The Rick Baker Monster Maker auction is coming up at the end of May. The event at the Hilton Universal City in Los Angeles contains over 400 items from the make-up effects wizard, and I’ve gone through them all to find the werewolves for you. (more…)
The Academy is pro-lycanthrope! Last night Rick Baker and Dave Elsey each won an Academy Award for Best Makeup in recognition of their fantastic work on The Wolfman. This is Baker’s second Oscar for werewolf work, the first being awarded for An American Werewolf in London on the eve of the category’s inception (insert Inception joke here).
I wasn’t able to find any video of the actual award for this (although I’ll update this post if one pops up), but apparently the Academy gives winners some extra time back-stage to continue their thank-yous.
Update: Six years later, the backstage video is long-gone, but here’s the award:
Congratulations to Mr. Baker and Mr. Elsey, and hey Rick? I really hope your Hugo Weaving wish comes true.
Oh boy, it’s Oscar time, and if you’re a blogger for a major media outlet and you haven’t got something to blog about, you’re fired. The Carpetbagger‘s Melena Ryzik is no slouch– last week she posted an interview with Oscar nominee and Werewolf News perennial favourite Rick Baker. There are no earth-shattering revelations, but it’s a good read nevertheless, especially if you’re interested in the ways crepe, human and yak hair can be combined to wolf out one’s face and body, even the relatively hairless Benicio Del Toro.
“There was a lot of handling of hair, where we actually have a lot of loose hair that’s glued on the actor’s face. It’s almost a lost art in the makeup field, but it’s something that I perfected because of my love of Wolfman.”
I was also pleased to read about Baker’s disdain for Hollywood’s current love affair with buckets-of-blood horror filmmaking.
“I’m not a fan of slasher movies, of what a modern horror movie is,” he said. “I’m not a big fan of ‘let’s see how we can kill the people in the most graphic ways.’ Zombie gore doesn’t bother me, but when it’s just somebody killing another human being in a graphic way, I’m not a fan of that.” … The gory stuff is really easy to do, and I found that out as a kid… the gory stuff doesn’t impress me.”
Amen! Give us realistic monsters to be afraid of, not boring deranged humans. Read the full interview here.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced the nominees for the 83rd Academy Awards, and I’m supremely pleased to see Rick Baker and Dave Elsey nominated in the Makeup category for their work on “The Wolfman“. They’re up against “Barney’s Version” and “The Way Back“, both of which I will glibly dismiss as contenders for this category because I haven’t seen them, and because come on it’s The Wolfman! This is Baker’s second Oscar nomination for werewolf makeup effects – he won the first Academy Award for Makeup in 1982 for his groundbreaking work on “An American Werewolf in London“. You can watch Baker and Elsey collect their hardware (and hopefully see The Social Network sweep everything else) on Sunday, February 27th.
Here’s a gallery of Baker and Elsey doing the work they were nominated for: transforming Benicio del Toro into the eponymous lycanthrope.
Are you tired of hearing about The Wolfman yet? I’m not! Here’s a recent Hero Complex column from the Los Angeles Times somewhat dramatically entitled “Rick Baker’s ‘Wolfman’ regrets: ‘I hoped it would bring back monster movies’“. Geoff Boucher asks Rick Baker five (actually rather interesting) questions about his work on The Wolfman, and Rick brings the answers in his usual candid way.
I don’t read his tone as regret, though… it’s more of a palms-up shrug, like “well, what can you do?” I think he got screwed over by bad management and a directionless production team, and I commend him for being so relaxed about it. Read the interview and tell me if I’m crazy.
Bonus: here’s a short featurette starring Rick. When it’s not busy looking like a trailer there are some neat shots of Rick applying and touching-up his werewolf work. The spritz bottle shot makes me laugh every time.
Are Werewolves Scarier When We Don’t See Them? Or, “A Werewolf in the Mind is Worth Two on the Screen”
I was recently directed to “Wolfman versus Werewolf“, an entry in Roger Ebert’s “Our far-flung correspondents” feature. Gerardo Valero writes what is ostensibly a review of “An American Werewolf in London” (AWIL), but he touches on a larger (and to me, more interesting) conversation about the potency of fear when its subject is imagined or unseen. Valero says that “Landis directs this film [AWIL] with a clear awareness that the things that scare us the most, reside in our imaginations, never just on the screen.” I agree that keeping werewolf David (mostly) hidden from view after his transformation was the right call– it allows the special effects to shine without revealing any zippers, and it makes for a better story. In fact, I think virtually every werewolf movie released since AWIL could have been improved if their makers had handled the screen presence of their lycanthropes in the same way.
