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May 20, 2012

Rick Baker’s ‘magic scissors’ made monster movie history

Posted in: Movies

12 Rick Bakers magic scissors made monster movie history

Special makeup effects artist Rick Baker shows off an alien mask his studio created for "Men in Black III" at the Hero Complex Film Festival Saturday. (Alan Heitz / Los Angeles Times handout)

22 Rick Bakers magic scissors made monster movie history

"They’re just a blast to work on," says Rick Baker of the "Men in Black" aliens. (Alan Heitz / Los Angeles Times handout)

31 Rick Bakers magic scissors made monster movie history

Special makeup effects artist Rick Baker, right, takes questions alongside moderator and Hero Complex writer Geoff Boucher. (Alan Heitz / Los Angeles Times handout)

41 Rick Bakers magic scissors made monster movie history

Special makeup effects artist Rick Baker answers questions Saturday during the 2012 Hero Complex Film Festival. (Alan Heitz / Los Angeles Times handout)

Special makeup effects wizard Rick Baker surprised Hero Complex Film Festival attendees Saturday afternoon, dropping by to answer questions about his prolific career, and carrying an alien head in a garbage bag.

Baker, 61, is a seven-time Oscar winner whose credits include “Planet of the Apes,” “Hellboy,” “Ed Wood,” Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video and dozens more.

The Q&A — at L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles — followed a screening of a featurette about Baker’s work for “Men in Black III,” which hits theaters next weekend. The audience oohed appreciatively as Baker pulled an alien mask from the bag he was toting — one of 127 alien creations for “Men in Black III,” he said.

“The aliens are just kind of glimpsed in the background many times, so rather than putting people through the makeup process, a lot of times we make them as masks for the background guys,” Baker said. “What’s cool about ‘Men in Black’ is that I get to do a little bit of everything that I do in all these other films. We have likeness makeups, we have crazy aliens, we have puppets and animatronic things. They’re just a blast to work on.”

Baker has been doing movie makeup since he was 10 years old, he said.

“I started as a kid, and my bedroom was my workshop and also my display room,” he said. “So I slept in a room that had monsters all over the place.”

As a teenager, he bought a pair of barber shears he purchased for $16 (no small fortune at the time) — his first major purchase for his craft.

“I liked werewolves and hairy things, and I needed scissors to trim ‘em,” Baker said. “I still have those scissors, and I use them on everything that I ever do. I call ‘em my magic scissors. I’ve never had ‘em sharpened. But I’ve trimmed so many things. I’ve done a lot of hairy characters, back from ‘American Werewolf [in London]’ to ‘Harry and the Hendersons’ to ‘Greystoke’ and ‘Gorillas in the Mist,’ and all these films, I use the same pair of scissors. They’re just like magic.”

americanwerewolf Rick Bakers magic scissors made monster movie history

A scene from “An American Werewolf in London.” (Universal)

Baker talked about his experience working with different actors, some of whom were more cooperative than others spending hours in “the chair,” getting made up for movies.

“It’s a funny relationship that makeup artists have,” Baker said. “I always feel kind of like a dentist. People look at me and think of pain.”

Baker also talked about his love of Universal Horror films, but said he learned from the experience of Jack Pierce, the longtime head of Universal’s makeup department and the genius behind horror classics like “The Wolf Man,” “Frankenstein” and “The Mummy.”

“He continued to use the techniques he started out with,” Baker said. “Jack didn’t progress with the times, and in the early ’40s, they booted him out of Universal. It was just such a sad story that this guy actually saved the studio, and then all of a sudden he didn’t have a job. I learned a lesson from that. I wanted to make sure to always stay current, try to find new material and stay with the modern techniques. And half the time I invented my own techniques, just because I didn’t want to have that happen to me. Plus, it’s just fun to find new ways to do things.”

The festival continues Sunday with screenings of the Pixar robot love story “Wall-E” and Joss Whedon’s sci-fi Western “Serenity,” as well as Q&A’s with Andrew Stanton and Nathan Fillion.

– Noelene Clark

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