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Rick Baker’s New Wolf

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Rick Baker's original makeup test done on himself.
Rick Baker

Throughout his nearly 40-year career, Rick Baker has created some of cinema’s most memorable monsters.  The six-time Oscar winner for Best Makeup notably realized one of the greatest horror monsters in movie history with An American Werewolf in London.  Now, thirty years later, he is bringing another lycanthropic creature to the screen with Universal Pictures’ remake of the 1941 classic, The Wolf Man.  This 2010 film, called The Wolfman, was originally set to be directed by Mark Romanek but ended up being helmed by Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park III, The Rocketeer, October Sky).  For the new film, Baker was tasked with creating the main makeup on star Benicio Del Toro, who like his predecessor, Lon Chaney, Jr., is cursed with turning into a beast when the moon turns full.  In this candid interview, Baker discusses the process of turning man into wolf.

Below the Line: How did you first come aboard this project?

Rick Baker: I heard that Universal was going to remake The Wolf Man. I was on the lot filming Norbit and I grabbed a golf cart and went to an executive’s office. It was still early on. They didn’t know if they were going to do makeups.  I put the word in that Rick Baker would like to do it. Benicio was spearheading getting this movie made. He was a big fan of the Chaney film and the Jack Pierce makeup. Mark Romanek was the original director and thought it would be a makeup too. It was about eight months before filming was to start. They didn’t have a completed script.

BTL: How did you first conceive of the character being more man than wolf unlike in American Werewolf?

Baker: It is called the Wolf Man. Benicio wanted the Lon Chaney Jr. makeup. He kept pulling out a DVD cover from the Wolf Man and saying, “this is how it should be.” I personally love that makeup too, but I thought it should be amped up a little bit. I created the Lon Chaney Jr. makeup on Benny’s face. I created a range, some more like a man and more like a wolf. The initial ones [designs] were created in Photoshop when I created a makeup on a picture of Benny. I tried to focus on where in that range – 1 being a man and 10 being a wolf – where do we see it being?

So, I had 20 variations from man to wolf.  I showed them to Mark and he didn’t really see it in there.  Here’s the man side, here’s the wolf side.  Where do you see it?  It went into design hell – “do some more.”  It got to where he said, “do one between this one and that one.” It was frustrating, but not unusual. No director in his right mind wants to commit to something that early on. Especially when he doesn’t have his head totally wrapped around the project. Then you have the studio who has lots of money invested in this film. They are afraid to commit early too. But it’s one of the bad things about the way movies are made now. Everyone and their brother had an opinion. In the old days, I used to do it with a pencil and ask, “Do you like sketch A or B?” With Photoshop, it’s easy to do many different versions.

[slideshow post_id=9852]

BTL: How did you finally settle on a design?

Baker: I did a quick sculpt and showed that to Mark.  That was the first thing that he responded well too.  Seeing it in 3D made it easier to see. Benicio was doing Che and unavailable to us.  That turned into a long dragged out thing. They sent all these people over who didn’t look anything like Benny.  I knew how to sell it and make a scary face. I made teeth. I made myself up by myself alone in a room, did it on video, cut some stuff up and showed it to Mark. He didn’t like it that much. This was seven months before filming. We kept playing the design game. That went on until filming. After Mark left, I started making stuff without anyone’s approval. We had to or we wouldn’t have had anything.

I would have liked to see the film that Mark would have made. They said he would be totally clothed. I didn’t trust that. So we started making hair suits in England.

BTL: Because of the film being shot in England, were you able to use your shop in California?

Baker: No, I had to do all the work in England.I didn’t want to pack up and move everything to England. So I suggested getting Dave Elsey. His wife is a great fabricator. He moved from Australia back to England and set up shop there. I flew back and forth to England. It was going to be shot at Pinewood Studios. Dave had a production coordinator there.

It was an abandoned production office. He had two floors of this place and was putting in ventilation. They started interviewing people for a crew and got a qualified English crew. There was 30 people or more on the crew. We had foam runners, mold makers, machinists. More than 30 hair people tying hair. We had full body hair suits for everybody and duplicates.

BTL: By this point, are you actually getting close to shooting?

Baker: Yes. The prep time was weird. We were doing stuff without approval. We had to start making stuff. We found a stunt double. They wanted to do leg extensions. I wasn’t keen on the idea as I thought it was awkward. We went to a stage and Spencer [Wilding, Del Toro’s stunt double] was walking around on these big flat boxy things. I liked the looks of this guy; he had a really cool Karloff face. Mark said that when he changes into the Wolf Man, he should be seven-feet tall, so we made leg extensions for Spencer.

BTL: With so little time to go, how did you finally settle on the final design of the Wolf Man makeup?

Baker: Two weeks before we started filming, Mark was no longer on the project. So, I used the first Rick Baker design. I sculpted the appliance and handed it over to Colin in England to texture it. During the prep time, I was flying back and forth for a week and back for two weeks. When Joe came on board, he was the opposite of Mark – he wanted the Wolf Man to be without clothes. We had the suits. It was pretty much what my first design was and the makeup test on myself seven months before. We did the sculpture in a hurry and did a mold and were pulling appliances out of the mold the day we would use them.

[slideshow post_id=9866]

BTL: How many separate appliances comprise the final makeup?

Baker: There’s a cowl piece that covers his ears. We made slip rubber ears, but I was overruled. A back-of-the-neck piece that we glued to that. We’d slip it over the head. It had neck muscles on it. There’s a chin piece that went up to his lip so that the hair wasn’t on his face. There’s a forehead – nose, muzzle that covers his cheeks. I left the crows feet and eye bag area without appliances. It was a three to three-and-a-half hour makeup. Almost every time that he worked, I did the makeup with Dave Elsey.  It was always night shooting. That gets tough.

The end result.
The end result.

BTL: What happened to require you to go back to the film to do reshoots?

Baker: They came back [to the US] and were editing the film for a really long time and missed their initial date. They needed to go back for reshoots. They contacted me at the last minute and needed stunt men and stunt masks. They wanted the Wolf Man to run quadruped with the assistance of wires. I had three weeks to do them in. We didn’t have a workshop in London anymore. Everyone who worked on it was busy on other projects. Two weeks before they called me about this, everyone started working. I hardly had anybody. The idea of the reshoots is to make the movie better, but we managed to pull off some cool stuff.

BTL: Ultimately, are you satisfied with what is finally on film with regards to Del Toro’s makeup?

Baker: I like the way the Wolf Man looks and I’m pleased with it, especially considering the circumstances.  I would have like to have finessed it all. I’m just excited that somebody’s making a movie called The Wolfman and makeup was an option on an actor. I hope that it does well. I’m just glad to see somebody making a gothic horror movie. I think it’s up there with Jack Pierce’s – if he is around to see it, he’d think that it’s cool with yak hair glued to his face. I tried to stay true to the design and techniques that were used and amped up the design to make it more ferocious.

For more see: Joe Johnston Conjures The Wolfman

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