From the Disney Insider
Starting on May 30th, 400 items from the personal collection of famed makeup artist and visual effects pioneer Rick Baker will go up for auction. This is huge, as Baker has created creatures, makeup effects, and general wizardry to countless iconic films, among them John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London (a movie that he won the first-ever Makeup Oscar for), David Cronenberg’s Videodrome and the music video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (also for Landis). He would go on to win seven Academy Awards and influence an entire generation of science fiction, fantasy, and horror fans. While doing press for the auction, Baker let slip that he’s most likely retiring from the business altogether. He’ll still consult and offer his advice, for a healthy fee we hope, but he’s done with day-to-day practical monster making, something that he says has become obsolete in a world of computer graphics (and the seemingly limitless possibilities that go along with that technology).
That means that Baker’s last feature film will be last year’s revisionist fairy tale Maleficent. Yep—Rick Baker’s last movie was a Disney movie.
In honor of Baker’s retirement (and the super cool auction that we’ll undoubtedly be blowing several months’ worth of paychecks on), we thought we’d look back on Baker’s storied history with the Walt Disney Company and all the magic he created for the company.
My Science Project (1985)
A year after the arrival of out-of-the-box executive trailblazers Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner, the company released My Science Project, one of countless science-themed teen adventures from the mid-‘80s (along with Back to the Future, Weird Science, Explorers, etc.) If people remember anything about My Science Project, besides Fisher Stevens’ questionable accent (what is that, Bronx-by-way-of-Super Mario Bros?), it’s Baker’s makeup and monster effects, which were cobbled together on what seems like a shoestring budget but manage to impress nonetheless. (The movie is, ostensibly, about teens that unwittingly unearth the engine from a crashed spaceship and all sorts of insanity ensue.) Baker was able to create a whole host of crazily intricate creatures, including something that seems to be some kind of dinosaur, that were unfortunately housed in a movie that nobody ever talks about.
Captain EO (1986)
This 3D extravaganza, produced by George Lucas and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, was a Disney theme park mainstay until very recently. (It returned after star Michael Jackson’s death.) Part of the reason the movie captured the hearts and minds of countless theme park visitors were the fantastical space creatures Baker designed, including the adorable, reach-out-and-grab-it Fuzzball, the elephant-like Hooter (Tony Cox) and stately robot Major Domo. At the time, Captain EO was notorious for its troubled production (it was a technical nightmare, with the 3D cameras giving Coppola major headaches) and oversized budget (at the time it was the most expensive movie ever made on a minute-by-minute basis) and Baker’s contributions were easily overlooked. But in retrospect, it was largely because of his work that Captain EO remained an enduring classic in the world of theme parks (and Disney aficionados). We’d be lying if we said that we weren’t thinking about bidding on the original sketches Baker is auctioning off. We need that Fuzzball doodle!
The Rocketeer (1991)
Ah, The Rocketeer, how we love you. We love your campy-clever script. We love your retro-futuristic design aesthetic. We love your period setting. We love your visual effects, largely realized by Industrial Light & Magic that blur the line between the old school “go-motion” technology and newer computer effects. And we love your Rick Baker make-up. Baker was responsible for the creation of the Lothar character (essayed, underneath Baker’s beguiling make-up, by actor and former second-rate basketball player Tiny Ron Taylor). Baker created a classic thug and tips his hat to the movie’s pulpy comic book source material. It’s an ingenious design and totally amazing.
Ed Wood (1994)
Baker scored another Oscar for his work on this R-rated Touchstone release, a biographical film about the worst filmmaker of all time (played, with gleeful abandon, by Johnny Depp). This is the kind of next-level work that Baker regularly did but that was too often overlooked: it’s so flawless you hardly notice it. Baker turned Martin Landau into horror movie icon Bela Lugosi (Landau nabbed an Oscar too); it’s uncanny but never showy, enhanced and deepened by the movie’s velvety black-and-white photography. Without Baker’s contributions, Landau’s performance would have still been enthralling, but with it the performance takes on a life of its own.
Mighty Joe Young (1998)
Giant monsters dominated 1998. That summer Godzilla was all anybody could talk about. And then around Christmastime came another giant monster remake, this time of the 1949 giant ape movie Mighty Joe Young. Baker is the foremost special effects artist when it comes to making lifelike apes, having worked on the 1976 King Kong remake, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, and Gorillas in the Mist (he would go on to work on Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes reboot) and that love is palpable in the title character, who is way more of an animal than a monster. It’s a shame Mighty Joe Young didn’t connect more with audiences, since it’s a rollicking, earnest adventure with strong lead performances (by Bill Paxton and Charlize Theron) and genuinely jaw-dropping makeup effects from Baker. This is some of his very best, most deeply under-appreciated work.
