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Rick Baker Retires. And Another Nail is Hammered into the Coffin of Practical Effects

Rick Baker Retirement

Makeup effects artist Rick Baker is currently a top trend on Twitter, and fortunately it’s not because he passed away. Unfortunately, however, it’s because the 64-year-old legend has decided to throw in the towel, closing up shop and auctioning off a vast array of props from the various films he contributed to throughout the course of his decades-spanning career.

A seven-time Academy Award winner for his incredible makeup work on films like An American Werewolf in London, Harry and the Hendersons and The Wolfman (2010), Baker’s resume is loaded with equally impressive credits. The Exorcist, The Funhouse, The Howling, Videodrome and Gremlins 2 are a small handful of the other films found on there, and the list goes on and on.

“I said the time is right, I am 64 years old, and the business is crazy right now,” Baker told radio station 89.3 KPCC, explaining why he has made the decision to shutter the doors of the famed Cinovation Studios. “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.”

While Baker’s age is surely a factor in his retirement, as he’s quick to point out, the real driving force seems to be that the work just isn’t there the way it used to be for guys like him. Though his career flourished in the 70s, 80s and even 90s, Baker has only worked on a handful of movie sets in the past ten years, most recently designing Angelina Jolie’s makeup in Disney’s Maleficent.

The news of Rick Baker’s retirement comes not long after he was forced to lay off many Cinovation employees, cutting costs in the wake of business drying up. Though he was once a hot commodity in Hollywood, the go-to guy for films filled with fantastical makeup effects and creature creations, Baker is seemingly no longer needed in town, as he’s been all but replaced by computers.

Rick Baker An American Werewolf in London

There’s no genre that’s felt the lack of a human touch greater than the horror genre, which so many fans fell in love with thanks in large part to the work of guys like Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Stan Winston and Tom Savini. Computer-generated effects have become the norm in both the horror genre and Hollywood at large, and that’s sadly reflected on the resumes of all the artists who made names as monster makers.

I suppose one could take the news of Baker’s retirement as a singularly unfortunate side effect of Hollywood’s recent changes, as many horror sites have in the past 24 hours, but the real bummer is the bigger picture that’s being painted here. Baker’s retirement hammers home a sad fact that we already knew but weren’t quite ready to fully acknowledge: practical effects are a thing of the past.

Sure, there are still filmmakers out there who refuse to let go of the ways of old, just as there are still distribution companies hanging tightly onto the VHS format. But the truth of the matter is that Hollywood, by and large, is no longer interested in the talents of guys like Rick Baker. CGI is cheaper and quicker, and when it comes right down to it, that’s all that matters to the big studios.

And that’s why all the monsters are computer-generated, all the blood splatter looks like it belongs in a video game and, as you’ve surely noticed, there’s very little magic left in the movies. The recent remake of Poltergeist as well as the 2011 prequel to The Thing highlight these changes better than most, as the modern day ‘upgrades’ completely robbed the stories of that genuine artistry we love the originals for.

Movies like An American Werewolf in London and Jaws, which fortunately haven’t yet been given CG makeovers, also serve as pioneers of the practical effects movement. Respectively released 34 and 40 years ago, they still to this day feature much more realistic monsters than the movies Hollywood is pumping out today, which highlights just how much movie effects have regressed in recent decades.

Rick Baker Wolfman

No doubt an influence on Rick Baker’s retirement is the Wolfman reboot, which left a bad taste in the artist’s mouth. Though he won an Oscar for the film, the majority of the effects work was done on computers, which wasn’t the plan going in. A similar thing happened with the aforementioned prequel of The Thing, with awesome practical effects replaced in post-production by bad CGI.

We’re living in a time where it’s now a noteworthy selling point, almost a gimmick even, for a horror movie to come along and utilize practical effects, which is kind of a heartbreaking realization. Movies like Hatchet, Muck and the Evil Dead remake immediately won over fans with their promises of very little CGI, and it’s a damn shame that they have become the exceptions – rather than the norm.

As sad as I am that Rick Baker and so many other artists have been effectively driven out of Hollywood, what’s even sadder is the thought that young kids with an interest in makeup effects will now refrain from even pursuing that passion. Whereas Baker’s career once inspired young artists, it now serves as a cautionary tale, changing the ‘if he can do it, I can’ thought to ‘if he can’t do it, then I certainly can’t.’

Like many, I am heartbroken about the fact that I’ll never again see Rick Baker’s work up on the big screen. But what breaks my heart more than that is the realization that we’ll probably never get the chance to meet THE NEXT Rick Baker. And that is the reality of this situation. Baker had a great career, which we should be celebrating right now. But those artists he continues to inspire will never get their chance.

The times have indeed changed. And sadly, they’re leaving a whole lot of great artists behind.

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If you don't get enough of me here on Halloween Love, you can also find me on Dread Central, iHorror and Shock Till You Drop. Contact me via john@halloweenlove.com.