To those in the movie business, the name Rick Baker is synonymous with mind blowing special effects makeup. He can lay claim to several industry awards and has wowed audiences for three decades, making jaw-dropping special effects in movies and TV since the 1970s.
He was born in New York, the son of a professional artist, and he clearly inherited a talent for creating visual masterpieces. Captivated at a young age by horror movies and of course the creepy creatures that they are filled with, Baker began creating artificial body parts in his own kitchen as a teen. Also during his teenage years, he was the assistant to the legendary effects designer Dan Smith, whose work on such movies as The Exorcist had audiences terrified.
Known for transforming actors into almost unrecognizable versions of themselves using prosthetics and stage makeup, he was awarded the first ever Academy Award for special effects makeup artists for his work on An American Werewolf in London. The creatures he created kept audiences spellbound, and his work with werewolves was far from over.
He was the makeup artist for Thriller by Michael Jackson, bringing to life the creatures that captured the attention of so many young MTV watchers.
Baker has also survived the biggest upset to movie special effects since the beginning of film, the introduction of computer generated imagery. In the early 1990s while working as an effects supervisor on Gremlins 2: the New Batch, he successfully continued his use of physical prosthetics and effects while embracing the new technology. Though some thought the advent of CGI would render the laborious physical prosthetics he creates useless, Baker’s career and adoption of this new resource say otherwise.
One movie that utilized this flexible approach for its effects was How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which relied heavily on the genius of Mr. Baker for the creation of Jim Carey’s character “the Grinch”. He buried the actor under mounds of makeup and green fur to create the grumpy creature we all know and love from children’s book by Dr. Seuss.
Another eye popping film he was involved in that married the art of CGI effects and traditional stage makeup was Men in Black II, where he worked on the makeup for the many weird and varied looking aliens.
He has worked with dozens of A-list movie stars, including recently Benicio Del Toro in The Wolfman, where he continued to use his expertise in all things werewolf to earn himself another Academy Award in 2011. One top tier actor he has collaborated with several times is Eddie Murphy, for whom he conjured up multiple personas in Norbit, The Nutty Professor, and Coming to America. In these films, as well as when working with Adam Sandler in Click, he was able to transform these normal sized men into flabby 300 pound versions of themselves, convincingly.
With digital technology advancing as fast as it has, and Rick Baker’s expertise only growing, audiences can look forward to enjoying his fantastic creations for years to come.