Here's Quint's look at the Dick Smith Tribute featuring Rick Baker and a Who's Who of make-up effects masters!
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here, newly returned from LA. I have a week to settle back in before my next micro-trip. Spent 2 nights in LA for this particular article and I’m headed out of country for the next one (which I’m not allowed to talk about)… probably only going to be on the ground 30 or so hours before turning back.
My LA trip started out shitty. Real shitty. There was an error in booking and suddenly I had to rebook the day before at nearly double the price and, even worse, I had to settle for US Airways. Cheap, cramped tiny planes, no overhead room, forced checked baggage, the works. Oh, and I did this travel all on 2 hours of sleep. Also, one of my scheduled activities fell through right upon landing in LA, so I was feeling really down.
Oddly enough it was the talkbackers who cheered me up. I hadn’t gotten a chance to read the feedback on the announcement of the Dick Smith Tribute I posted the night before and while I was on the rental car shuttle I flipped through them on my iPhone. The most common word used was “Jealous” instead of “Retard” like usual.
Needless to say, I stopped feeling sorry for myself really fast. I was afterall in town to see a living legend, someone who has impacted every single person who has decided they liked movies at all in the last, say, 50 years. I was going to share oxygen with some of the best, brightest and coolest people LA has to offer, the men and women who make real movie magic happen as a regular job.
I spent the day with a couple of friends of mine, just hanging out, watching movies and being introduced to the best Banana Cream Pie I’ve ever had in my life (at The Apple Pan). That’s like Zoloft for fat people. My frown was upside down in no time.
The next day was the big one. I had booked an interview with Mike Elizalde of Spectral Motion (one of the kings of animatronics) and a tour around their Glendale complex. I’m going to have my adventures there (with pictures) in a separate article hopefully posted next week, but it was a great primer to the tribute that was to follow.
There was a reception beforehand that I was invited to. I bought tickets before I was able to get in touch with David Smith, Dick’s son and assistant, who was very kind in getting me into the event, reception included. One of my extra tickets I presented to Mr. Rian Johnson, who was my date for the evening (note to other would-be suitors, Rian doesn’t let you under the shirt on the first date). I gave my remaining tickets to those waiting on stand-by for the sold out show and spent the 45 minutes preceding the event mingling with the best of the best of movie make-up.
I checked in alongside Tom Woodruff Jr. who was one of Stan Winston’s guys back in the day and runs ADI now with Alec Gillis. Woodruff was the dude inside the Gillman suit in Monster Squad! I interviewed him a while back over the phone, but never met him in person until that moment.
Behind me were the N and B of KNB, Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, both of whom I have known for years. Right at the entrance to the reception I could see the distinctive silver ponytail of one Mr. Rick Baker, host of the night.
There was a little bit of fear as I checked in. My name was on the list, but I was escorted to a little room off to the side of the reception. The “press area.” There were two other people sitting there looking bored and I thought I was going to be the kid pressing his nose up to the toy store window during Christmastime.
Thankfully I wasn’t there too long before the press lady released us into the reception with the strict instructions not to approach, speak with or photograph Dick Smith, with the one exception being when he posed with the giant Dick Smith head, eerily accurate, created by makeup effects artist Kazuhiro Tsuji.
That was a lot more restrictive than I expected, but I ended up meeting various industry folks. At one point I elbowed my way into a circle of geniuses talking shop. We had Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff and Stan Winston Studios’ Shane Mahan, who I had exchanged emails with after Stan passed away.
I introduced myself and Shane, who very much looks like shorter Kenneth Branagh, was very friendly and warm. I thanked him for his participation in the big Tribute to Stan that we did when he died. Alec Gillis, in turn, thanked us at AICN for running the tribute when his death was glossed over by every other major news outlet. He said it meant a lot to him personally as well as the special effects world. I told him it was only natural that we highlighted the man’s brilliant career. Stan Winston turned a whole generation of film goers into hardcore movie geeks, afterall.
I wandered a bit, noticing Hal Holbrook eating hors doeuvres by himself (didn’t quite have the gumption to approach the man. I once saw him at the Austin airport, too, and didn’t bug him then either) and I took a look at some of the life masks from Smith’s collection that were on display. He had one that was just half a face, the rest smooth and blank. I had no idea what that was from until the tribute, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
There was also a case that contained a set of the actual appliances that were used to turn the 40-something year old Max Von Sydow into the elderly Father Merrin in The Exorcist as well as before and after pictures of the actor. I was adjusting the focus on my camera when a guard stepped up to me and said that the case was off limits. So I didn’t get the shot. Sorry for not being quicker!
At one point I saw my opportunity to shake Rick Baker’s hand. I have a framed AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON poster about 4 feet to my left as I type this. I’m a huge fan of his stuff and couldn’t pass up the opportunity. He was trying to get out, actually, to save his voice for his hosting duties, but he very nicely took a minute to chat with me. I told him that if someone planted a bomb in this room then movies would get really boring for about 20 years. He laughed and agreed completely, saying he had the same thought.
I let him off without being too big a fanboy (I hope) and wandered a bit. I saw John Landis having an animated discussion with Greg Nicotero and then I caught a glimpse of a buddy of mine, a make-up guy named Kevin McTurk who was there covering the event for Rue Morgue Magazine, I believe. I met Kevin in New Zealand when he was working with Weta, but he’s been with damn near every make-up company, it seems. He spends a lot of time with Spectral Motion, too.