First, consider the state of special effects in 1981. Yes, the effects work done by Rick Baker and his crew were so far ahead of their time that they inspired a new awards category at the Oscars. But not being able to see into the future, and with only $10 million to spend on the entire production, Landis had to assume that even Baker’s most realistic efforts to create a fully transformed werewolf, if shown full-body and in decent lighting, would have been read by the audience as “dude in a suit”. Instead of fear, the audience’s reaction would become one of artistic / technical appraisal, and it’s difficult to be scared of a monster when you’re looking for its zippers or rubber claws (or CG equivalents like bad compositing or flat textures).
The decision to limit the werewolf’s screen presence isn’t merely practical. Like Valero says, it’s all about the imagination. By showing only brief closeups and the occasional half-body tracking shot of werewolf David, the AWIL audience gains just enough exposure to trigger the mind into creating something far more ferocious than a costumed actor or an animated prop could represent. This is why even the most amazing combinations of CG and physical effects still fall flat today. Baker’s work on the recent “Wolfman” remake, for example, was amazingly, startlingly detailed… but was it scary? The survey says “no“. Everyone who was even remotely interested in the film knew what the Wolfman looked like well before the film came out, and even those who avoided spoilers got to see the beast in full detail before the first hour of the film was up. The initial shock at the vivid detail wears away, and there’s no suspense anymore, no mystery or fear of the unknown. Those are potent elements of fear, and they are easily lost when too much light is shed on the monster.
Every film tries to tell a story, and most werewolf movies are meant to be horror stories. Sadly, rather than being truly horrific, werewolf movies tend to fall into the schlocky domain of the “creature feature”, in which audience-avatar protagonists are menaced by a monstrous presence. In these movies the monster is only a character insofar as it possesses frightening qualities to highlight its “otherness” and status as a threat. The audience wants a clear look at the foe before it’s destroyed; otherwise there’s no payoff or gratification. Zombies, for example, are usually shown in exquisitely gory detail because there’s nothing there with which to empathize. Even if you can see the humans they once were, zombies aren’t people; they’re merely monsters, and are designed to eat housewives and businessmen until they’re destroyed by flame or a 12-gauge blast. The monsters in creature features might be frightening, but as characters they’re no more engaging than the interchangeable aliens foes in Space Invaders. We can’t identify with them, nor do we want to.
Then there’s David, the protagonist of AWIL. We spend a lot of time getting to know David as a character before the appearance of the werewolf. Much of that getting-to-know-you time is spent with the audience well aware of what’s to come, and we empathize with him. He talks with his friend Jack, he canoodles with a pretty nurse, he loafs around a London flat reading books and watching television… and then the moon rises, Rick Baker works his magic, and David becomes the creature we’re meant to fear.
And we do fear it, but why? How is this scenario more horrific than what Lawrence Talbot or Ginger Fitzgerald faced? Like Valero, I think the answer lies in how the werewolf is portrayed: as a shadowy and unknowable presence, seen only in glimpses and heard as menacing sounds from the dark. Just as David has no memory of what he becomes or what he does while in his bestial form, the audience doesn’t really know what the werewolf looks like, so has no way to associate the monster with the man it used to be. This underscores David’s (and therefore the audience’s) horror of the “other” he becomes. Other than the traumatic transformation scene there’s no screen-based connection between David and the werewolf; to the viewer, David is not just transformed but utterly annihilated. Without clear visuals of the beast he becomes, there’s no easy way to equate the likable mop-haired American with the glimpses of fangs and yellow eyes his victims see before they die. Yet we know it’s him, because our minds tell us so, and from that knowledge and our own empathy for the character, a stronger horror is born than that which is derived from an overexposure to props and effects.
What if Wes Craven’s “Cursed” had been filmed with these points in mind? How about any of the “Howling” sequels, or even the dire non-sequel “An American Werewolf in Paris“? No amount of editing or tweaking would turn these into Oscar material, but I think each one could have been more interesting and enjoyable (and less embarrassing to werewolf fans) if the filmmakers had left their werewolves in the shadows like Landis did with AWIL. By focusing on what makes the werewolf a genuinely frightening creature instead of stretching the effects budget in an effort to shock and amaze, I think the the intrepid filmmaker might actually be able to produce a werewolf film worth watching.
Trusty Werewolf News friend ArcLight sent me a link to this fascinating CGSociety feature article about all of the CG work (and politics) that went into the transformation scenes featured in “The Wolfman“. The article includes extensive comments by Rick Baker (who, as you probably know, designed the Wolfman’s look and the practical makeup effects) and Adam Valdez (the Visual Effects Supervisor at Moving Picture Company, the group that did the CG work). Here are some choice excerpts:
Drawing on his years of experience and success to create a character he had loved since he was a boy, Baker requested “a couple of weeks to do some designs, a range between man and wolf. I did a number of Photoshop images and ZBrush sculptures ranging between Del Toro and a wolf. In other words, if man was one and wolf was ten, was the Wolfman a five, or perhaps an eight? Well upon viewing my designs they said it wasn’t anywhere in that range.” Baker was asked to do additional concepts showing steps within that range to narrow down the final design. This happened repeatedly until the point where Baker told them there simply wasn’t an in-between left.
