The sci-fi mastery of Rick Baker

We recently discussed the pending release of Men in Black 3, and whether it will still have a blockbuster audience when it hits theaters this Memorial Day.

And a very nice surprise for me to discover is that once again, make-up master Rick Baker is back on board with a gaggle of terrific creatures.

Even if you don’t know the name Rick Baker, you know his wonderful make-up creations from An American Werewolf in London, Thriller, Coming to America, The Grinch, Hellboy, and many, many more.


There was a point with the advent of CGI that you wondered if we’d still have make-up artists like Rick Baker, and there was also a point some years back when Baker was thinking about leaving the business, which thankfully hasn’t come to pass.

In an effects world that’s largely CGI, we need people like Baker around, and in a town full of raging a-holes, he’s also a genuinely nice guy who’s a pleasure to deal with.


Thankfully even in the age of CGI a lot of make-up greats like Baker are still busy designing creatures, although Baker’s also still doing physical make-ups in combination with the latest digital FX technology. 

In fact, Baker hasn’t been against CGI at all, but when he still does physical make-ups that have to be shot live on a set, the fans love it because it takes us back to the “in the camera” effects he mastered on American Werewolf, as well as the live on set effects Baker’s protégé Rob Bottin created for The Thing.


“I think there will always be make-ups,” Baker says. “I personally think you’d be crazy to do something like The Nutty Professor as all CGI make-up. There’s a magic that happens when you have a really great actor in a great make-up. He’s there on the set, he can improvise and do things. If he’s on a motion capture stage with a bunch of markers on his face, even great actors have a hard time in an empty room. They’d much rather be with other actors they can perform with, and sets they can look at and respond to. You get something out of it I don’t think you can get any other way.”


Much like John Chambers (Planet of the Apes) and Dick Smith (The Exorcist) inspired generations of kids like Rick to become make-up men, Baker has also been a tremendous inspiration to many of today’s FX masters as an artist and as a person. 

As Baker tells me, “I’m a big Boris Karloff fan, and anyone I’d ever talked to always had wonderful things to say about the man, that he was such a gentleman, such a great guy. Then you hear about some other people, ‘Oh what a F-in’ a-hole that guy was,’ and it always made me think I’d like to be known as one of those guys who people say ‘He’s a nice guy’ about.”