Dick Smith, legendary makeup artist for Exorcist, Scanners and more, dies at 92

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Apr 29, 2019, 7:21 AM EDT (Updated)

Dick Smith, the "Godfather of Makeup" who crafted creatures of your dreams and nightmares and influenced generations of effects artists, has passed away. He was 92.

Smith's death was announced early Thursday by Rick Baker, the Oscar-winning makeup artist of films like An American Werewolf in London, who was one of many young artists Smith mentored during his career.

Working in film and television for more than five decades, Smith created work characterized by a groundbreaking approach to the field of special makeup effects, and by great professional generosity toward young artists who wished to learn from him. His career began in 1945, when he joined the new television network NBC as makeup director. While working in TV, Smith developed the method of using several plastic and foam latex appliances, rather than a full mask, to transform an actor's face, giving the performer a chance to be more facially expressive. He also learned how to apply his foam latex creations during brisk live TV broadcasts. He'd begun pioneering work that would change his field forever.

Smith eventually transitioned to working on major Hollywood films, and he crafted some of cinema's most famous "How'd they do that?" makeup effects moments. Among his most notable genre films was The Exorcist, for which he crafted the terrifying effects that brought a demonic possession to life before our very eyes. Working with Baker (who was invited to meet Smith years earlier at the age of 18, after sending the artist a fan letter and samples of his own work) as his assistant, Smith combined practical effects with makeup to create some of the film's most memorable moments, including the scene in which Regan's head spins around, and the scene in which the possessed girl projectile-vomits onto Father Karras. His work wasn't just limited to transforming young Linda Blair into the possessed Regan, though. He also applied detailed makeup to Max von Sydow to age him from an actor of 44 to a priest of 74. 

Smith's ability to transform actors into much older characters is the stuff of legend. He won an Oscar (with Paul LeBlanc) in 1984 for his makeup in Amadeus, in which he aged actor F. Murray Abraham 40 years. Other famous age transformations in his career include Little Big Man, in which he transformed Dustin Hoffman (then in his early 30s) into a 121-year-old. His creature creations feature prominently in many sci-fi, fantasy and horror films, including ScannersGhost StoryStarmanAltered States and The Sentinel, and his career also includes modern film classics like The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Marathon Man and The Deer Hunter. He received an honorary Oscar for his work in 2011.

As we mentioned before, though, Smith's legacy is much more than just the work he himself produced in these films. He was also a willing teacher and mentor to many makeup artists who we now consider legends in their own right, including Baker, Alien and Jurassic Park creature artist Stan Winston and The Addams Family and Dick Tracy makeup artist Kevin Haney. All three are Oscar winners, and they only scratch the surface of the number of artists Smith helped along. According to Baker, Smith was so willing to help other artists that he often made copies of his process notes and gave them away.

"He taught us. He didn't have trade secrets," Baker said while presenting Smith's Honorary Oscar in 2011. "He would go out of his way. He was unbelieveable about the way he shared information."

During that same presentation, Baker -- who has received an astounding seven Academy Awards for his work and crafted some of the greatest creatures and makeup effects the screen has ever seen -- referred to Smith as "the greatest makeup artist who will ever live." That about sums it up.

You can watch video of Baker's speech in Smith's honor, as well as Smith's emotional acceptance speech, in the clip below. Plus, we've gathered images of some of Smith's greatest creations for genre films and television shows in a gallery below. You can find many more at his website

(Via THR)

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