Rick Baker’s ‘Wolfman’ regrets: ‘I hoped it would bring back monster movies’

June 08, 2010 | 7:07 p.m.

FIVE QUESTIONS: RICK BAKER

Make-up pioneer Rick Baker is a six-time Oscar winner for his movie magic in films such as An American Werewolf in London,”Ed Wood,” Men in Black and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” but there were few projects in his illustrious career that got him more excited than the remake of “The Wolfman,” which has just hit stores on Blu-ray and DVD. I caught up with the 59-year-old film make-up wizard to talk about the legacy of the werewolf project, the disappointment that came with the film’s sour reception and his plans for the future. You can also read more about make-up and visual effects in our WIZARDS OF HOLLYWOOD series. 

 

Wolfman growl

 

GB: There are certain characters and films that carry a special resonance with them and I would imagine in your area of specialty, the Wolf Man has to be on a very short of list of truly classic and unique properties. Talk about that legacy and also the challenges that come with it. 

RB: It was the Universal films that made me want to do what I do. “Frankenstein,” “Dracula,” “The Mummy,” “Creature from the Black Lagoon” — it’s what hooked me. “That’s what I want to do, I want to make monsters.” And especially “The Wolf Man.” And when I heard they were going to do a new film I knew I wanted to do. I never pursue stuff, I’m kind of stupid that way, I’m not really a good businessman. I like when somebody calls me because they want to use me. But with this one, I didn’t to let it go by. I went and talked to someone at Universal and said, “If this is really going to happen and it’s going to put a person into makeup — as it should be done — then you got to use me. I really want to do this.” I was begging. I was glad to hear they wanted to use me, first of all. But then, like you said, then the reality hits and you think of the challenges. I need to make an homage to the Jack Pierce makeup, but I also need to modernize it and make it work for a modern audience. Are they going to accept a guy with hair on his face? It was a daunting task.

GB: Unlike those other Universal monsters, the Wolf Man has a transition. He isn’t a monster all the time and that changeover is a defining part of any werewolf film. For this remake, for you and the visual effects team, what was the strategy and philosophy about those metamorphosis scenes?

RB: That’s one of the things I always enjoyed about Wolf Man movies, the metamorphosis. And Lon Chaney Jr. was really underrated as an actor. I think in the original film and in the follow-ups there’s this deep sympathy you feel for this poor, cursed man. That’s so much of the appeal of it. He’s this tortured soul who, not by choice, turns into a monster and kills people. It just tears him up. But watching the man turn into the animal is one of the special things. I wasn’t sure going into this film how it was going to be done, Thirty years ago, with “American Werewolf in London,” we changed the way people thought about transformation. So what do you do now? The answer is they pretty much left me out of the transformation. They did it with CG. They utilized my ideas and concept sculptures, they scanned it all in, but it was all done in the computer. I would like to have been involved in it more because I also do a lot of computer stuff — I do my designs on the computer — but I thought they did a terrific job. On the Blu-ray there’s a lot of cool stuff showing how the transformation stuff was accomplished and also how I did my thing. It’s great for people to be able to see all that stuff. I tell my daughters, when I was young we didn’t have the Internet, we didn’t have home video — to watch these movies when I was young, I’d have to scour the TV Guide and see what time it was on and hope that my parents would let me watch it if they weren’t watching something else on the one TV in the house. You only had one shot at it. And there wasn’t a lot of information out there, either, but luckily there was Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and Forry Ackerman. He talked about the people behind the scenes and articles on how to do this stuff. That’s how I learned it was an occupation. But today the information is out there everywhere. I’m hoping it gives us a whole generation of whiz kids who are masters at this kind of stuff.

Rick Baker on set of Wolfman

 

GB: There is a perception of an ongoing rivalry between people and pixels — what I mean is whether it’s in visual effects or animation, there are proponents of “the old-fashioned, high-integrity” way and then the generation of hard-drive kids who come in with the view that computers are the total definition of “state-of-the-art.” Many of the most successful storytellers now do a blend approach, but then we also see far too many films that use a massive amount of computer effects in a way that leaves the audience numbed. I’m wondering what your perspective is on all of that. 

