Rick Baker is the master craftsman, yet even now stands like a primitive, his brushes and masks redundant as electronics simply adds a scar, a dimple, or a third eye to this face. Frequently in his verv busy career. Baker has been credited as doing not just makeup, but “special effects.” Equally, he has often enjoyed dressing up in monkey suits and acting in films— an activity that must be near its last days.
He was in pictures by the early seventies, working as an assistant to makeup artist Dick Smith. But then he went free-lance and began to accumulate fascinating credits: aging Cicely Tyson in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (74, John Korty); It’s Alive (74, Larry Cohen); King Kong (76, John Guillermin), where he also played Kong in some scenes, inserting himself in the ape suit he had made; Star Wars (77, George Lucas), where he played a couple of characters; The Incredible Melting Man (78. William Sachs); The Fun/ (78, Brian De Palma), with alarming skin eruptions; The Howling (80, Joe Dante); The Incredible Shrinking Woman (81, Joel Schumacher).
It was for his work on An American Werewolf in London (81, John Landis) that Baker won the first-ever Oscar for makeup (though honorary Oscars had gone to William Tuttle for 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. in 1964, and John Chambers for Planet of the Apes, in 1968). Baker carried on with Videodrome (83, David Cronenberg); work on the Michael Jackson music video “Thriller” (83), where he also played a zombie; Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (84, Hugh Hudson); Ratboy (86, Sondra Locke): Harry and the Hendersons (87, William Dear); Coming to America (88, Landis); Gorillas in the Mist (88, Michael Apted); The Rocketeer (91, Joe Johnston); Ed Wood (94, Tim Burton), where he did the Bela Lugosi makeup; Wolf (94, Mike Nichols); Batman Forever (95, Schumacher); The Nutty Professor (96, Tom Shadvac)—-where extraordinary electronic enlarging effects set in.
He did The Frighteners (96, Peter Jackson); Escape from L A. (96, John Carpenter); Men in Black (97, Barry Sonnenfeld); Critical Care (97, Sidney Lumet); Mighty Joe Young (98, Ron Underwood); Life (99, Ted Demme); The Nutty Professor IF The Klumps (00, Peter Segal): How the Grinch Stole Christmas (00, Ron Howard), on which he shared in a second Oscar; Planet of the Apes (01, Burton).