hroughout his time in Hollywood, Brent Baker became known as one of the premier mold-making and life-casting artists, elevating these elements of the special-effects process to art forms. Baker passed away in late November, leaving friends and peers who cherish his devotion to the movie-making process. This is how they remember Baker:
Howie Weed, friend and co-worker
Baker met another aspiring artist, Howie Weed, in Northern California. They both responded to an ad for a local indie film project in San Francisco.
“We met back in the early ‘80s on the movie called Dracula’s Disciple made by Footloose Films,” Weed recalled. “Brent and I found out about it from these leaflets that were posted around town on poles, where you’d tear the number off, and it turns out they were really under-served when it came to special effects. So, Brent and I were at the same meeting, and they were talking about these effects that they needed someone to take on, and Brent was all into that. I didn’t know about anything else, but it seemed like a good place to start, and all we needed was a place to do the work and tools. I had a garage and tools, so we were good to go.
“We worked off and on for that project for about a year and a half, but it wasn’t a full-time thing. I was still going to film school, and Brent was focused on learning the craft of special effects full-time, which he was doing through different books and figuring things out all on his own. I became his assistant and we worked things out through a lot of trial and error, so when something actually worked, it was a big moment for us. There was this gag where a vampire hand pulls off someone’s face, and all you see are the muscles and the blood pumping below, and we shot that in my garage on Super 8 film. It was really an exciting time for both of us.”
Dracula’s Disciple ended up meeting a cruel fate of extensive water damage after a fire broke out, ultimately rendering the film not salvageable. But Baker was able to continue on his pursuit of a career in special effects after a chance meeting with another fellow monster aficionado.
“Brent went on to meet this guy named Blair Clark, who is a Visual Effects Supervisor now, but he loved movie monsters, too, and they made a connection with Chris Walas, who was just putting together his shop for a movie called Gremlins,” Weed said.
“I stayed in film school while he went on to officially start his career, but I was the guy who Brent was calling up all the time to tell me about all the really cool things they were doing on Gremlins. Towards the end of Gremlins, they needed to expand the crew and he got me a job on it, so I was part of mass manufacturing Gremlins for the movie theater scene where they’re singing along to Snow White. Brent was already the head of the mold department at that point, and because there was so much puppet-making going on that it had outgrown the shop, so they put the mold-making and foam-casting departments in this old storage container like you’d see on a ship.
“In the mornings, it would be freezing, and during the day, it would sometimes get up to 100 degrees in there, but we were so happy because we were working on a movie. And that was the only thing that really mattered to either of us,” Weed added.
Alec Gillis, co-founder of Studio ADI
“It was around 1984 when I was working at a shop called Reel Effects, which was owned by a gregarious physical effects practitioner named Martin Becker,” said Alec Gillis, co-founder of Studio ADI, about the first time he met Baker. “I was initially hired by the great Greg Cannom to join his crew on Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, which included Kevin Yagher, Jim Kagel, John Vulich, Larry Carr, and Jill Rockow. Tom Savini would later replace Greg part way through pre-production, though, but during the shoot, Jill announced we'd be getting a visit from a wunderkind named Brent Baker.
“As I recall, there was some excitement attached to his visit, not just because as a teenager he was skilled enough to be a working as a professional in the SMUFX field, but because he had just completed a stint on Gremlins under Chris Walas. When Brent arrived, I couldn't believe how young he looked; I would have guessed he was 14-years-old. I hadn't worked on a big studio film yet, so there was a mix of jealousy and envy (yes, those are synonymous, so 100 percent envy). But as we chatted with Brent about his experience on the now-classic film, he was so down-to-earth and free with information and stories that my envy suddenly seemed silly. In fact, he was more interested in having a laugh than one-upping any of us (which he could have) or talking shop. He was a pleasant gust of fresh air.”
Over the years, Gillis would have the opportunity to bring Brent onto several film projects for Studio ADI, including The 6th Day and Spider-Man. Alec could always count on Baker for top-notch work, and some friendly ribbing, to boot.
“Time passed, and I knew Brent was working around at the name shops, but we didn't cross paths again until perhaps a decade later. When we reconnected, he was an adult man with stubble and deep voice and looked a bit like Kevin Bacon, so I used to tease him, calling him the Kevin Bacon of makeup effects. He worked on a number of projects at ADI though, and his mold-making and lab skills were top of the line. If there was a challenging mold to be made or a tricky core to design, often times it would go to Brent.
“One thing that never changed about him was that he was always ready for a laugh. Brent had a sly and dry sense of humor and could disarm you with a crooked, half-suppressed smile and an acerbic comment. I always knew if the day was rough (or boring), I could sidle up to his table and within a few words, we'd be bantering. I'm known around ADI for my exceedingly average old-making skills, so when Brent would see me at work on a personal project, he'd swing his eyebrows into mock concern and grab his chest feigning a conniption over my 'technique'.”
Steve Johnson, former boss
Early in his career, Brent made another life-long friend in Steve Johnson, who he collaborated with over the course of several decades.
“Brent and I were cut from the same cloth. I knew Brent for at least 30 years, maybe more. He was very instrumental in my company and ran my mold shop for about 15-20 years. We had all the same interests, so we were really, really close, which is why this is hitting me especially hard. The thing that I remember most about Brent was his wry, dusty, dry sense of humor. He suffered no fools,” Johnson said.