RB: I embrace the technology and I’ve been doing my designs on the computer for 22 years now. It’s another trick in your bag of tricks. There are things you can do [with computers] we can’t do with rubber and animatronics. But I hate when the computer stuff just makes for sloppy filmmaking, and it has. The common thing you hear now it, “We’ll fix it in post.” “There’s a C-stand in the shot; well, we’ll take it out in post-production. We’ll have somebody paint it out.” Well, why don’t you just walk over, grab it and move it out? It makes so much for sloppy filmmaking. It also annoys me when people now think it’s the only way to do things. That’s why I was really glad they actually wanted to go with a person in a makeup on this film. That was my fear. My fear was they were going to do a whole CG thing. When you have Anthony Hopkins and Benicio Del Toro and those kind of actors, you want to see them, not somebody’s digital version of them.

Wolfman

GB: The movie got some especially nasty reviews and commercially it was a disappointment [it made $139 million in worldwide grosses, but the production budget was $150 million, which doesn't include marketing and advertising costs]. I have to say I actually kind of enjoyed myself, but I’m a sucker for the old monster movies. I was talking to ["Hellboy" creator] Mike Mignola and he also liked it for the very same reason …

RB: It’s funny — like you, the people who like old-school horror movies tended to like it. It’s the closest thing to a monster movie that’s been out in a long time. There’s fans of the old movies that went and saw this one like eight times. It’s not a knife-wielding-crazy-guy-movie where teenagers get cut up in the worst ways possible. It’s more of a gothic horror film. I was hoping it would bring back that type of film, the kind I really enjoy. It’s very much a monster movie, and I hoped it would bring back monster movies. Will this make it harder to continue make more? I don’t know. It’s always kind of tough. When you’re working on a movie you always hope that people will go for it and enjoy what you’re doing. I don’t know what they were expecting. Frankly, it seems to me that part of the problem was when it was released. To put out a movie called “Wolfman” on Valentine’s Day weekend against a movie called “Valentine’s Day“? I didn’t really understand the logic of that. What do you expect? Release it on Halloween and I’m sure it would have done a lot better.

GB: You’re always up to something interesting, and your resume is a pretty staggering thing to behold. What are you excited about right now?

RB: I’ve kind of changed my priorities on things. It’s hard when you have a business — I have a great big studio which is great when you have a huge project like [Tim Burton's] “Planet of the Apes” or “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” but when I’m making a nose for somebody it doesn’t pay the bills. Like I said, “The Wolfman” was something I wanted to do and I took that. I’m just starting up now “Men in Black 3,” which is another one I wanted to do because I worked on the first two.

– Geoff Boucher

RECENT AND RELATED

The Wolf Man

Cursed? “The Wolfman” had to claw its way to the screen

Monsters of rock: Gene Simmons and David Lee Roth helped with “Wolfman” howls

Anthony Hopkins on his success: “I like to act like a submarine”

“The Wolf Man,” the history of a howling success

VIDEO: The legacy of Lon Chaney Jr., looking back in horror

Full-moon fever: The clawing appeal of werewolves

Johnston: Captain America will be a USO performer

Benicio Del Toro does his research for “The Wolfman”

PHOTO GALLERY: Sexy beast! A history of werewolves in film

PHOTOS: Universal.


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Comments


19 Responses to Rick Baker’s ‘Wolfman’ regrets: ‘I hoped it would bring back monster movies’

  1. Yours Truly says:

    for more info about The Wolfman or about Benicio Del Toro visit http://www.beniciodeltoro.ca

  2. Mahasa M says:

    Rick just wanted to drop by and let you know how much I admire you and your work! My dream is to work with you one day, hope you get my message….Congratulation with your oscars! Wishing you always the best in everything you do :)

  3. [...] Baker on ”Wolfman”: I hoped it would bring back monster movies  [...]

  4. Rastergamer says:

    The problem with the Wolfman remake was the SCRIPT, not the effects. I’m sure they would have saved about 10 of that 150 million by NOT BURNING THE MANSION DOWN, which is an old, old, cliche. Also the woman should not have been brought back, the old gypsy ain’t no Maria Ouspenskya, and Danny Elfman SUCKS. Also Monster movies are alive and well, MR BAKER.

