Monster MAC: Rick Baker on his Halloween Makeup CollectionBooks/Art/Culture,Features/Interviews,News Abbie Bernstein
When most people think of seven-time Oscar-winning special effects makeup creator Rick Baker, they envision cinematic werewolves, apes and space aliens. What doesn’t immediately come to mind is a Halloween collection designed to be applied and worn by ordinary folks at home, but that’s just what Baker has created for MAC cosmetics.
In MAC’s exclusive Rick Baker Collection, MAC products are grouped together to be applied as a zombie, the Bride of Frankenstein or the Day of the Dead Spider Queen.
Baker is installed for the day in the back of MAC’s boutique on Robertson Boulevard in Beverly Hills, where he’s giving interviews. Out front, Micheline Pitt is modeling the Bride look, complete with wig and a costume designed by Lou Elsey, who worked with Baker on THE WOLFMAN, while Ashley Sutton embodies the Spider Queen in another Elsey costume that includes a headdress made of letter openers.
This is Baker’s first foray into designing for the world of commercial cosmetics, he explains. “It happened because MAC has an artist’s relations branch, who reach out to artists who work in the film industry or in stage, like Cirque du Soleil, and let them play with their products. They asked to put me on a list to get samples, and I said, ‘Sure’,” he laughs. Everybody likes free stuff. And I was familiar with MAC, but the stuff we normally do, we don’t use normal cosmetics. Then [MAC executive] Karen Madeiros said, ‘We have this program, Master Class, where we have an artist come in and show other makeup artists what they do, and we’d really like you do to one.’ And I found the idea really appealing, but I said, ‘The makeups I do just aren’t practical for this kind of thing, they usually take three-and-a-half hours. How long do these things usually last?’ ‘An hour.’ But she didn’t take no for an answer. She became a friend, actually, and I said, ‘How about if I do a paint makeup? And then I can actually use your products.’ I like doing paint makeups – that’s how I learned makeup, with just black and white greasepaint. So I ended up doing a Master Class, where I actually painted myself. And it turned out to be one of their favorite Master Classes.
“I was on location in New York, filming MEN IN BLACK 3, she was going to New York for a meeting, so we had dinner, it was around Halloween, and I said, ‘I have to get back to L.A. to make up my daughter for Halloween,’ and started talking about Halloween stuff. I said how I always wanted to do a Halloween makeup kit, with everything you need to do this one specific makeup in one little box. ‘The problem has always been the stuff that they put out is this crap makeup, and I’d like it to be quality makeup. Do you think MAC would ever be interested in something like that?’ Cut to this.”
All three of Baker’s Halloween collection are created specifically for MAC. “Mind you,” Baker qualifies, “I’ve done a lot of zombie makeups, but this is all just paint. People are going, ‘Well, it’s got appliances.’ No, it’s just paint. ‘[The Bride has] got an appliance on her scar.’ No, it’s these two eyebrow pencils, with a little highlight from this white one.
I mean, the stuff’s not cheap and it does take time. But I wanted to show that you don’t have to have a foam rubber lab and a mold shop to be able to do some cool makeups for Halloween. For me, Halloween makeups should be paint makeups. I try to keep my makeups for Halloween most of the time to be just what you can do with highlights and shadows.”
The makeup kit contains a number of different make products. Baker says, “I think it’s fifteen different items to do three different makeups. Online, there are videos of me doing the makeup. They also have a face chart that tells you what the products are so you can see what to use where.”
The components are all MAC products that already existed, with one exception. Baker holds up a bottle of the substance and shakes it as he relates, “They’re calling it Monster FX. I called it Monster Muck when I designed it. I originally had two different ones, one for the skull and one for the zombie. The zombie is basically these two greasepaint sticks, this black and white. [The Monster FX] was to do a glaze of color over the top of it in an irregular pattern. Most of normal MAC makeup is all about trying to blend and make it real smooth. This is the total opposite. I wanted to break up what’s there, give it irregular texture and kind of a haphazard texture. Trying to paint irregularities is hard with a paintbrush makeup. This stuff, you can glaze the color on, and they have a great weird stipple brush, it has different-length fibers. With this, you can stipple on this color and all of a sudden get a really neat texture that you couldn’t get another way. I also like to squirt water on them and just dump it and let it run and do some cool stuff. It’s just a more organic – I call it a dirt color. That’s for the zombie. Or you could use it for anything, but it wouldn’t look as good – the Bride wouldn’t look so good dirty,” he laughs.
Originally, one of the designs was different, but MAC prevailed upon Baker to make the collection more female-friendly. “First, I thought I should do a zombie because I’ve always liked zombies,” Baker says, “and more of an old-school zombie, not just a blood-coming-out-of-the-mouth zombie. I originally had a skull theme going. I thought Day of the Dead, because it’s colorful, still skull-like, it’s Halloween, and that’ll show off a lot of the colors that they [MAC] have. I actually had a really cool painted skull makeup that looked very dimensional. I showed the people at MAC these things, went ahead, did tests, found models, did all this stuff, and then MAC said, ‘Well, the customers are women, and they want to look pretty, and you’ve got two of the makeups on men, and only one is kind of pretty. So you’ve got to do something else.’ I went, ‘Shit’,” he laughs. “But I said, ‘You know what? You’re right.’
