Starburst: Mr Baker, congratulations on being honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame recently. Obviously this is an honour given to you personally, but can we also see this as a mark of recognition and respect given by the industry to the role of special make up and creature effects in films?
Rick Baker: Yes - I think it’s really nice that the chamber of commerce is honoring someone from behind the scenes and I hope there are more to come. One of the things that I find really strange is that guys like Jack Pierce or Dick Smith don’t have a star yet. Doesn’t seem right that I should have one, but I’ll take it!
When we spoke to you in 1982 you were just about to start pre-production on Greystoke. What made you keep going back to designing apes during your career? Was it because you had so many disappointing experiences with the studios getting it wrong, such as on the 1976 King King, that made you determined to create the ultimate gorilla? Is Harry and the Hendersons still your proudest achievement in this respect?
Yes – I think so - it’s a character that works, still holds up. It holds a special place for me because Kevin Peter Hall, who played Harry, was a really dear friend. He was one of those people that enjoyed the collaborateion.
Harry’s face was radio controlled and I puppeteered it so I was able to not only contribute to the look, but also the perfomance and that made it fun. You can show that movie to people today and they would totally accept it and not think it looked outdated or anything.
You have always used make up design and special effects to create wonderful characters, such as the barbershop guys in Coming to America. I wondered how you like to work with actors, like for example Eddie Murphy, and what you see the role of make up design being in terms of creating a character.
That’s one of the good things with what I do – with the film business you get to collaborate with other creative people. It is one of the things I love about film and one I hate – but when it works it’s great – makes you both “up” your game. Collaborating with Eddie was great. He brings so much to the character. He let me design the face, and once he put the makeup on only then did he figure out the right voice to go with the character. And that’s really fun for me. The first make up session is always fun when they sit and look in the mirror and start playing with it. On Eddie – it was great to see what he could bring to it - makes my work that much better. Unfortunately, it’s not always that way. If they have stuff glued to their face sometimes they can freak out.
What advice might you have for someone starting out in the field of special make up/creature effects?
My advice would be they might want to rethink it (laughs). I don’t want to be negative about it but CG stuff is really taking over a lot of our work. Having said that, I think if it’s something they truly want to do, the most important thing is to do it and do it as much as you can, and get as good as you can at it and don’t give up.
Finally, you started out doing low budget horror like Squirm and The Incredible Melting Man. When you look back on your career do you miss those times of running by the seat of your pants relying on your ingenuity in place of money or time, or are the problems still basically the same?
Part of the advantage of those days was there wasn’t time or money to have so many people involved in the decision making and you kind of just made something and went with it. The first design you made is what you went with. But today on big budget pictures – there are many people involved in the decision making process which amounts to no one making a decision (laughs). I do miss the hit the ground running way of doing things, but it still is nice to have time and money to make things better – it’s a trade off.
Rick Baker's work can most recently be seen in MEN IN BLACK III, out now on DVD/Blu-ray.