Anyway, we were minutes away from Smith himself coming out to make the rounds when I noticed one Mr. JJ Abrams, with a childlike grin on his face, enter the reception. He came in with a friend, but nobody approached him, so I decided to be that asshole.
I had just interviewed him over the phone a few weeks before so I thought I wasn’t being a complete douchebag. When I introduced myself he smiled really big and said that I was the reason he was there that night. He has been a lifelong fan of Dick Smith’s and even corresponded with him when he was a child, but he hadn’t heard about the event until I posted my piece on it.
Apparently, as a young man Abrams was gifted the actual tongue that Dick Smith had made for Linda Blair in THE EXORCIST. How blessed is that dude’s life, right?
Abrams introduced me to his friend, a guy by the name of Larry Fong who is the extremely talented cinematographer that shot WATCHMEN, 300 and a handful of LOST episodes.
Dick Smith was out and chatting with a few people and he was brought to Abrams right away. This was as close as I got to talking with the man himself, but I’m hoping to have a chat with him over the phone sometime in the near future. Here is Dick and JJ:
I was taking pictures manually pulling focus. Fong told me I was brave for not using auto-focus on my Nikon. I told him I would be, but for some reason that day the auto-focus stopped working for me. All the switches on my lens were set to auto, but I didn’t have a lot of time to spend exploring the problem and was just winging it.
Without more than 2 seconds passing Fong points to a switch on the camera body and said, “Isn’t that set on manual focus?” I looked and sure enough it was. I have no idea how that happened, but I quickly switched it back and my camera worked! It was a miracle! Fong said that he better read that in the article, with the proper credit… so there you go.
I was also able to snap a picture of Smith reuniting with Hal Holbrook:
The tribute was about to start, so everybody was herded to the Samuel Goldwyn theater. I ended up sitting behind JJ and Larry, next to my buddies Kevin and Rian.
First thing that struck me was seeing the giant Oscars.
There were two on either side of the room, like the Southern Oracle in THE NEVERENDING STORY but will less boobs, and it really stirred something deep inside me.
I know it’s just an awards show, but it has been a dream of mine to attend an Academy Awards telecast since I was a young child. As a little geek I always daydreamed about being there, surrounded by everybody I worshiped. The Nicholsons, Spielbergs, etc. I never had a dream about winning an Oscar, but I always wanted to sit and watch the show with those idolize.
This event was as close as I’ll likely ever get, so I made sure to soak up the atmosphere. The Tribute was put on by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS), hence the giant Oscars. It wasn’t long before Rick Baker took the stage and the tribute began.
Now, there’s an inherent danger to giving a tribute to a man named Dick. The innuendo and double entendre was KILLING me. I respect Mr. Smith immensely and I felt bad, but my juvenile side got the better of me as someone would innocently and with real emotion say something like “I wouldn’t be here without Dick,” “They made the mistake of bringing me up here to talk about Dick and once I get going I can’t shut up,” or “Dick means a lot to me.”
To be clear, I never laughed out loud. I did my best to make sure my amusement was only shared in sidelong glances with Mr. Johnson and didn’t disturb any of the nice people around me.
Baker seemed a bit nervous, but relaxed as he went along. The way the Tribute was set up they’d show a few clips, then Baker would bring up a panel of people to talk about Smith. Then they’d show more clips and a new panel would come up. They did that three or four times that night.
The first series of clips was Smith’s early work at ABC, including an episode of a show that I had never heard of before, but want to track down now called WAY OUT, a Twilight Zone rip-off. They showed what felt like almost the full episode from the show called Soft Focus, which Baker mentioned contained one of his all-time favorite Dick Smith make-up jobs.
Also in this era was a live broadcast of ALICE IN WONDERLAND which featured Smith’s first use of foam latex.
The WAY OUT episode blew me away. It’s about a photographer whose wife is a cheat. While mixing chemicals he stumbles across something new. When using this liquid he can retouch any photo by hand and the effect happens in real life. He’s had enough of his wife, so he ages a photo of her up gradually. That’s one make-up job for Smith, one of his first aging jobs.
But the big one is later. The husband not only ages his wife up, he starts aging himself younger. He makes the mistake of letting on that he has this power and the wife grabs what remains of the liquid and spills it on his own photograph. He stumbles for it, the photo falling the floor. In his haste he steps on it and when he comes back up his face looks like this:
What that particular photo doesn't show is how flat the face is. The nose is just gone. It's very remarkable and can I see why that particular make-up job is what got Rick Baker into the industry. Remember when I mentioned the lifemask on display that was half-smooth? It was from this show. Incredible work.
Baker remembered reading an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland (the mention of which got a soaring round of applause) where Smith went step by step through that make-up process. It blew Baker’s little mind that the whole face was a make-up effect. He thought the non-fucked up part was the actor.
They also showed a clip from Mark Twain Tonight, starring Hal Holbrook. It was this make-up that won Smith an Emmy.
Speaking of Holbrook, the first panel was actors so Hal took the stage alongside Linda Blair. Baker immediately went into “The Power of Christ compels you!” which got a laugh from Blair.
They talked about how their performances were enhanced or informed by Smith’s make-up. Holbrook was first to talk about the Mark Twain show, which was a four hour make-up job. Holbrook had done his own make-up on the tour and Baker brought that up. Holbrook still tours around doing Mark Twain and he said the make-up doesn’t quite take as long now.
