If you are a fan of cinematic makeup and practical visual effects –and if you can afford it –pick up a copy of Rick Baker: Metamorphosis. Just make sure you have it delivered because it weighs a ton. Author J.W. Rinzler’s new book chronicles the life and career of the renowned makeup and effects artist Rick Baker, from his early childhood in the 1950s to the present day, including his Academy Award-winning work on An American Werewolf in London, Harry and the Hendersons, Ed Wood, and Men in Black, in addition to dozens of other film and television projects.
Metamorphosis encompasses two hardcover volumes housed in a cloth-covered slipcase, totaling over 720 pages. The overall package is lavish and boasts over 1800 stills, behind-the-scenes shots, sketches, and documents that show Baker’s process, thoughts and ideas, and in-progress looks at some of the most iconic special effects of the 20th century. Some highlights include previously unreleased images of the cantina scene from the original Star Wars, an in-depth look at the masks and suits used in the 1976 remake of King Kong, and images of Baker’s early werewolf work in An American Werewolf in London and the music video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
The image quality in both volumes is incredibly high throughout and is alone worth the price of admission. Photographs of Baker and his early work from his childhood in the 1950s and 60s are reproduced here with great clarity even without color, while the full-color images of his work in the 1970s and beyond appear bright, vibrant, and often grotesque despite the age of these photographs. The American Werewolf chapter in volume one shows some of the best that the book has to offer: one of the set’s longer sections, this chapter presents images of Baker’s personal notes and sketches for the film’s werewolf transformation sequence, the progression of makeup being applied to actor David Naughton, and full-page images both in color and monochrome showing the various stages of makeup used to create the Jack Goodman character, whose post-mortem wounds were shown on screen in glorious and gory detail.
J.W. Rinzler’s text should not be ignored in these volumes either. Baker’s life and works are without a doubt the main attraction but Rinzler’s text and captions provide valuable context for the book’s progression shots, its smaller images, and photos showing Baker’s more obscure works. Rinzler’s work helps situate the reader in various points in Baker’s life, giving us insight into Baker’s thoughts, reactions to his projects, and his interactions with his contemporaries and mentors. While the text may not be able to satisfy readers’ morbid visual curiosity in the same way as the accompanying images, Rinzler does a commendable in his own right.
Some notes of caution for those who may be on the fence about purchasing Metamorphosis: the book’s suggested retail price tag of $250 is admittedly high, though it can be found at a lower price through online retailers. Metamorphosis is also not intended to be a quick read. This is a heavily visually-focused journey through 20th and 21st-century visual effects work that benefits from close examination and repeat readings to catch the most minute details on display. This is not a bad thing by any means but it may be a turn-off for casual fans who may not be that invested in Baker’s work.
Despite its high price (and weight), Rick Baker: Metamorphosis is a beautiful pick up for fans of 20th-century horror and sci-fi, makeup, and visual effects. In terms of physical design, the scope of its content, and the quality of its images and the accompanying text by J.W. Rinzler, Metamorphosis scores high on all fronts. Undecided buyers, however, may want to consider carefully before diving into this exploration of Baker’s work if they aren’t already interested in it to some degree.