Special Effects Filmography: Feature Films
A more complete list of Rick Baker's credits can be found at the Internet Movie Database on the World Wide Web.
©1999 - 2000 Brillig Productions, L.L.C.
by Douglas Eby
on making MEN IN BLACK
One of the most prominent and busiest special makeup effects artists, Rick Baker has been nominated for five Academy Awards, winning three: for ED WOOD; HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. He has also won a BAFTA Award for GREYSTOKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF THE APES, and his filmography includes the latest THE NUTTY PROFESSOR; JUST CAUSE; BATMAN FOREVER; BABY'S DAY OUT; WOLF; THE ROCKETEER; GORILLAS IN THE MIST; COMING TO AMERICA; STARMAN; THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING WOMAN. STAR WARS (the cantina sequence) and KING KONG. His television credits include JOHN CARPENTER PRESENTS BODY BAGS (Cable Ace nomination); THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MISS JANE PITTMAN (Emmy Award); SOMETHING IS OUT THERE; and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, plus the Michael Jackson music video THRILLER.
Appreciating the tone of the story and using the MEN IN BLACK script as a jumping-off point to create some new effects and creatures mixing latex and CGI, Baker notes "this was really a fun project, because it had a little bit of everything that I've done throughout my life. I started doing basically makeup kind of work, then got more into animatronics and all that kind of stuff, and this film had everything: makeup, creature suits, mechanical monsters. Usually I'll do a makeup film, or an effects film, and it was a blast to do it all here."
After "thousands" of drawings, Baker and his team decided on a design for one of the main aliens, "Mikey", and they built a maquette model from which they crafted a suit, and Baker notes "We also scanned it for ILM, cyberscanned it, so that [in a sequence in the film] what you see is a man in the suit, with stilt legs, and switched to a computer-generated image of it, which I think was pretty successful. The guy wearing the suit, John Alexander, I first worked with on GREYSTOKE; he's not only an amazing suit-performer, but an incredibly nice guy. You can light him on fire and he doesn't mind. And this ["Mikey"] was one of the most uncomfortable suits I've ever made. I usually can say when I make a suit that I know what they're like, because I've worn them myself, and try to get them as comfortable as possible. This is nothing like that. John is balancing on these stilt legs, his head is inside the neck, which is foam rubber right against his face; his arms are inside arm extensions; he can't see, he can't breathe, can't stand, can't do much of anything, but still managed to do a fun performance."
Another part of his work was making duplicate heads of some of the actors, Baker says: "We got to do a lot of fun likeness heads, some of the best we've ever done. Though it doesn't show that much in the film, the one of "Sergio" was completely articulated: the jaw works, the eyes work, and I think it actually came out really looking like the actor." The team also made a "cute" alien creature for a birth scene "like you've never seen before" says Baker. "Eventually the baby comes out, and has a lot of tentacles, and just as Will Smith is about to fall in love with it, it vomits all over him."
Baker and actor Vincent D'Onofrio had worked together before on ED WOOD: "He played Orson Welles. In this case, he plays Edgar, a farmer guy whose guts are sucked out of his skin, and is then inhabited by an alien. The first thing I did was to get Vincent out to my studio to try out a lot of makeup, to get a feel for what we could do, and also get a feel for how willing he was to let us torture him. Like John Alexander, he was incredibly willing. He had been in FULL METAL JACKET, playing the overweight guy who ended up blowing his brains out, and he gained, I believe, about eighty pounds for that part, and since losing that he had this loose skin that we could do a lot of fun things with. In one scene we glue silk cords onto his face, and were able to stretch it pretty far, and then morphed it to a constructed face. As Edgar, he continues to decompose throughout the course of the film, so there are many many stages of makeup on Vincent. At one point we used a silicon gel-filled piece, like breast implants are made of, on his neck. Vincent was a lot of fun, and incredibly patient."
Not satisfied with the old idea of depicting an alien by having a character lift up their neck so you see light coming out, Baker suggested to director Sonnenfeld something different: "The guy kind of looks around and his face opens up, and inside there's a little green man working the controls, and he goes 'Hi' and slams the thing shut. Barry liked the idea, and we're using it with a character called Mr. Gentle. The little green man is pretty little for us to articulate, so we ended up doing an overscale version of it."
Sonnenfeld also notes the value of using Baker's "guys in suits": "When you work with ILM, although you will ultimately get what you want, you are now trying to direct performance with guys who are really good with computers. I remember saying to them early on, 'You know, there's a problem here; it looks like a puppet, it doesn't look real.' And they said 'Well, what do you mean?' And you say 'It just doesn't look real.' And they go, 'So you want more secondary muscle movement?' Now on the other hand, ILM's creatures can do things Rick's can't do in terms of physically moving through space, flying and running. ILM was taking their designs off of Rick's models. Neither Rick's [rubber suits etc.] or ILM's creatures would be as good alone as the combination." He also notes the general problem of designing alien creatures that don't look "just another guy in a rubber suit, with two arms, two legs, eyes and a nose. But then, when Rick would design stuff that was far afield from that, I would say 'Where do you focus on it? How do we know this thing is looking at Tommy? How do you know it's speaking, where is its mouth?' So we were constantly going back and forth to make it something we would accept, and know where to look to understand what was going on, yet different than us. Sometimes it had to be a guy in a rubber suit, but sometimes, like the worm guys [small, vaguely snake-like aliens] couldn't exist with any human actors doing it."
The cases where he made a choice to not give a creature to ILM, but rather have Rick and his team create it, Sonnenfeld says, paid off: "They did it with only a little rehearsal for the puppeteers, and what you see in performance is great. I mean, when you see the worm guys speaking, they're hilarious, and if I had had to ask computer animators to do that - they're not funny, that's not their strength. So I really feel, looking at it in retrospect, to give as much to Rick Baker as possible. But I do want to say that without ILM, we wouldn't have the movie either; it's just different sets of experiences."