Blair started out talking about meeting Rick Baker on THE EXORCIST. He was Dick Smith’s apprentice on the show and that she cried when she saw Smith tonight. “I hadn’t seen Dick for a while,” (snicker snicker)… But she brought up Smith’s kindness and openness and how it has inspired a generation of make-up artists. This sentiment has been expressed by everybody I talked with that day and the crowd burst into huge applause when she said it on stage.
They then spoke about the grueling stuff Blair had to go through on the shoot, at 13 years of age. She had a full body cast, multiple head molds, including one where they put hard contact lenses into her eyes and did the process with her eyes wide open.
Blair talked about how in casting THE EXORCIST William Friedkin made sure his choice for Reagan had to be able to mentally cope with not only the subject matter, but the actual tough production. Blair credited Smith with a lot of the reason she could handle the film, that he went out of his way to make the make-ups easy for her. He apparently had a pet squirrel that had her looking forward to the visits to Smith’s place for the next round of make-up needs as well as setting up a mirror so she could watch a TV playing behind her.
They started with a full mask for the possessed little girl, but Friedkin kept saying “Cut it back, cut it back. I need to recognize it’s her.” Which meant a real, lengthy prosthetic job every day.
Blair also touched on the intimacy involved between the make-up artist and the actor. Their faces are inches apart for hours, weeks and months at a time. She said she knows every detail of Smith’s face as well as he must know hers.
Baker mentioned feeling a bit of outrage when Friedkin changed the concept of Smith’s make-up. “How can you question Dick Smith?!?” But then he was thankful for it because without that extra workload Smith wouldn’t have needed to hire Baker on, so it proved to give Baker the opportunity to work with Smith.
They played the two actors off with a 10 minute clip from THE EXORCIST and goddamn that’s a great movie. It was the entire first round of the Exorcism all the way up to “It is God himself who commands you!”
Next up were Andy Clement (Star Trek, Spider-Man 3, Basket Case 2), Shane Mahan and John Rosengrant (both of Stan Winston Studios). The thrust of this talk was about Smith’s openness with sharing trade secrets to anyone who wanted to know. Most in the business kept their various tricks a secret, but not Smith. It’s part of what drew so much young talent to him, especially when he opened up his own school of make-up.
Clement was one of the first to sign up for the course in the ‘80s and now is gathering material to update it since it’s been about 25 years since Smith wrote the book.
The focus then switched to Mahan and Rosengrant, which led to a small remembrance of Stan Winston. Baker said that he thought, frankly, that Stan would have been a better guest than Rosengrant and Mahan. They laughed and agreed. Mahan said it would have somehow turned into the Stan Winston Tribute to a lot of laughter.
There was talk about a series of How To magazines that Smith published in the ‘60s that was aimed at kids, teaching them how to make monsters using household products, stuff out of their mother’s kitchen. It was here that he published the formula for blood, red dye and Karo Syrup, that is the standard even today.
Rosengrant recalled working with Smith, Winston and Baker on STARMAN and how excited he was to work with Dick Smith. He was going to be doing a lifecast of Jeff Bridges and was happy to show off for Smith. He mixed the alginate and, apparently, “got an education.” Apparently, Smith is scientific, like a chemist, working with these materials and accepts no less than perfection. Rosengrant and Mahan would test the temperature of the alginate by sense of touch and when Smith came in he used a thermometer. He was that exact.
Next up were clips from ALTERED STATES and THE HUNGER, followed by a panel featuring Carl Fullerton (worked on both of the above as well as F/X, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, GOODFELLAS and much more), Mike Elizalde (Spectral Motion) and Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff of ADI.
The focus of this panel was on Dick Smith’s innovations. Fullerton spoke to what we just watched, the primitive man scene from ALTERED STATES, and how that was an 11th hour cast and make-up. How would they make the hair?
Smith found a hairy dude in his shop, ordered him to strip down and looked at the hair pattern on the dude’s body, made meticulous notes and took a wax casting of the actor and drew that pattern on the body. He then transposed sections of that hairy blueprint onto formica sheets and then, ultimately glued these now hair-filled sheets onto the actor every day. It wasn’t a suit, very low-tech, but served the purpose.
Alec Gillis made sure to shine a light on Smith’s talent as a creator of animatronic and puppetted creatures, specifically his work on GHOST STORY. He loved the eye-less, shrieking design and the ghost puppet that comes out of the car at the end and, this part is fascinating to me, described how he made the effect.
The skin had to slide off of this creature, so Smith made it with a gelatin skin, which reacts to heat, and applied that on top of heating elements built into the puppet’s skull that he could control. So he could essentially melt the skin off from inside, creating the effect.
How great is that? That’s the magic of the movies to me.
Then the legend of Dick Smith’s finger was told. I had never heard this before, but apparently it’s well-known in the make-up world.
Basically, there was an accident on an early film that Smith worked on. His wedding ring got caught on something and it stripped all the flesh from his finger. Gangrene set in and they had to remove the finger. Knowing that his hand was going to be in actors’ faces for the remainder of his career, he had the doctors remove the finger bone all the way down into his hand, so you really don’t notice. He calls it his Mickey Mouse hand. You can see it in some of the pics of him.
