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Rick Baker: Inside the magic of the maestro

Walk of Fame Honors: Rick Baker

As a kid, legendary makeup artist Rick Baker wanted to disappear and stand out.

Back then, when Baker came across a magazine about the makeup done for some classic horror films he felt something magical had happened. Baker soon put on monster makeup and he was so thrilled not to see his own face looking back at him in the mirror, he went off into his neighborhood.

“It showed me the power of makeup,” says the man who went on to win the first Academy Award given for makeup, for “An American Werewolf in London.” “I could overcome my shyness, I could do anything, I could do things that weren’t possible when I was myself.”

After decades of using that power on everything from horror films to children’s classics, Baker looks back on some of the most compelling moments in his career.

Most transformative film

“It would have to be ‘An American Werewolf in London,” because my career was completely different after that,” says Baker, who was able to spend years prepping off and on for the film because of his early relationship with helmer John Landis. “Before, I had to beg to put a mustache on someone and afterwards, when we found a way to show the pain of that transformation, they thought we could do anything.”

Most complicated film

“When we did ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas,’ there was an unbelievable amount of prep work that went into that,” says Baker. “There were around 90 people in appliance makeup on that set so it meant I had to have at least 90 good appliance pieces for every day of shooting for five months.”

Scariest film

“The scariest film I was involved with was the ‘Exorcist,’ ” says Baker. “It’s always going to be up there because of the great makeup, but that movie wasn’t really mine because I was assisting my mentor Dick Smith on the picture, though I still learned so much of what I know from working with him and watching what he did.”

As for a film Baker considers his own, he cites “The Ring.”

“I think the (dead) girl in the closet gets a lot of people,” says Baker. “They come up and talk to me about it.”

Grossest film

“That’s a tough one because I’ve done a lot of gross things,” Baker says with a laugh. “But in ‘Videodrome,’ the David Cronenberg film, there was a lot of exploding stuff and then, of course, in ‘American Werewolf in London.’ It got pretty gross as the people who were killed by the werewolf started to rot and decay.”

Most challenging film

Baker was thrilled to find himself with lots of prep time to work on “Gorillas in the Mist.” There was just one catch.

“I told them that I could make the best gorilla suits they’d ever seen but I also told them not to mix real gorillas with the fake ones because the fake ones will instantly look fake once you put them next to the real thing,” Baker says. “They told me they were going to do it anyway and it ended up looking fine, which I guess shows you how much I know.”

Favorite film

“I’d have to say ‘Harry and the Hendersons,’ because of the main character,” says Baker. “It’s a film and a story that holds up over time.”

Future pics

Baker continues to push forward into iconic and uncharted territory.

He recently completed work on the upcoming “Maleficent,” in which he collaborated with Angelina Jolie on the look of the evil witch who torments Sleeping Beauty. Though he doesn’t want to give too much away, Baker will say he’s happy with his take on the legendary villain.

The seven-time Oscar winner also lent his talents to “Men in Black 3,” which will be released on Blu-ray disc Nov. 30. Baker did character work for this film on computer, then shared it with Sony Pictures Imageworks, which created the digital version of his animatronics based on the images.

“It meant the two things matched perfectly,” says Baker, who is at work on a book about his career. “I loved working that way.”

But there’s one gig Baker has always wanted.

“I’d love the chance to do a modernized version of Frankenstein’s monster,” he says. “It’s the makeup from that movie and all the old Universal horror films that made me want to do what I do today.”

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