In 1998 Baker spent considerable time and resources on a project that never saw the light of day: a live action movie based on Disney’s beloved and still-brilliant Gargoyles animated series. Staggeringly little is known about the project, but the model that Baker is auctioning off is tantalizingly awesome. It appears to be a mock-up of main character Goliath (that shock of hair gives him away). It’s a truly jaw-dropping design and we desperately hope, should Disney ever return to the franchise (there were press reports about a new live action adaptation as recently as 2010), they’ll dip back into this well of awesomeness.
The Haunted Mansion (2003)
Baker has had a longstanding relationship and creative partnership with Eddie Murphy, with the two collaborating on everything from Coming to America to The Nutty Professor toNorbit. The two worked together on The Haunted Mansion, but this time Baker wasn’t burying Murphy in latex appliances. Instead, he was hired to conjure an army of the dead: rattling skeletons, decaying corpses and all manner of grim grinning ghosts. While the finished film is far from a classic, there is one genuinely incredible sequence that every fan of monsters, the Haunted Mansion attraction and Rick Baker’s make-up mastery should check out: it’s an out-of-control buggy chase through a graveyard, where every ghoul, ghost, and goblin pops up and into frame. This sequence is a dizzying showpiece for all of Baker’s hard-work and artistry.
Baker’s contributions to Wes Craven’s revisionist werewolf movie were certainly not lovingly showcased (released by the then-Disney-owned Dimension). This movie, written by Scream’s Kevin Williamson, went through a number of drastic revisions, with much of the movie completely disassembled and reshot (among the changes: characters went from being love interests to brother-and-sister, a bloody hard-R scare-fest became a PG-13-rated teen romp). One of the biggest casualties of the fluid production was Baker’s work. He had created a next-generation werewolf, something that would rival his original, bar-raising work on An American Werewolf in London, but he was eventually replaced and his work largely scrapped in favor of computer-generated characters and lesser prosthetics from a rival effects house. (What’s worse is that something similar would befall Baker’s work on Universal’s big budget Wolf Man remake years later.)
While there’s not a whole lot of Baker’s work in the finished version of Enchanted, you can still feel his presence in the design and make-up of Susan Sarandon’s Queen Narissa. While large swaths of Enchanted feel like a self-conscious parody of classic Disney fairy tales, Baker would eventually have an opportunity to work on a really-for-real evil Disney queen …
Tron: Legacy (2010)
For the long-awaited sequel to Disney’s cult classic Tron, Baker was hired to help facilitate the screenplay’s outrageous ambition. The movie features two versions of Jeff Bridges: the older version of his character from the original film, Kevin Flynn, and his character’s digital avatar Clu, who retains his ageless youthfulness. Baker’s talents were utilized to create a mold for the younger Bridges character, based on his appearance in Against All Odds, a film released two years after the original movie. Baker created the mold but the filmmakers ultimately tossed it because they wanted to go younger. Due to the truncated production schedule, Baker was unable to create another mold in time, so they went with an all-digital creation. Baker retains a credit on the film but, unfortunately, his contributions never made it into the final film.
With Maleficent, Baker was able to create a really-for-real Disney baddie in the form of the title character, brought to life by Angelina Jolie. Baker translated the iconic hood and horns worn by Maleficent in the classic 1959 Disney animated film. Baker was also responsible for more subtle flourishes like the character’s makeup design and impossibly sharp cheekbones. But Baker’s major contribution to the film, and something that would probably have nabbed him another Academy Award victory, was ultimately cut during the film’s post-production process. At one point current Doctor Who Peter Capaldi was hired to play King Kinloch, Maleficent’s uncle and the King of the Fairies (Miranda Richardson played his wife, Queen Ulla). He endured six hours of makeup everyday to play the character, who was supposedly the ward of the entire natural/spiritual realm, but was deleted entirely when the first act of the movie was shortened. No photos of the character exist, sketches haven’t surfaced and none of Baker’s Maleficent work have shown up as part of the auction. While Maleficent is a fitting swansong, a grand production that really highlighted Baker’s artistic contribution, with those additional fairy characters, it would have been lovely to see Baker’s additional designs and creatures, in some form or another. Sadly they seem to have been relegated to a fairy kingdom none of us mortals have access to.