I wouldn’t point it out if he seemed at all self-conscious about it, but the next series of clips they showed were all home video (or 8mm or 16mm) of Dick working, shot by his son, David, and in it he demonstrates how stipple is used to create the illusion of aged skin on his injured hand. He says something like, “No, you’re not seeing things, I only have 3 fingers on this hand” and continues the demonstration.
The clip-show was amazing. I hope this footage makes it out there. It opens with Smith applying old age make-up on Dustin Hoffman for LITTLE BIG MAN and Smith is telling him how to act. Dustin Hoffman! Smith tells him to do a few certain old-man things, like slump over and scrunch the mouth so it appears that there aren’t any teeth left. Hoffman scrunches the mouth and Smith immediately goes, “Don’t do all one thing, I mean… vary it as much as you can.” Hoffman takes it in stride (as far as I can tell through the make-up) and decides puffing up his upper lip gives the illusion of being toothless after trying a few things.
In this footage you can also see Hoffman let out some belches through his old-man lips as Smith is applying latex. This may be on a DVD as this footage also features Hoffman talking to the camera about his process and the make-up.
We then see Smith talking about The Godfather and working with Brando. Now, Brando didn’t want to do a complicated make-up and what Brando wants is what Brando gets. So very few appliances were used. They collaborated and did some tests and in about an hour and a quarter Smith settled on using Old Age Stipple (which he demonstrated on his hand, as per above).
It’s liquid latex that you dab on, stretch the skin and then dry it with a hairdryer. The more layers the deeper the wrinkle effect.
Brando was 40 playing 60, so Smith used two coats of Stipple and when he’s 10 years older in the film, he went to 4 coats. Over the Stipple went shadows, liver spots, freckles, etc.
The famous jowls and were created with a dental appliance that fit onto the lower jaw and had rounded soft plastic on the sides that pulled the cheeks down a bit. I’m sure that also influenced the now iconic speech of the Don.
Then the Dick Smith on the screen brought out the possessed Linda Blair dummy from THE EXORCIST specifically made for the scene when the head turns around backwards (I think they reused it for the actual exorcism scene where her head spins as well). It took a month and a half to build for two shots in the movie.
The lower body was from the full body cast and was rubber filled with soft Styrofoam and the chest and head piece were hard plastic. The head housed a mechanism that controlled her eyes. He opened the head and showed the mechanics of it. Fucking creepy. Fucking cool.
They followed these home movies up with a clip from AMADEUS, the film Smith won his Oscar for. Baker said the Salieri old age make-up was inspired, in part, by Smith himself. The forehead piece is cast directly from Smith’s own forehead.
The final panel consisted of Kazuhiro Tsuji (builder of the big Dick Smith head and worked on flicks like PLANET OF THE APES, HELLBOY, THE RING, ENCHANTED and ANGELS & DEMONS), Greg Cannom (who won the Oscar this year for BENJAMIN BUTTON) and Kevin Haney (DICK TRACY, CHUD, COCOON, BASKET CASE).
Kazuhiro Tsuji talks about seeing a Fangoria article as a kid that had an article with Smith’s step by step process on turning yourself into Abraham Lincoln. Tsuji went to the library, found a book on Lincoln and proceeded to go about turning himself into Lincoln. He did it four times, improving each time… the dude even did his own life cast.
Tsuji told the audience that Dick Smith was like a father to him, in fact did more for him than his actual father.
After another 20 minutes of praise the time had come to call Dick Smith himself up to the stage. But before they did that they ran a special video salute recorded by Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor and Guillermo del Toro from Weta Workshop in New Zealand.
Guillermo gave all credit to where he is in life to Dick Smith. Without his course he would not be where he is today. Richard shared the sentiment, saying that without the letters of encouragement and the line of communication Smith opened up to him 23 years ago there might not be a Weta today.
Peter talked about Smith’s influence on them all, saying that everyone who has been influenced both directly and indirectly are essentially his children and grandchildren.
And Guillermo finally did it. The innuendo was threatening to break me in two when Guillermo followed up Peter’s heartfelt sentiment with “Yes, we are all Dick spawn.”
The audience cracked up as Peter, Richard and Guillermo signed off, each putting a hyphenate Smith on their names. “It’s the New Zealand Smiths.” The video ended with a line of text saying something along the lines of “We’ll see you soon,” hinting at the consultant work he’s going to do on HOBBIT.
Dick Smith took the stage to a standing ovation.
He took the mic and started talking about Rick Baker. That he had seen some of his work in an Eddie Murphy film and thought Baker did a good job. Days later he realized that an old Jewish character in the movie was wearing any make-up at all. Sounds to me like he was watching COMING TO AMERICA.
When he realized that Eddie Murphy played the old Jewish man and that the make-up was so good he didn’t see it he thought to himself, “He fooled me! He’s passed me by.” Smith said he came to that realization and he thought it was wonderful. Smith said Baker always felt like a son to him and it’s only natural that a son should surpass the father. “That’s the way it should be.”
Unfortunately that was it to the tribute. The AMPAS gathered all the Academy members (pretty much everyone who has won an Oscar for make-up) onstage for a big group picture.
I was hoping for more of Smith himself, but what I got was more than good enough.
The sheer amount of respect in that room was enough to bowl you over, not to mention the outpouring of emotion. As an outsider looking in I was very moved to see the man’s peers showing so much unadulterated adoration.
I’ll never have the artistic talent to be in their ranks, but that doesn’t stop me from being a fan of the medium and of the living legends still contributing to the art of making movies magic.
