Rick Baker is one of my heroes, artistically speaking.
I fell in love with his work when I was young, and for most of my life, I’ve been watching his creations come to life onscreen and I’ve felt lucky to be witnessing them. When I saw “An American Werewolf In London” in 1981, the way he (along with John Landis and David Naughton) made a transformation from man to beast feel like a tactile, physical process involving heat and pain seemed miraculous. He has made the fantastic seem not only possible but absolutely probable for his whole career, and he has a shelf full of Academy Awards to show for it.
However, he’s also seen the industry change around him, and whereas he was once the hot new alternative to the special effects of a bygone era, today computer effects have shifted the landscape around Rick to the point that he is now the one considered quaint and old-fashioned by Hollywood. It’s not true, of course, and I would strongly urge filmmakers to reconsider their push to do everything with ones and zeros instead of creating something tangible. I’ve seen things he created thirty years ago that still exist, that you can still touch with your own hands, and that could, with just a little bit of touch-up work, still be put in front of a camera and filmed.
When Sony called to ask if I would be willing to conduct an on-camera interview with Baker for “Men In Black 3,” they did not have to ask twice. I was still smarting from the great half-hour interview I did with him in Austin that vanished thanks to a technical glitch, and I was determined to do it right this time. The great HitFix video crew joined me at his Glendale studio, where he had set up a variety of his “Men In Black” aliens from all three films, and we did the interview on-camera. Even though it was nearly fifteen minutes, I could have kept talking to him all day about his full body of work and how he does what he does.
There was a moment during Comic-Con last year, at the premiere for “Cowboys and Aliens,” where Devin Faraci and I were sitting near the back of the theater, and we saw Baker’s unmistakable long white ponytail in a section in front of us. As we watched, he was approached by someone who was visibly excited to see him there, and the two of them dropped into conversation. It was Devin who first commented that we were looking at a hand-off from one generation of wizardry to the next, since the person chatting with Baker was Andy Serkis, the poster child for performance capture. I sincerely hope Hollywood wakes up and realizes that Rick’s work can’t be duplicated in a computer, and that every tool has its time and place, and every filmmaker should strive to use the best effect for a scene, not just the cheapest or the newest.
Tomorrow, I’ll be bringing you a tour of the rest of Baker’s remarkable showroom, but for now, enjoy the man himself. I certainly did, and I thank Sony for putting us together and giving us time for this chat.
“Men In Black 3” opens in theaters everywhere this Friday.