Rick Baker

Active - 1971 - 2019  |   Born - Dec 8, 1950 in Binghamton, New York, United States  |   Genres - Horror, Comedy, Science Fiction, Adventure

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Biography by Jason Buchanan

Notorious for his eager willingness to don a gorilla suit at the drop of a hat, special makeup effects wizard Rick Baker is as likely to create jaw-dropping, realistic creature effects as he is to ham it up under simian prosthetics as he did in, among others, director John Landis' directorial debut Schlock (1971) and The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977). The creator of some of the most memorable makeup effects effort captured on celluloid, Baker began experimenting with movie makeup after being inspired by horror films as a child. Constantly seeking new approaches to creating realistic effects and designs, Baker became assistant to legendary effects designer Dick Smith (The Exorcist) while in his teens. Later becoming an independent makeup effects artist, one of Baker's earliest breakthrough works was the 1974 TV movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, in which he convincingly transformed actress Cicely Tyson into a 110-year-old woman. Following Autobiography, his work in films ranged from King Kong (1976) to Star Wars (1977), to creating a malicious mutant toddler terror for the It's Alive films. Baker got a taste for werewolf makeup while working as a makeup effects consultant on The Howling (1980), which experience undoubtedly paid off the next year, with his work on An American Werewolf in London (1981), for which he was awarded the first ever Best Makeup Oscar at the 1981 Academy Awards. The werewolf theme would again carry over to Baker's work on the groundbreaking Michael Jackson video "Thriller." Working constantly in both television and film, Baker became one of the most respected and requested makeup effects artists working in film, consistently nominated for, and often winning, a slew of Oscars and other awards for his unique and strikingly imaginative creations, which spanned all genres. Throughout the '80s Baker faced the constant challenge of topping his previous works, again going ape with Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984), and moving into Sasquatch territory with his Oscar winning design for Harry in the 1987 family comedy Harry and the Hendersons. In 1988, Baker helped to create a number of personas for Eddie Murphy in the film Coming to America, a collaboration that would resurface in one of his most successful works of the late '90s. Beginning the '90s as an effects supervisor on Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), the decade offered a unique challenge to the artist in the form of attempting to combine his tangible creations with their increasingly popular digital counterparts, that some speculated would render makeup effects obsolete. Though he continued in creating incredible and convincing prosthetic effects, Baker embraced digital technology, considering it a natural progression and added resource for his remarkable creations. Murphy and Baker's re-teaming for 1996's The Nutty Professor earned Baker another Oscar to add to his increasing collection, and his work on the wildly popular sci-fi comedy Men in Black (1997) earned him yet another. In 2000, Baker teamed with director Ron Howard in creating a live-action telling of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, this time with the ever-unpredictable Jim Carrey buried under the usual mounds of makeup. He once again teamed with Murphy on The Klumps: Nutty Professor 2 (2000), again winning Baker the Best Makeup Oscar at the 73rd Annual Academy Awards, before setting his sites on Tim Burton's ambitious remake of Planet of the Apes in 2001.

Movie Highlights

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  • First job was working for Clokey Productions, which produced Gumby.
  • Worked on Octaman (1971) while still in college.
  • Won the first Academy Award for Best Makeup in 1981, for An American Werewolf in London.
  • Created the werecat for Michael Jackson's Thriller video.
  • Personal favorite is the work he did on Harry and the Hendersons (1987). 
  • Received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2012.