A Guide To Rick Baker: Monster Maker

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From B-movies to Mos Eisley and onto a galaxy of space creatures and movie monsters (misunderstood and otherwise), make-up maestro Rick Baker scarified our dreams for more than 40 years. But all good things come to an end and the special effects legend has just announced his retirement. To celebrate his work and bid farewell to the great man, here's a look back into the archives at some of the monsters Mr. Baker has breathed life into...

Rick's cinematic love affair with gorillas and their other hairy friends was first seen on the big screen in 1976's King Kong. Although the effects were considered impressive for the time, Rick was never entirely happy with them, refusing to take credit for its realistic quality and instead praising the film's cinematographer, Richard H. Kline, for any lifelikeness that might have slipped through.

Rick Baker fact... Working with fellow special-effects genius Carlo Rambaldi (of E.T. and Aliens fame), the robotic Kong was 40 ft tall and over 6 tonnes in weight, and cost $1.7million. But that's mechanical monsters for you, eh?

As a make-up artist for George Lucas's first galactic outing, our man Baker was responsible for creating and playing such characters as Figrin D'an and Hem Dazon. What do you mean, 'Who are they?' You have much to learn, young padawan. In the cantina scene, Hem Dazon was the E.T.-like fella sitting next to that gold-skinned man and Firgrin was the leader of the band known as the 'Modal Nodes'. We're expecting the tune to be entering your subconscious right about... now.

Rick Baker fact... The instrument played by Figrin / Baker is known as a Kloo horn. Now you know.

Even though Rick Baker is now a byword for amazing make up, there wasn't an Academy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup until 1981 - an Oscar category created specifically to honour Mr Baker for his incredible work on the werewolf transformation scenes here, full of prosthetic limbs and devilish screaming. There's being good, then there's having-awards-created-for-you-good - and that's exactly what Rick Baker is, people.

Rick Baker fact... Needless to say, Rick won his first Oscar for this one, and has since collected six more.

Though not a full-length feature film, it's the closest a music video has ever come to one (we're ignoring R Kelly's hip-hopera 'Trapped In The Closet' here) and besides, it's a well catchy choon. It's interesting to note that the sound of the werewolf screaming in the song actually comes from An American Werewolf In London - and after seeing Baker's work there, it's no surprise that movie fan Michael Jackson approached the director, John Landis, to get both him and Baker on board (as one of the zombies as well as make-up supremo).

Rick Baker fact... Thriller was the first music video ever to be inducted into the U.S.'s National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, for being "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant.

Of all his amazing creature creations, character designs and make-up jiggery-pokery, Baker is reportedly proudest of his work in 1987's Harry And The Hendersons. It's easy to see why, as Harry was very much what made the film - and the spin-off TV show - so popular, full of human emotion as well as hairy monsteryness, and boasting the cutest smile we've ever seen on a sasquatch.

Rick Baker fact... Before he passed away unexpectedly at the end of the first series of the TV show, Harry was played by Predator actor Kevin Peter Hall. Not so cuddly now, is he?

As Baker himself will tell you, creating believable gorilla suits is one hell of a job. Before his work here, gorilla costumes failed in one key aspect: their eyes were still recognizably human eyes. At director Michael Apted's request, Baker worked at creating a special eye mask to hide the problem, which led to all the beautiful and heartfelt moments between Sigourney Weaver and her hairy chums.

Rick Baker fact... If you ignore the fact that sasquatches aren't real, Rick has worked on three more ape-based movies: King Kong (1976), Mighty Joe Young (1998), and Planet Of The Apes (2001).

Winning another Oscar for his stellar work on the original Men In Black, Baker had to deal with two visions for alien aesthetics from exec-producer Steven Spielberg and director Barry Sonnenfield, resulting in a decision at one point that some of the aliens shouldn't have eyes. Baker's response was "That's great, but how do we know where he's looking?" And with logic like that, the eyes were back in.

