Makeup effects legend Rick Baker is retiring: 'The business is crazy right now'

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May 29, 2015

The art of screen makeup and visual effects just got a lot less interesting.

That's because Rick Baker, the legendary artist whose incredible makeup and animatronic creations have haunted movie screens for 44 years, has announced that he is retiring from the business. The reasons are many: shrinking budgets, unreasonable deadlines and the use of CG in place of practical effects have all convinced Baker that, at the age of 64, it's time for him to go.

Here's what he told California radio station KPCC:

"First of all, the CG stuff definitely took away the animatronics part of what I do. It’s also starting to take away the makeup part. The time is right, I am 64 years old, and the business is crazy right now. I like to do things right, and they wanted cheap and fast. That is not what I want to do, so I just decided it is basically time to get out. I would consider designing and consulting on something, but I don’t think I will have a huge working studio anymore."

Baker admitted that the lack of work led him to lay off most of his staff and sell his production shop in Glendale, Calif. (an amazing place that this writer had the honor of visiting a couple of years back), adding:

“I did Men in Black 3, which was good for that (space), but the last film I did was Maleficent and I could’ve done that in a garage basically.”

Baker's early work ranges from The Exorcist (where he was an assistant to another makeup icon, the late Dick Smith) to cheap but memorable B movies like The Incredible Melting Man to 1981's An American Werewolf in London, where his stunning transformation sequence took makeup effects to an entirely new level. 

He also created the zombie makeup for Michael Jackson's landmark "Thriller" video, while later films included Harry and the Hendersons, Ed Wood, Batman Forever, all three Men in Black entries, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes, Hellboy and The Wolfman. His honors include a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and no fewer than seven Academy Awards for makeup.

Baker is auctioning off a tremendous amount of memorabilia from his career today (May 29) at the Hilton Universal City in Los Angeles, and you can go to the official auction website to peruse the more than 400 lots up for grabs and even place a bid yourself online. 

As for Baker, he's not giving up his work entirely; he'll continue to make his own creations, and we can only hope that someone might call him back into service for one more film. For now, however, this truly feels like the end of an era. As more and more of what we see on the screen is conjured up by anonymous programmers sitting at desktops who might never set foot on a soundstage, a true master of the vanishing art of handcrafted, practical, physical effects that you can see and touch is stepping away from that stage himself.

(via Slashfilm)

Here's a gallery of some of Baker's most memorable work:

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