This ended up being a horribly long piece. I thank everyone who stuck it out with me on this night.
If you want to know more about Dick Smith’s classes you can visit his site here.
On this trip I did a few interview with more make-up and practical effects people, including Spectral Motion’s Mike Elizalde. I’ll have that interview and photo-journey through the studio for you in the very near future.
I’d like to do a series of articles for this site that focuses on practical effects, centering on different artists as I go. We don’t really have that kind of focus out there anymore and I’d like to do what I can to bring some of that back. What do you guys think?
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June 23, 2009, 7:24 a.m. CST
And a big yes to a series of articles on practical FX artists. All we hear about these days is CG animators.
June 23, 2009, 7:27 a.m. CST
It's not fair that a lucky fucking hack like him gets into these events and walks around like he has some right to be there. Fuck off back to television and take your shaky-cam and ADD editing with you. For crying out loud. I cannot wait for the day everyone realises what a talentless idiot that bloke is.
June 23, 2009, 7:28 a.m. CST
As usual and great piece with some top Dick jokes :)
June 23, 2009, 7:38 a.m. CST
A series of articles on practical effects would be awesome!
June 23, 2009, 7:48 a.m. CST
by Duncan Irons
Thanks for sharing...
June 23, 2009, 7:49 a.m. CST
by Stuntcock Mike
June 23, 2009, 7:58 a.m. CST
Once again I am hugely jealous. You're a better man than me for not making a dick joke though
June 23, 2009, 8:01 a.m. CST
effects targeted articles Quint. Empire online has just ran a good one on stop motion. Check it out http://www.empireonline.com/features/evolution-of-stop-motion/
June 23, 2009, 8:08 a.m. CST
by Boba Fat
Do them now!!!
June 23, 2009, 8:24 a.m. CST
What's Rob Bottin up to these days?
June 23, 2009, 8:31 a.m. CST
Delanghaarige---good call on Botten
June 23, 2009, 8:33 a.m. CST
by Shut the Fuck up Donny
It made me wish I had tried to make more effort to pursue a job in special effects in my youth. <p> I'll admit I was completely ignorant to the fact that Kevin Haney did the special effects for Basket Case...Hilarious.
June 23, 2009, 8:51 a.m. CST
by THE TRUE PINBACK
First off...congratulations on getting to attend this event...I am VERRRRRY jealous of you, you lucky bastard!!! And great article! NOw...PLEEEEEEZ do your series of pices on practical effects. I'm an affirmed spfx junkie and I would eat them up! Here's another idea for you to chew on...I'm a big fan of CINEFEX magazine-have 'em all-and on very rare occasions they have gone back to do retrospective articles on films that they didn'tr cover, like STAR WARS and 2001. But htere are quite a few that they haven't covered that deserve a look back. A look bact at the FX work of such films as the first two SUPERMAN films, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, FLASH GORDON and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL would be so friggin' cool! These are among some films that didn't get extensive FX coverage, but really deserve it. Something to think about anyway...thanks again fort the excellent coverage...and keep up the GREAT work!!! You keep the geek commmunity energized!
June 23, 2009, 8:52 a.m. CST
Especially enjoyed the laugh about Stan Winston's talent for self-promotion. I hope that Hollywood always has room for practical effects. Sadly, seeing where Benjamin Button took digital makeup, and where Avatar will likely take it a step further, I fear the days of latex and spirit gum are gradually drawing to a close.
June 23, 2009, 8:54 a.m. CST
Jealous much? Seems to me that J.J. is a geek who made good. You and I may not care for his style, but many others do--and more power to him. From the tone of Quint's article, J.J. seems like great guy, and a bonafide geek. I wish him continued success.
June 23, 2009, 9:42 a.m. CST
I was one of those middle school kids who knew the difference between Bottin and Baker, Fullerton and Reardon, and the wide gap between Savini and Smith... I have tons of super 8 films with maquette's, makeup effects, gore, from back then. It's good to hear that these people (for the most part) are still recognized and celebrated. I can't believe Abrams had an Exorcist tongue... how did that happen?
June 23, 2009, 9:52 a.m. CST
June 23, 2009, 9:52 a.m. CST
June 23, 2009, 10:10 a.m. CST
It's fun to read about the "behind-the-scenes" guys that create the real magic in the movies. <p> Oh, and yes to more articles detailing practical effects work.
June 23, 2009, 10:12 a.m. CST
No one actually likes this style, everyone pisses and moans about ADD editing and shaky-cam. Abrams isn't a geek who made good, Abrams is a geek who made lots of money. In Hollywood that equals talent. Mi:3 and Star Trek were terrible bits of film-making. I truly believe the editing is an attempt to cover up a film-maker who hasn't shot anything which cuts together in a meaningful or sensible way. If he makes a competent, vaguely cinematic film at some point, then all credit to him. But it pisses me off to see him swan around Hollywood like he's God'd gift when he's done nothing to justify being there, except make lots of money. Especially in the esteemed company of some genuine gifted, creative people.
June 23, 2009, 10:24 a.m. CST
June 23, 2009, 10:35 a.m. CST
In the article the press lady told you not to speak with or photograph Dick Smith, except when he's by his bust. But then you take a picture of him when he's talking to JJ Abrams. Sneaky!
June 23, 2009, 10:39 a.m. CST
But it was worth the time. Great article, felt like being there.