“He was also always at the top of his game. You could name the best mold makers in our industry using the fingers on one hand from the past 50 years and it goes like this: Gunnar Ferdinandsen, Richard Ruiz, Brent Baker, Carl Lyon, and Rob Freitas. They all helped elevate the art form of mold-making to the level of where they were just as important as the sculptures that they were molding. And Brent was a big part of that; he took it very seriously and I was always impressed by his work. People have always looked down on mold-making as a lesser aspect of the industry, but none of them ever saw it that way. Especially Brent. He was the best of the best.”
While Johnson celebrated many highs in his career, he credited much of that success to having Brent working alongside him on a variety of films.
“If I’m being honest, I don’t know if I would have been able to do all the great work that I did at my company for all those years had I not had Brent Baker there working with me. And when you work alongside someone for so long, all those idiosyncrasies that come with this business just fall away, and what you’re left with is that shared passion. And Brent was passionate.
“Brent was such a fan of the movie industry, too. He would follow jobs, often to my dismay. He would say, ‘Hey, this other company got this great Marvel movie and I’m a really huge fan of it, so I’m going to take six months off so I can go work on it.’ And just like that, he would go off and do these other projects, but I’d always bring him back. He just always followed these projects that he was interested in, because that’s how much he loved movies.”
Sally Ray, co-worker on Gremlins 2
Baker made another long-time friend in Sally Ray, who he met while working on Gremlins 2: The New Batch over at Rick Baker’s.
“I met Brent in 1988 when I joined Cinnovation. I was working in every department when I was there, but I started off in fabrication doing the seaming of hundreds of Gremlins for The New Batch. It was always really easy to tell if you were working on a casting of a mold that Brent did because the seam was just perfect. He always made my job easy.
“Brent was extremely meticulous, and at one point, I did get to work in the mold department, and was semi-trained by Brent. He was very patient with me. We would talk about our anxieties and how that forced us to be better because we worried about our work so much.
“As we got to know each other, we became like brother and sister,” continued Ray. “I can’t really remember the point where we became close, because when I think about it now, it just felt like it was always that way. We had similar backgrounds and experiences, so we never held back with each other. Sometimes, we’d go without seeing each other or talking for a little bit, but we never missed a beat. We’d fight like brother and sister, too, and he was a pain in the ass at times, but that’s because Brent really was like my brother. He could come off as standoffish, but he had a really good heart. I think a lot of people who come from the type of background that he did, it was easy to be guarded, but Brent always cared deeply about his friends.
“He was also someone who would always stand up for the mold department, too; there’d be situations where someone would get three weeks to sculpt something, but then the mold makers were told they had one day to get their work done; he’d always push back because he wanted to have the time he needed to do the best work that he could. A lot of people would try to downgrade mold-making, but Brent was a true craftsman.”
Sally also recognized that Brent had a keen ability in not letting unfortunate circumstances trip him up whenever he faced adversity.
“It’s so hard to describe, but Brent had an amazing ability to bounce back from things that most people wouldn’t be able to bounce back from. During the ’94 quake, I lived in North Hollywood and he lived in Sherman Oaks. After the quake happened, I ran around to everyone’s houses trying to make sure no one was buried underneath their mask collections or things like that. I didn’t really think of Brent because he had this open floor plan in his apartment, so I figured he would be okay.
“It wasn’t until around 11 in the morning when we finally got phone service back, and he called me to ask if I could come and pick him up. When I went there, his whole building was down, and his loft had fallen at an angle right on top of his truck, which he had just spent a bunch of money fixing up. The stairs had even fallen so I had no idea how he even got down from there without breaking his neck. But when we saw each other, we just looked at each other and started laughing. It was really intense so we needed that tension breaker, and even in a situation like that, all Brent could do was laugh.”
While his resume boasted a slew of impressive film and television projects – The Fly, The Lost Boys, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Matinee, Species, Men in Black, Hellboy (2004), Attack the Block, Looper, Aquaman, as well as Westworld and the recent Swamp Thing television series – to those who knew and worked with Brent Baker, he was so much more than just a list of credits.
“I don’t know if many people realize this, but Brent became one of the most prominent lifecast guys during his career, too,” explained Howie Weed. “If you look at his IMDb page, he really was the lifecaster to the Hollywood A-List. I don’t think there was a single A-List actor that Brent hadn’t done a lifecasting of during his career. He also had a great way of making people feel at ease during the process, too; if he was working with an actor who had a great deal of trepidation over the process, he had this way about him where everyone he worked with always felt comfortable through the process.
“We were both passionate about the genres we were working in, so we always enjoyed having these long conversations about films, the people working on those films, and all the behind-the-scenes stories that would probably be boring to anyone else. It was super easy to be friends with him, and we formed this bond where we were on this adventure together into the film industry, and even though we didn’t work on the same films after a while, because I came back up to Northern California, so it was fun for me to have someone down in Hollywood continuing on and hearing about all of his exploits.
“Brent also became like a part of my family over the years, too. He would come up at Christmastime and spend the holidays with us. We would always see each other on our birthdays, so we were always really tight, and we had a really special friendship. I’m definitely going to miss hearing his stories, but most of all, I’m really going to miss my friend.”
After falling in love with horror at an early age, Heather Wixson has been both a journalist and a proponent of independent horror cinema since 2007. Wixson is the managing editor for DailyDead.com, has contributed to FANGORIA magazine, and was a featured writer at DreadCentral.com and the managing editor for TerrorTube.com. Wixson finished her first book, Monster Squad: Celebrating the Artists Behind Cinema's Most Memorable Creatures, in 2017, and is working on her second book project on special-effects artists.