Nothing like design-by-committee to ruin a project!
[Says Baker:] “I had a great time working with the folks at Digital Domain on the CG Benjamin Button character, I would have liked to have contributed the same way on this film.” One scene that he felt could have worked particularly well using animatronics and makeup was the scene where Del Toro is strapped to a chair surrounded by doctors, since the chair offered plenty of space to hide the hardware and it would have been easy to digitally remove any visible mechanics.”
That’s probably my favourite scene in the movie, and it blows my mind to imagine how much better it might have been if Baker had been able to work his magic.
Johnston wanted to see how the transitions would look in action, so animators were given rigs that could do rough deformation and transformation work. [Says Valdez:] “In the middle of that we had to start over, because Joe wasn’t happy with what he was getting. There were a few rounds of discussion about whether or not Benicio Del Toro, who played the Lawrence aka Wolfman, should turn into something else on the way to becoming the Wolfman, so rather than traditional close-ups of bones stretching and hair sprouting he might turn into something resembling an almost fetal orc-like creature.”
I wonder if that “orc-like” concept was used for the creature that appears in some of the movie’s dream / hallucination scenes.
There’s a ton of down-and-dirty CG modeling talk near the end of the article, so if Maya and ZBrush are your thing, you might want to get a napkin ready to mop up the drool. Now stop reading this post and read the article!
With the premiere of “The Wolfman” only days away (remember when it was supposed to come out in 2008?) the web is sprouting Wolfman stories like so many tufts of fur from the collar of Benicio del Toro’s vest. Rather than spamming the site with a new post every time something interesting comes up, I thought I’d collect them all here. Enjoy!
- As part of a big press push last week, there were a lot of cast / crew interviews. Dread Central’s got interviews with Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins, and ShockTillYouDrop.com had a nice chat with director Joe Johnston.
- Namco has released a Wolfman side-scrolling game for mobile devices. If you have a supported phone, you can “play through 10 thrilling stages as both Lawrence Talbot and The Wolfman and experience the brute strength and insatiable bloodlust that launched a legacy of horror!” My carrier isn’t supported, so, uh, if it’s good, let me know. It certainly looks cool!
- Bloody-Disgusting was one of several horror media web sites to get their paws on a recording of the vaunted Wolfman howl. Effective, and much better (in my opinion) than the shrill American Werewolf in London howl!
- Way back in November, Universal released a short “behind the scene” featurette. There are some comments from Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, and producer Scott Stuber, and some trailer-style footage.
- As long as we’re talking about stuff from November, here are two rambling but worthwhile interviews from Ain’t It Cool News: one between Joe Johnston and Harry Knowles and another longer, rambley, spoilerific but fascinating conversation between some of the AICN guys and Rick Baker.
- Internet-to-TV providers Boxee have developed a Wolfman app as part of their public beta.
- Early reviews are starting to arrive. Here’s one from the New York Observer [warning: spoilers!].
- A fifth TV spot has surfaced, but it’s nothing we haven’t already seen: a silhouette of a claw, Del Toro getting dunked in ice water, and Rick Baker’s old-gypsy-guy-getting-killed cameo.
If all of this isn’t enough to keep you busy, stay tuned for more as we get closer to Friday!
Despite having to rely on crew to remove his fangs so he could speak and his claws so he could use his hands, Benicio Del Toro enjoyed his time as a werewolf while on the set of The Wolfman. He recently spoke to The Daily Record about the experience, which involved scaring the hell out of unsuspecting crew and the occasional walk through London at 5 AM while still made up.
For more on The Wolfman‘s makeup and effects, check out last week’s issue of Make-Up Magazine (issue 82), which is dedicated to Rick Baker’s work on the film.
This morning at ShockTilYouDrop.com, Ryan Rotten shares some inside information he’s received about the oft-delayed Wolfman remake.
One tipster says Universal has sunk nearly $10-30 million into re-shoots in England. Much of the scenes had to do with the full Wolfman makeup because it wasn’t “working out” and “was too much like the original” Chaney makeup. Another writer tells me Rick Baker was brought back in to direct practical transformation work because the CGI, again, wasn’t working.
Ryan stresses that these tidbits should be treated as rumours, but that he’ll try to get corroborating statements from official sources. It’s a shame about the makeup being redone, as I rather liked the official publicity photos that have been floating around since March 2008. I certainly hope the part about Baker being brought back on for the transformation scenes is true, though– around this time last year, he was unhappy at being excluded the first time round, and as we all know from An American Werewolf in London and The Howling, Rick Baker knows how to turn a person into a werewolf properly: physical makeup and effects, rather than CG.