“I had just done thirteen paintings of classic monsters for an art show, and one of them was Elsa Lanchester from THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. And I thought, ‘Well, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is an iconic look, and she’s pretty – maybe we could make her even prettier and uglier at the same time.’ So I showed them, ‘This is the painting I did of Bride of Frankenstein. I want to amp it up a little bit and add a little more scars and stuff, and modern it up, but I still want to keep that silhouette with that hair.’ They said, ‘Okay.’ The funny thing was that Micheline, who’s my model, actually bought one of my paintings at this art show and took a picture with me and put it online. It was right around the time this whole change happened, and I thought, ‘Oh, God, I’ve got to find a model for this Bride of Frankenstein makeup,’ and I looked online and saw this picture of this woman with this beautiful face. So I contacted the people who had the show and I said, ‘Do you know who this is?’ And they go, ‘Yeah.’ And I asked, ‘Do you know how to contact her?’ ‘No, but I think my hairdresser knows her.’ I thought she’d be great, because besides the fact that her face is pretty, she’s a monster fan. She understands. So it was so meant to be. She was the perfect person for this. Ashley, who is the Day of the Dead model, worked with my daughter in a restaurant.”
There were several conditions attached to Baker’s work with MAC, including that he be able to choose his models and that the makeups be accompanied by worthy costumes. “You can’t have a great makeup with just a crappy shirt,” Baker observes.
Costume designer Elsey is present, making sure the models continue to look right as the day wears on. “This is so much fun,” she enthuses.
The Bride of Frankenstein costume incorporates some straitjacket elements, along with a high neck that can support that unmistakable Bride wig. “It’s pretty much inspired by the 1930s movie BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, with Elsa Lanchester as the Bride,” Elsey says. “So that was pretty much all the shapes of the shoulders and the draping was all based on her. I really wanted to still keep the feel of that costume from the movie, and just push it and make it a little more edgy, using the leather and just a little more avant-garde, because she just had a gown on before, but I wanted to keep the 1930s shape and that art deco feel. The straitjacket element comes in, with the binding of the silk on the sleeves. That was why I used the pistachio nut color of the scrubs and the same with all the staples as well. I wanted to bring in that medical feel to it as well.”
As for the Day of the Dead Spider Queen, with lots of black lace and flowers, Elsey says, “I wanted it to be theatrical and fun, but still have that kind of evening elegant look to it. I knew that a lot of the Day of the Dead imagery had all these beautiful headdresses. Obviously, with the flowers as well. So I wanted to create that halo of gold around her head and frame it, because I knew it was all about the makeup and framing the face.”
“She’s amazing,” Baker compliments Elsey. “Besides being the nicest person in the world, she’s so incredibly talented. She’s a great designer, great builder – she made all the costumes all by herself in a couple of weeks, working flat-out for me.”
Baker’s timetable was slightly longer. “I actually did these makeups a year ago, around Halloween.”
In the course of normal studio work, Baker says he and his staff don’t stick to using products from any single manufacturer. “I use products from all over the place and sometimes things that aren’t meant to be [used that way] – it’s like, ‘That’s kind of cool,’ find something in a grocery store that you can use. When I started, there was Stein’s Cosmetic Company and Max Factor Cosmetic Company, and there were very few places that actually made stuff to work on rubber. Max Factor used to make this stuff called rubber mask greasepaint, that when I went there to buy it, the people in the Max Factor building didn’t even know they made it. It was a special-order thing, and you would have to try to get whatever they had left.”
CGI didn’t exist when Baker started out, nor even when he won his first Oscar for the makeup effects on AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. Now CGI is a big part of the effects makeup universe. Baker says he likes working with CGI makeup, although, “I’m not always asked to. On MEN IN BLACK 3, it was really great, because the visual effects supervisor, Ken Ralston, I’ve known since I was seventeen years old. We were both monster fan kids who basically grew up with the same lives – Ray Harryhausen fans, we read Famous Monsters, all the same stuff. And I knew that with him as the supervisor, I could say, ‘This is what I’m thinking of doing. I want to do this part with makeup, I want to add a digital eye-blink on this character. I’m going to sculpt this in Z-Brush on my computer, and we’ll do a 3D printout of it, and give you that model, and you can use it for the computer model for the shots that we can’t do.’ And that worked out great.
“So many times, what happens is, the rubber guys and the digital guys, they try to pit us against each other. And so many times, the digital guys say, ‘That rubber stuff never works, we have to do it all digital.’ All of a sudden, we [prosthetics creature makers] went from being the superstar guys in effects of movies to dinosaurs. And they said, ‘Oh, that’s old-school.’ And you look at some ‘90s digital effects and look at what we were doing at the time, and see which still holds up.”
However, Baker says, there is now a lot of détente between the various types of makeup effects artists. “What I really like is, the digital guys started accepting the fact that we know something, that we’ve been dealing with scanning, with old age [makeups], that we can sculpt a head and paint a head and make a head that looks better than what they can do digitally, and they can scan it and use the color that we used to paint it and their eye to look at it, and I think that’s a cool thing. I do a lot of digital work for fun, and my digital work has a following with digital guys, so I just want to just keep trying. I like playing with all kinds of different creative things, and it’s a new, fun toy for me.”
As for what’s next, Baker says with a laugh, “I don’t know. I don’t have a job. The last thing I did was [Angelina Jolie’s] makeup on MALIFICENT. I designed and we made the appliances, but I haven’t worked in a year-and-a-half other than working on this, so if you know of anything, I’m still around.”