Rick Baker fact... You can see Rick Baker himself cameoing in Men In Black II in the MIB Headquarters. He's the fella at the Alien Registration counter, the one with the ponytail. Top beard. Human. Can't miss him.

To 'become' the Grinch, Jim Carrey had to undergo three hours of torturous latex prosthetic make-up, eventually feeling so confined and restricted by the green outer layer that he sought counseling. To show good faith, director Ron Howard also underwent the ordeal on one occasion, directing an entire day's work made up as the angry green fella. Painful though it may have been for the actors concerned, it did help Baker win his sixth Oscar, so wasn't all bad.

Rick Baker fact... The Grinch suit is covered in dyed-green yak hairs, all sewn into a spandex suit. We're really beginning to feel for poor Carrey now...

Sure, some might say it's the remake of a film that really did not need to be remade, and others might say it's Burton's most ignominious backfire, but we can all agree that the problem wasn't the make-up: the apes looked good. Of that there is no doubt. Leaping, growling and snarling their way around, their meticulously crafted faces are a joy to behold, even if the film itself isn't.

Rick Baker fact... Michael Clarke Duncan, who plays Attar, sprained his ankle on set and ended up going to the hospital, still wearing his gorilla make-up.

Besides scoring Rick yet another Oscar nod for his monster creations (yep, we're counting Rasputia as a monster), Norbit received another accolade: the most Razzie nominations for any one actor in any one film. Star Eddie Murphy ended up winning Worst Supporting Actor (as Mr. Wong), Worst Supporting Actress (as Rasputia) and Worst Actor (as Norbit) but missed out on Worst Screen Couple (Eddie Murphy and either Eddie Murphy or Eddie Murphy), which he must have felt pretty down about. No Razzies for the make-up, however, which was pretty darn convincing.

Rick Baker fact... As a kid, Rick created his own gorilla costume and would hang out in screenings of Planet Of The Apes (he was a big fan, needless to say) and shock the living daylights out of follow audience members.

Tropic Thunder's blackface did to the PC sensitive what The Exorcist (another on his CV) achieved with horrorphobes: it seriously freaked them out. Baker developed the look for silly-but-slightly-credible Method actor, Kirk Lazarus. Robert Downey Jr. got the part, but, explains the makeup man, he wasn't the only actor prepped. "I was contacted by a DreamWorks producer asking me to photoshop Sean Penn to look like a black guy," he tells IFTN. "So he sent me a low res shot and I did the Photoshop thing – still knowing nothing about the film. Then, a couple of days later, I got another call asking me if I could do a list of a whole bunch of actors – I made half of the actors in Hollywood black!"

Rick Baker fact... For his next trick, Baker is transforming beautiful Angelina Jolie into evil Maleficent.

For the latest Men In Black instalment, Baker went back to the drawing board - assuming he has a drawing board and not just an amazing lab full of rubbery fiends - to create a host of new '60s extra-terrestrials. The prosthetics genius reunited up with SFX guru Ken Ralston to ramp up the weirdness, including a humungous space-fish and a variety of retro-aliens. "He came in one day and said, 'What if the aliens in 1969 were retro-future aliens that reflected a more innocent approach to sci-fi?'" remembers producer Walter F. Parkes. "It was such a charming idea, and everyone went for it."

Rick Baker fact... After his cameo as an MIB Passport Agent in Men In Black 2, Baker pops up again in the third movie. Keep your eyes peeled in the bowling alley.

Joe Johnston's movie may have been an unholy mess but it did at least have a suitably hair-raising monster in Benicio Del Toro's lycanthrope. Baker's loving creature design was fuelled by a passion for werewolves: "What I like about werewolf movies is the change in the appearance of the person," he explains of his Oscar-winning work. "I'm interested in the transformation more than the story itself." Us too, Rick. Us too.

Rick Baker fact... Baker's creature design homages the work of Jack Pierce in the original 1941 The Wolf Man. For our money the hair is slightly less bouffant.