June 23, 2009, 10:52 a.m. CST
by Talkbacker with no name
banded about at all when talking about effects and make up. Man, just look at what he has done as stan winston's right hand man over the years - creature effects coordinator for aliens and the first predator, makeup designer for penguin in batman returns all the way up to today where he is physical suit effects supervisor for Iron Man. I can't think of a better person to join the ranks of Baker and Smith in the near future.
June 23, 2009, 11:02 a.m. CST
by Talkbacker with no name
I'd like to see something on Shame and the people he works with post stan winston. I remember you ran a piece when the great man died where they talked about starting a new company. I for one would love to know how that is going now.
June 23, 2009, 11:03 a.m. CST
by Talkbacker with no name
I of course mean Shane :)
June 23, 2009, 11:12 a.m. CST
June 23, 2009, 11:25 a.m. CST
... great job... Surprised Savini wasn't there?
June 23, 2009, 11:28 a.m. CST
by half vader
for being such a DICK.
June 23, 2009, 11:34 a.m. CST
by half vader
Oh no it didn't. Thanks Quint. I emailed the academy about whether they'd ever post a transciption or a video or podcast, but no reply. I'm a monster (haw!) fan of makeup effects, and as I was unable to attend (being on the other side of the world I tried but couldn't make it), this post made my day. <p> Er, your camera didn't happen to have a video mode did it? ;)
June 23, 2009, 11:36 a.m. CST
by half vader
(while we're mentioning great oldschool guys) Can't see, group pic too small..
June 23, 2009, 11:43 a.m. CST
by half vader
? Hmm. No-one's posting.
June 23, 2009, 11:45 a.m. CST
I didn't get to read all the posts here, but does anybody else remember Dick Smith's "How to Make a Monster" make-up FX softcover magazine that came out in the 6os? I thought it was amazing. My favorite was the "Oatmeal Face" or the "Weird-Oh" with the ping pong eyes.
June 23, 2009, 11:54 a.m. CST
I didn't know much about Dick Smith before, and I'm ashamed to say it. I'm glad you have this article up. It reminds me of the good old days when I used to learn so much from AICN.
June 23, 2009, 11:58 a.m. CST
Thanks for that. Would love to read more like it.
June 23, 2009, 12:01 p.m. CST
One highlight was seeing John Landis stroll up my aisle (I've seen him at so many events; one of these days I should just introduce myself), and him commenting to someone that so many folks in the audience had worked on his films. He joked that he wanted to shout, "One hour lunch." The event was fantastic. Rick Baker was so humbled and gracious. My one complaint is that some of the film clips went on a little too long. (I mean we've all seen The Exorcist a million times, right?) And it would've been nice for more comments from Dick Smith. But all in all it was a fantastic evening. Even my wife who doesn't know anything about make up fx was very impressed.
June 23, 2009, 12:03 p.m. CST
Man when the great Dick's involved this innuendo thing writes itself.<p> Quint, well done old chap.<p> I also second, third, or fourth the call for a series of AICN articles on Special Effects, flagging up particular innovations and FX heavy movies from the last few decades - I'd go as far as to nominate you, Quint, to produce them. What do you say? Tempted?
Pinback mentioned BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and it's flicks like that and SWORD & THE SORCERER, and others that obviously didn't have much of a budget to work with, but thanks to the ingenuity of the Dick Smith's of this world they managed to turn out some really cool and effective FX for our entertainment.
June 23, 2009, 12:15 p.m. CST
Jeez, that guy looks like Salieri from Amadeus, his skin, his wrinkles, etc. To further read that Smith used a mold of his own head for F. Murray Abraham to use completed the circle. Great article, Quint. Would've been cool if there'd been something on the great work Smith did on TAXI DRIVER, De Niro's Mohawk (not real), the mob guy's hand blown off, etc., but I guess Smith has had such as amazingly expansive career, you just can't cover everything.
June 23, 2009, 12:16 p.m. CST
that giant Dick Smith head is tripping me out.<br><br> ..it's amazing, Kazuhiro Tsuji did a sweet job, whoever he is.
June 23, 2009, 12:26 p.m. CST
a school production of Dracula in the bustling city of Greenville, Michigan. He was a very intelligent and nice guy, and it didn't surprise me one bit that he succeeded so well with Stan Winston. He worked on The Terminator also.
June 23, 2009, 12:27 p.m. CST
it IS scary. So much better than the wax museum stuff.
June 23, 2009, 12:35 p.m. CST
Love the idea of seeing articles on practical effects! God bless make up artists and Dick Smith! Fuck CGI in the ass with an AIDS covered cock covered in slime!
June 23, 2009, 12:56 p.m. CST
Once you've been fucked with an "AIDS covered cock" just how necessary exactly that it also be "covered in slime." Kinda anti-climactic and superfluous at that point, no?
June 23, 2009, 12:57 p.m. CST
Well done buddy.
June 23, 2009, 1:02 p.m. CST
Long read, but well worth it.
June 23, 2009, 2:28 p.m. CST
Seems like a fascinating and sweet man. Great article, Quint, thanks!
June 23, 2009, 2:41 p.m. CST
I was trying to add in something Dick Smith-y.
June 23, 2009, 3:08 p.m. CST
But, I must ask - what are you, twelve? You silently giggled when you heard the word "Dick"? That's pathetic.
