With Universal Pictures’ The Wolfman redux in day five of its American release (the flick earned $30 million over the weekend and registered as number #3 at the box office) and the horror fanbase divided over the movie’s use of practical FX versus CGI in the realization of its titular creature, we thought we’d bring you a portion of our chat with FX man Rick Baker, who weighed in on the subject.
Speaking with the visual magician a week before the film’s opening, Baker (who’s responsible for the groundbreaking lupine effects in An American Werewolf in London as well as those in the werewolf flicks Cursed and Wolf) said of the production’s decision to use CG over practical in the transformation of the creature, “People always try to pit the rubber guys against the digital guys, and I think it’s just another tool. A computer is one of my favorite things. I’ve been doing my designs in the computer for twenty-two years, but the biggest problem is that (it offers) you too many choices. That was kind of the problem with this film. I had a really hard problem with getting anyone to decide (on the design). In the old days it was, ‘Do you like this drawing or that drawing?’ and then it was, ‘Let’s go make it.’ (With this film) I spent months trying to convince them of what I thought the wolfman should be, and whenever we had what were supposed to be transformation meetings, they’d very quickly mutate into something else that was easier to talk about.”
Baker reiterated that he isn’t opposed to SPFX though by stating, “It is the digital age, isn’t it? If it was totally up to me in how I would have done the transformation, I would have used a lot of CG. I would have been crazy not to. I would have really liked to have mixed it up (though) and used more makeup and do things like compositing those parts with real bodies or compositing real eyes on a fake head, but it just wasn’t meant to be in this film. (Director) Joe (Johnston) came on to this production fairly late and was inundated by questions by a million people including me – a lot of questions about the transformation and stuff. It turned out for him the best choice was CG so that he could make decisions in post (production), and I totally understand that. I thought they did a terrific job with it though.”
As for his thoughts on filmmakers’ expanding usage of CG in realizing cinematic monsters, Baker said, “I enjoy doing digital work. Why not use it? It’s another way to do things – but I would hate to see all movies being shot in green screen or with motion capture. I’ve said it so many times, but there’s a magic that happens when you have a really good actor in a really good makeup. Part of what fascinated me is that the first time I made myself up and looked at my reflection in the mirror, it wasn’t me looking back. It (the makeup) allowed me to do things that I couldn’t do as myself, and I found out how powerful that was and how much that can mean to an actor.”
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