Sitting down with legendary make-up whiz Rick Baker is a joy on multiple levels; one of them is simply because he's refreshingly honest enough to raise a bit of a ruckus when he thinks he's getting screwed.
"When my parents died, that made it clear in my mind that there's definitely an end, and it's not that far away," explained the 57-year-old, who finished his work on "The Wolf Man" with Benicio del Toro two weeks ago, and spoke to us at Comic-Con about the film. "I don't want to be doing movies I don't want to be doing: I only take films I want to take…it has to be something I really want to do."
As such, Baker took on the flick for the thrill of returning the hairy anti-hero to his Lon Chaney roots – and to revisit his own masterstrokes on such films as "An American Werewolf in London." Baker revealed to us that the Benicio-to-Wolf transformation seems likely to be created with computer-generated graphics, however, and the film's producers are robbing him of an honor he feels he has earned.
"[CGI] can be really great, and I think it's a great tool. But I think we should have been more involved with makeup in the transformation," he sighed. "Because, basically, we aren't involved with the transformation at this point. Which is one of the more fun things to do in a movie."
"At this point, nothing's really been done [that is permanent]," Baker said of the April 3rd film, which also stars Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt. "So, I'm lobbying to be part of that; I've been talking to the producers and saying ‘It's my creation in the end, there's a certain logic in the design of it. I know it's different between Benicio's face and the wolf face, because I sculpted that face. I know how the anatomy changes; I should at least be giving some guidance to the guys who are doing [the transformation in CGI]."
At this point, Baker's rationale seems to be falling on deaf ears; but as a man who feels passionately about the work that has won him 6 Oscars for films like "Men in Black" and "American Werewolf," he is refusing to give up.
"I saw, on my last day at Pinewood [Studios], some of the work they were doing – and I wasn't crazy about some of the direction it was going in," he said, citing an example. "They had things right in front of me that they weren't seeing. For example, we have between our canine teeth four teeth; dogs have six teeth, and The Wolf Man has six teeth between his canine teeth. They had some illustrations they did, scans of the makeup and some transformation things, and they had the actual canine teeth drawn [in the wrong stage of the transformation]."
"It's like "Those aren't the teeth. The teeth are in here," he explained, pointing to his own mouth and explaining that del Toro's character would have too many teeth for a human. "And they said ‘Really? It doesn't look like it.' And I'm like ‘Well, 1,2,3,4, you can just count'."
Softening himself a wee bit, Baker said the Comic-Con response to the film's panel was enthusiastic, and he hopes Joe Johnston-directed film will turn out fine. But on behalf of the horror geeks who will someday freeze frame every inch of such a movie, Baker won't settle for anything less than perfection.
"Mind you, they had just started, and it's unfair to say they wouldn't have caught that down the line," he admitted. "But like I said: I know what the changes are, I know what they should be; I've done this. I kind of changed the way transformations were done in films with "American Werewolf," and I'd like to have a chance."
What say you: Would you rather see Benicio go CGI, or have an old-school peek at Baker's work in various stages of the Wolf Man transformation?