenomenal on film, AND he had prior experience working for James Cameron. The result: Doug was hired to build the miniature mechanical puppets for Aliens. See how that worked?

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I was fortunate to meet and work with artists who, unlike me, had already began their nomadic careers moving from shop to shop like a herd of dinosaurs in search of water. I would either call or get a call from a fellow make-up artist and the gossip and rumors would begin. There was no Internet and no cell phones so the only way to hear about upcoming work was through word of mouth. In 1985, make-up effects was still on the rise, so there appeared to be a lot of projects happening around town. Of all of the opportunities, however, the best one was presented to me by Bill Sturgeon. For those unfamiliar with Bill, not only did he do incredible mechanisms on House and Strange Invaders for James Cummins, but he was also one of Rick Baker’s original six staff artists who had created the effects for An American Werewolf in London. Bill called me from Stan Winston Studios. In the wake of the success of The Teminator, Stan was re-teamed with director James Cameron on Aliens. However, a few months prior to this announcement, Stan had committed the studio to work on Tobe Hooper’s remake of Invaders From Mars, so now his team was taxed with two films that both required a large amount of work.

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This may shock some of you dear readers, but this year I decided to skip the Breaking Dawn panel and instead went with the Rick Baker retrospective panel. Getting to hear Baker talk at great length aside, it was a fun surprise getting to see his work for Men in Black III because of how exciting the glimpses were. The retro aliens that Baker designed looked fantastic. Whether the movie works or not, his contributions will be more memorable entries in his speaks-for-itself body of work. We all know the current buzz and rumors regarding MIB: III, but as Baker says below, its production is simply the way you make movies now. What’s going on with that film isn’t drastically different from most tent-pole releases, even the good ones. Before the retrospective panel, I got a few minutes to chat with the make-up effects guru on the matter. Here’s what Rick Baker had to say about copying the greats as a kid, acting like a schoolboy with David Byrne, and the difficulty of working on modern blockbusters:

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Joe Johnston’s remake of the 1941 film The Wolf Man marks the first ever, in history, reboot of a Universal monster character. No other filmmaker has ever attempted this, especially in the last 20 years. But, with this ground-breaking film how much of the original story is actually retained?

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wolfmanconcept-header

Our good friends over at ShockTillYouDrop picked up the following concept art from from Joe Johnston’s The Wolfman that were posted over at the ZBrushCentral Forums, and it is something that we can officially mark as ‘awesome’.

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Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt and Rick Baker

On Friday of last week, I reported in that I was pleasantly surprised at the footage of The Wolf Man shown at Comic-Con. Now, thanks to this leaked footage, you too can share the surprise.

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Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt and Rick Baker

Con attendees certainly didn’t pack Hall H for a Universal panel about the little horror remake known as The Wolf Man. They must have thought that Benicio Del Toro wasn’t going to show up and show off footage. They were obviously wrong.

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Anchorman

… Just don’t wait 30 years to make it happen, seriously.

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Benecio Del Toro as The Wolf Man

When it comes to delivering intense make-up jobs, there is one man that Hollywood always looks to when it needs the good stuff: Rick Baker.

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