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The makeup wizard, 61, holds the record for most makeup Oscars (seven) and noms (11), gets a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Friday.
Baker says he got excited when he heard that Lucasfilm and Disney are planning new Star Wars episodes — not only because he is a fan but because he harbors a fantasy of returning to the universe he helped create. One of Baker’s earliest gigs was working on the creatures of the cantina in 1977’s Star Wars.
“So much of the stuff I did in the first Star Wars was very quickly done,” he recalls. “Nobody knew that Star Wars was going to be Star Wars.”
And he hopes the new movies ease up on visual effects and attempt more practical effects.
“I think the problem that people have with the digital stuff is the problem I have: Just because you can do anything doesn’t mean that you should,” he says. “Instead of having a spaceship battle with three spaceships, they have 3,000 spaceships. Everything is so big and there’s so much going on, you lose reality. It takes you out of it.”
Baker points to his work on Men in Black 3, out on Blu-ray and DVD today, on which he worked with five-time Academy Award-winning senior VFX supervisor (and childhood best friend) Ken Ralston.
Baker created 127 characters for the movie but, having learned from past MIBs not to overbuild aliens, these creations were less mechanically complex. And if a few needed their eyes blinking, for example, Imageworks digitally added that.
“I think it was a good marriage between the two,” he said.
The star ceremony, and recognition by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most nominated and awarded makeup artist in Oscar history, found Baker reflective on his roughly 40-year career.
He said his most challenging job was working on 1988’s Gorillas in the Mist; the producers wanted to intercut men in gorilla suits with scenes of real gorillas, and Baker initially didn’t think it would work.
But his most outrageous requests came from David Cronenberg while working on the director’s 1983 horror sci-fi film Videodrome.
One scene called for the character played by James Woods to develop a rash on his stomach and while scratching it with a gun, the character’s hand goes into his abdomen. When Woods eventually pulls his hand out, the gun has become flesh and can shoot cancerous tumors. The scene required building a raised set around Woods, including a fake torso and fake legs.
But there were things in that movie that he couldn’t achieve, like Cronenberg’s request that the tumor bullets hit people in the face and consume them.
“We couldn’t come up with a good way to do that, so I suggested that the tumor get shot inside someone where it grows inside them and you see the head swell up and bust open,” he recalled.
He added: “Usually if it’s something I can’t do, I try to find something close.”
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