June 23, 2009, 3:14 p.m. CST
I dabble in Practical and CGI. I'm a big fan of Smith and Baker.<P> The want to be a creature creator started for me, after seeing the making of Thriller. I started trying to do it myself shortly after I started watched Movie Magic episodes on the Discovery Channel, back in the early 90's. <P> It's never too late to pick the clay up Quint. It's alot of fun. You should try it, just as a hobby, if your really into it you'll never want to stop toiling away. Heres some places on the Internet for tutorials and resources. <P>Theres monstermakers.com, sculpture.net, silicone-inc.com, factor2.com smooth-on.com thehma.net, theeffectslab.com, <P>And lastly pixologic.com- If you ever care to toy around with zbrush. Which I recommended for your christmas wish list last year. You really don't like CGI. I get that, but zbrush is being used for practical applications now, and it's a great pre'vis tool. Nevermind what Rapid Prototyping offers. Stan Winston Studios made the Crystal Skull with it, and parts of Iron Man I think. Caroline used it to make all those exchangable faces.. <P> Digital is not evil, it's a tool just like clays, waxes, latex and silicones. At any rate those are great sites to learn the craft and acquire some of the tools. I love special FX, all kinds. It Practical or not it still requires an artist or a team of artists with an imagination to make it look real.
June 23, 2009, 3:15 p.m. CST
June 23, 2009, 3:19 p.m. CST
that it's time to retire from the ALIEN suit. I like my aliens super skinny and 7+ ft
June 23, 2009, 3:20 p.m. CST
Like for a DVD extra or something? If not, that's a shame. Would've been perfect for The Exorcist Blu-ray.
June 23, 2009, 3:40 p.m. CST
Good to know there is still some real love for movies out there, even if it's hard to find on the internet.
June 23, 2009, 3:44 p.m. CST
baker is a paedo
June 23, 2009, 4 p.m. CST
Thanks Quint. This piece is up there with the tribute AICN did when Stan Winston passed away. In a CGI dominated industry it's great to see you guys flying the flag for practical make-up FX work. I can't wait to read your future pieces on this. Rob Bottin? There's no way he'd have been there with Rick Baker. It's a damn shame that Steve Johnson wasn't there as he's done some incredible work. He seems to have vanished from the industry. Maybe you can track him down Quint...
June 23, 2009, 4:32 p.m. CST
Great article, and I would also like to add my vote for a series of articles on practical effects. And now I want to see if I can find my old copies of Starlog/Fangoria/Cinemagic.
June 23, 2009, 4:37 p.m. CST
I don't hate CG at all. What I hate is the over-use of it and how that seems to limit most filmmakers blinded by the ability put anything they want on screen. In a weird way their hands are tied even tighter when they have the ability to realize anything they want. I have a lot of respect for CG artists and their own artistry, but computer effects rarely capture that lightning in a bottle magic that is gotten when these brilliant minds cobble together random things and build the illusion of a living, breathing creature. It's like the Apollo 13 astronauts taking random odds and ends to fix their fucking space ship. Just mindblowing to me.
June 23, 2009, 4:55 p.m. CST
June 23, 2009, 6:51 p.m. CST
I almost felt like I was there. Thanks for the excellent reporting and fun photos (just love Rick Baker). So nice to see Mr. Smith getting more recognition. The man deserves every bit of it.
June 23, 2009, 8:24 p.m. CST
That was great Quint, simply great.
June 23, 2009, 8:39 p.m. CST
You should definitely do those articles about effects. I don't know about most of this stuff and it's very informative. :D
June 23, 2009, 11:46 p.m. CST
by half vader
Alien - You probably don't realise (no offence intended) that the look of Benjamin Button's cg makeup was defined by the two gentlemen above - Rick Baker and Kazu Tsuji - in a number of incredible practical life-sized maquettes/silicon heads that were subsequently scanned to do the digital versions and also used as lighting reference. <p> Also, Button does not really infringe on practical makeup FX at all in my opinion. Rick Baker has always said, and Greg Cannom who did Button's practical makeup would probably also tell you (if I'm not being too presumptuous) that makeup is an ADDITIVE process. You build up detail, and add to what's there. You can't be gouging bits out of an actor's face and body! And building the face or body up so you can then take away is often obvious enough to defeat the point (although little big man is a brilliant example of the best way to achieve it through practical means). Ironically it's Smith and Baker's genius in overcoming this intrinsic limitation that sets them apart. But there's Baker's story about Tim Roth on Burton's Planet of the Apes that illustrates the conundrum very neatly. <p> CG allows you to do subtractive/reductive effects in a more straightforward manner, without having to allow for the effect elsewhere on the actor's face or body. Benjamin button is an extremely old character where the fatty deposits and effects of ageing have shrunk the facial features back to the bone. As this shrinking/thin effect can't be done the same way practically, I don't think it's fair to say BB's cg/digital makeup takes away from practical makeup in that case. <p> And while Smith and Baker have come up with ingenious ways to overcome the "nose" problem with designs like the blurred guy above, the faceless chick, the aforementioned apes and the Grinch, I don't think there's anything wrong with Davy Jones and Voldemort using cg to eliminate the need to allow for the effect by building up other areas. Same with half robot Terminator heads and variations like the hammerhead guy from Pirates where his eyes are so close to the top of the skull. Rule of thumb is that your eyes are at the halfway point on your head. No way around that. I appreciate the magic of visual distraction that oldschool brilliantly provides, but that doesn't mean digital is wrong for doing it more straightforwardly. Both Baker's own Judge character from Jackson's The Frighteners and the Faun and the Creepy eyeless fat/thin man in Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth are great examples of practical and digital makeup fx doing what each do best, in harmony. I just get funny (and probably all preachy) when people profess to loving these artistic/technical disciplines but their objectivity goes out the window, as in the tired old "oldschool rulez/cg sux" simpleminded vendetta that's been going on here forever. One thing that elevates guys like Baker and Muren is that they're NOT close-minded, and their openness to new possibilities is of course why they've made such huge strides and taken their respective types of FX into the future. Everyone here probably knows the story of how Baker was completely opposed by the old guard in pushing animatronics. It's EXACTLY the same analogy with cg makeup. Another analogy comes from John Lasseter, who said, "Computers don't create computer animation any more than a pencil creates pencil animation. What creates computer animation is the artist". And whether it's makeup, cg or whatever, it's all just a means to an end and that end is the CHARACTER, not the technique. Our love and dissection of the art of prosthetic effects is diametrically opposed to the concerns of filmmakers in creating a character or narrative by any/the best means possible (with the moderators of time, production logistics, practicality and budget). Which is fine, but many fans don't recognise/confuse that they're heading in one direction and we're heading in the other. <p> At the risk of making a goofy Dad joke to everyone in the Tb, don't cut off your noses to spite your faces. I'm not sure if that's ironic or muddies the metaphor, but it's still appropriate! <p> Cheers.