    • phyllis says:

      I agree! I love the wolfman movies,but this last one was a diaster. I was looking forward to watching a first rate horror movie. Instead, I got a second rate feature that wasn't worth the time and effort. I was hoping the woman would get killed. Why does the wolfman always have to have a love interest? I think horror movies would be scarier without a love interest. I don't want the to feel sorry for the monster. I want it tiscare the hell out of me.

  5. Sandra B. says:

    There is a man rising fast among the special effects / animatronics fields . He has proven himself already as one of the best in the world at hyper realistic detail and effects . Not to mention he is brilliant at fluid movement animatronics and I understand he is now writing horror films . Can't wait to see his first film .It's going to be awesome . They call him " kIng of FX " .

  6. Desiree says:

    There are two companies in inland empire California that do animatronics and some effects .Penwal and Garner Holt Productions . Penwal is bigger and GHP has a strange owner that people are saying is demented but still able to function doing unusual robotic static figures for film and theme park use . I had a lawsuit against them . They have had some good artist working for them including a couple former Rick Baker employees and a one of the best artisians of the industry . Here in the valley Mat Crowse is crazy insane like Garner Holt but Garner Holt looks the part . Large scary looking guy with fred flint stone hands .Freaks women out and goes crazy for woman built like freakazoid alien super muscular steroid taking man beast .

    P.S. woman fx artist and fabricators in California . Be careful working for Garner holt .

  7. D. S. says:

    Stan winston studio was probably the best effects company in the world . With Stan gone now perhaps Rick Baker might go from number 2 to number 1 spot .

    I worked for both of them as well as Garner Holt's company . And yes I agree Garner Holt is an odd ball with mental issues . That strange mental state helps to ad his already " eccentric reputation " . He's working on 20 full size dinosaurs for a New York theme park right now .

  8. MissFX2You says:

    I like Rick Bakers inventive approach to make affects and facial distortion through cosmetic appliance design . But that and gorilla suits is where his great talent seems to slow down . Winston studios has done some great animals but so has Hensons creature shop and M.C. Productions in Rancho Cucamonga . Garner Holt Productions in San Bernardino California simply does mostly bulky large scale devices and has artist come in and finish with detail work . Garner holt does not know how to do anything artistic . He hires artist to finish everything off . Give credit to the right people and remember there's a reason for all the negative talk going around about Mr Garner Holt . Bad company and a horrible place to work . I know several industry artist that used to work for him and will never step foot in that place again .

  9. Vincent says:

    I heard the same thing .

    Where as Stan Winston had a temper he was still professional . Rick baker is easy to work and does great make up work but lacks serious breakthrough animatronic engineering in his creations . Animal makers is split between decent work and some really bad stuff they have put out .

    But I want to say Garner Holt used to do some impressive stuff [ once known for their incredible detail } and realistic animals . Now they seem to have lost that cutting edge artistic magic that put them on the map . Different people and different times I guess but todays garner holt productions can't stand up to their past . They are taking any project that comes through the door now and gladly excepting more small business loans from the city their based . I do like their V.P. Jody Meter though and the show room.

  10. Tracy / movie fx says:

    I like rick Baker's work the best . He tried so hard in his later career period to advance his skills and quality in the field . Between " Grey Stroke " legend of Tarzan and Gorilla's in the mist his ability really jumped .

    Penwal corporation in California does some very nice theme park work and places like garner Holt Productions in San bernardino California are struggling financially again and they have way to many loans out right now . Their largest current contract is full size dinosaurs and they have maintenance on previous work . The owner Garner Holt has been sued by women several times and former close friends are discussted with him now .

    Michael Jackson loved special effects/animatronics and started a special project through M.J. Enterprises to show his love of the field .

    Actor , stuntman & effects legend Tom Savini has always been known as just a bit lower level on effects and make up but fantastic to work with and the nicest guy in the world . In his 60's and still in incredible stuntman shape like sly stallone .

  11. Nick Borrows says:

    I like Tom Savini . His work is campy and old sixties style effects but it works . Gross , bloody and all up in your face with guts . Cool actor too .

