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Behind the Masks with Rick Baker
© Jason Myers

Rick Baker, the makeup designer for the upcoming Tim Burton Planet of the Apes remake, recently made an appearance at the International Make-up Artist Trade Show. Rick Baker has long been the go-to guy for ape makeup. He's worked on 1976's King Kong, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Harry and the Hendersons, Gorillas in the Mist, and Mighty Joe Young.

Baker got his start in low-budget movies like The Thing With Two Heads, The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant, and Flesh Gordon. He worked as a second unit makeup artist for Star Wars, and appeared in the movie as Figrin D'an. Other makeup credits include The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, Videodrome, Michael Jackson's Thriller, Captain Eo, Ratboy, Ed Wood, Wolf, The Frighteners, Men in Black, and The Grinch.

Baker will also be doing makeup for Hellboy and The Incredible Hulk. He flew into Pasadena, California from New York, where he was working on Men in Black 2, to speak with a crowd of makeup artists on Sunday, June 24th.

Rick Baker on Planet of the Apes:

I always wanted to do the perfect gorilla makeup. After Gorillas in the Mist , I thought, "Okay, Rick, you can check that off your list. You've done enough gorillas." Then came Mighty Joe Young, and then Planet of the Apes. I just couldn't turn it down.

I was originally approached eight years ago when Oliver Stone had the project.

They're still in England doing re-shoots for Planet of the Apes. There was a really short lead time and post-production.Some of the actors we got a few weeks before filming. We had a very short lead time. We should have had a year, and we had about three months. The lead times should be getting longer, but they keep getting shorter. After they don't give you much time and you manage to pull it off… once you do that, they say, "We don't really need to give them a lot of time."

If I hadn't had the experience with doing The Grinch and so many makeups, I would have turned down APES, because I would have been afraid of it.
I wish you could see the movie before you get started, so you know where to put your effort.

Rick Baker on following the act of John Chambers, who did the makeups for the original Planet of the Apes:

They were scary footsteps to follow in. Those makeups inspired so many people to do makeup. I didn't want to duplicate what Chambers did, but I was definitely inspired by it.

I really wanted it to be a makeup, and I really didn't want animatronics involved. I relied on the big dentures to stretch out the mouth as much as possible, so that the makeup could be thinner on the mouth, so we could get more expression from the actor Gary Oldman was originally going to play the part that Tim Roth ended up playing. Tim did an amazing performance that I think people will just get blown away by.

When Rick Baker worked on The Grinch, the Whos were divided into three makeup categories, each with a different level of detail:

We had #1s, which were life-casts, #2s, which were generic makeups, and #3s, which were vacuform masks. I told Ron Howard that I wanted a BB gun, so that the first #3 that gets too close to the camera, I can shoot 'em. We had a similar thing on apes.

We had 500 people in costume in the desert, and I looked out and saw the 500 apes in a really cool environment.

Rick Baker on the changing nature of special effects:

I'm glad to see that makeup is still an option. CG is starting to take a chunk of business away from us. On An American Werewolf in London, we intentionally had the animatronic face changes last, because we knew that would be the cruelest part. Unfortunately, the thing that computers are taking away the most is animatronics. I don't think that CG is the answer to everything, but I don't think that animatronics is the answer to everything either.

Rick Baker on getting into the business:

People told me, "You're never going to get in. You basically have to be born into it." I started out on low-budget independent films, when the shooting schedule was 10 days. The very first film that I did was Octaman, with Pier Angeli. Don't ever watch it. You'll lose all respect for me. I was like, "I'm making a movie!" It was shot in ten days. Pier Angeli killed herself immediately after Octaman was filmed. Can't blame her.

There's a scene where the Octaman is hiding in a Winnebago. Octaman is supposed to throw a log at this guy, and the director was like, "we should just use a real log." So he throws the log, the guy falls down, and Octaman steps on his nuts. He throws Angeli over his shoulder and into the Winnebago, and the log fell on someone and broke their arm, and all I could say was "You ripped my f***ing suit."

They tried to cut the film together, and it ended up being like a half an hour long.

Rick Baker on Halloween:

Halloween is the holiday. We have family themes for Halloween. We did The Munsters one year. We did The Wizard of Oz one year.

Rick Baker on cameoing in his movies:

I just figured I had to be in Planet of the Apes somewhere. So there's this scene where some old apes sitting around smoking and playing cards, and I'm one of the old apes.

I'll be in Men in Black 2 somewhere too.

When we started The Grinch, I did the makeup on myself. And I did my daughters as Whos. There'll be some of that on the DVD. Some days I'd put on the makeup and just walk around Whoville.

I'm a really big makeup geek. I learned makeup on this face. That's what happened to it.

Jason Myers is Movies Editor for RevolutionSF.

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