June 23, 2009, 11:49 p.m. CST
by half vader
Unless you go digital and rub out the top part of the skull, is what I meant to write. Eloquent and concise I ain't.
June 24, 2009, 1:47 a.m. CST
A tools a tool. It's always been about pushing things beyond the limits, be it Practical or CGI. It was only a few years ago that CGI left the tedious wireframe pull and tug way of creating an object. You say directors overdo it. Most of CGI's bad's are more related to time, team and budget. The practical guys have more control over things as a team. In CGI, you have a guy who sculpts it and maybe textures it, then someone else paints it, then someone else animates it, then someone else does the render passes, and then someone else composites it into the film. Most of the practical guys are there in th eother guys ear, when each new stage happens to the work/creation. Some of the sculptors manage to puppet the final piece. Take that as you will. Also, The Astronauts didn't fix the ship. The Nasa guys on the ground did. They Astronauts followed directions and advice. Pick up some Clay- Water Based or Plastine, and try the free Zbrush Demo. Most importantly Have fun and see where it goes for you. Sometimes like food, the Critic has to get hands on to truly understand and appreciate the work they judge.
June 24, 2009, 4:31 a.m. CST
by half vader
Ooh, I just came over all John Wayne-like!
June 24, 2009, 4:42 a.m. CST
by half vader
Directors DO overdo it. In exactly the same boys-with-toys way as what's been happening the last 5 years or so with Pre-vis vs storyboards. And morphing before it. And shakeycam. And bloody lensflares. None of those ones seem to realise the most important consideration is CONTEXT. <p> But you're right. For decades I've been hearing/seeing/reading my heros say "it's just a tool" and for decades fanboys keep somehow missing it. There's a reason why guys like Muren and Tippett are still making better effects with the same tools (mainly) as everyone else - what I don't think Quint quite gets is that they carry the same sort of lateral problem-solving that fascinates him about the old stuff across to the new mediums too. Just a tool indeed. <p> Sorry for all the posts. This event just made me all excited...
June 24, 2009, 5:40 a.m. CST
by Talkbacker with no name
and didn't rick Baker say himself he learnt how to do cgi for those very reasons?
June 24, 2009, 2:17 p.m. CST
when you talk about a legend like Dick Smith. It could have been twice the length and I would have still been there with you. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do a series on practical effects masters !!!!!
June 25, 2009, 4:50 a.m. CST
by half vader
And in no time flat he leapfrogged most of the other zbrush users, because of his knowledge of form, proportion, anatomy, gravity acting on features over time and all that other 'boring' stuff which doesn't actually have anything specifically to do with one particular medium. I'm gonna pull my finger out and make the leap myself (for sculpting). "Monstermaker" may not know the fancy "short-cuts" but what he achieves by bashing away with a basic understanding is just phenomenal. I like the stuff of his Dad (and the later "Popeye" version)! <p> Oh and yeah +1 for that series please.
June 26, 2009, 11:10 a.m. CST
by half vader
I must say that before Jackson put a stop on the auction of all his cool collectables, I was looking real hard at his 'transformer' robot head that Rick Baker did. That thing was fantastic. Looked like a Tron-lion.
June 27, 2009, 1:31 p.m. CST
July 7, 2009, 12:23 p.m. CST
by Cellar Door
These guys were more my heroes as a kid than many of the actors portraying the fictional heroes the effects guys and girls helped bring to life. Great article!<p>And yes, where's Tom Savini?
Aug. 28, 2010, 6:04 p.m. CST
...so it took me over a year to read the article but thanks for the mention! I don't even remember the request. That's me, ever the jokester, yuk yuk. NIce piece, thanks, it brings back the memories. By the way, fun fact: JJ and I BOTH had the Monster Makeup book as young kids, AND corresponded with Dick Smith, long before we even met each other. That should tell you something about our roots.
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