  12. D W says:

    There is an amazing " Tell All book " being written about Garner Holt of Garner Holt Productions by industry professionals that have worked with him and know his company well . Did you know Garner Holt has a sick perversion for overly muscular deep voiced steroid taking weightlifting women . He lived with his parents until age 45 and was sued by a woman special effects artist in 2000 for sexual harassment { a case he settled for an undisclosed amount } .
    in the beginning when he worked out of a small shop on Lugo Ave in San Bernardino he tended to wear the same pants { day after day } until his parents bought him new pairs and insisted he wear them . He used to say " but those are my favorite pants " .
    The weird strange behavior of Garner Holt has been likened to " Michael Jackson " , Ted Bundy and Jackie Stallone all rolled into one mysteriously sick and perverted controversial business man on a ballistic path to embellish his company to a higher industry status .

  13. Johnny B Awesome says:

    Tell us more . Tom savini is more interesting than Stan Winston or Rick Baker . Probabaly because of the style of films he is known for working on . Really cool nostalgic blood & guts horror films .Besides doing the make up and special effects he likes to act and do some pretty stunty scenes . Rick Baker has had a couple small parts and a cameo or two in his films . There's no record of Garner Holt ever doing any acting or stunt work . Although several who have worked for him have gone on to acting , writing and film production . James brown " a supervisor at G.H.P. " co-founded a haunted house business in corona california and Steve Lents became a major consultant to rival companies . See I know things too . Elie Clifford is writing a book about Garner and several others have formed the " GHP society " { former members of Garner's tight group that have inside information } .

  14. daryncoleman says:

    i grew up with Garner and he has always been a weirdo! i knew him for 37 years, praised him for his accomplishments but he is so insecure its sad – when i decided to open my own mini golf course themed to a haunted graveyard i thought of my old buddy Garner – he wouldn't even give me the time of day. never returned a call and then when on to accuse of me of makin despairing remarks against him ( although he deserves despairaing remarks) i never did. he is one of the most self absorbed, selfish, self indulging person i know.

  15. daryncoleman says:

    and the reason he was ever able to do anything was due to a genius by the name of Rick Cords that created his control systems – the mechanics were lifted right off of Disney's manuals that he photographed while sneaking behind the scenes at Disneyland. he was also fortunate to have a couple of Sound Tech's give him unapproved behind the scenes tours. i myself when working in Figure Maintenance in the late 70's took him behind the scenes of Pirates of the Carribean during rehab – its odd but he seemed to leap ahead after that – of course for my troubles i lost my job at Disneyland and couldn't even get as much as a referral from him when building Ghost Golf. Garner Holt is a sick, egotistical asshole. he doesn't come close to a Rick Baker or a Stan Winston or even a Aaron Fechter. he exists by sucking the life out of everyone else.
    i'd love to add to this book – i've known him since 8th grade.

  16. Writer says:

    Daryn , how true you are .

    Rick Cords was always calm , quiet , very intelligent and focussed on his work . Amazing at electronics and programing . One day Rick had to leave on a family emergency { hospital related } and he always locked up his area when he was gone . ALWAYS and without exception . Well Garner came upstairs and could not seem to get in and was upset . Garner lost the key or perhaps Rick changed the locks " not sure " but Garner got into Rick's office area sounding like a human tornado busting and bashing through everything . When Rick came back and found what Garner had done they both ended up in front of Rick's office with Garner yelling , shouting and screaming at Rick . Heard a powerful thud and crunch sound that was horrific . I was afraid for Rick .

    When they left I took a picture { of the building now having a fist size hole in the wall } and logged the information down in my daily log book . Rick felt his privacy was violated and Garner stated aggressively that he owns everything . The offices , the desk , the chairs , all the computers and equipment . the parking lot and everything in the building .I turned on two recording devices . A tiny digital audio recorder usually on me at all times and a micro cassette tape recorder on my desk { just feet away from Rick's office } where the incident took place .

    I'm waiting for his company to grow and become a bit larger .

  17. Writer says:

    Because as it grows so does the impact and controversy of the real truth about " Garner Holt " and the worlds biggest Animatronics Company . Information backed by photos , footage , audio , documents , financial information , incident reports , daily logs , project reports , names , dates , times , eyewitness accounts and so on . Would love to have you on board Daryn . It's no secret to some of us how Garner has been running his business for years . But the damage and pain to so many by his personal actions and his arrogance about it certainly justifies the concern of so many for the truth to finally come out .

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