Meet Rick Baker, the legend known for his work on Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977), Men in Black (1997), and Planet of the Apes (2001).
Since the age of 10, Rick was inspired by the classic horror film monsters he saw growing up and began doing special effects makeup at the age of 10. Naturally an early inspiration was Jack Pierce the head of the makeup department at universal studios and the creator of many movie monsters including Frankenstein(1931), The Mummy (1932), and The Wolf Man (1941).
The world of special effects is ever-changing with new technologies and processes being adapted and unfortunately Jack Pierce didn’t stay current with the times. He continued to do his makeup in the sale style, while other tools and processes were being adopted. In the 40s, many of the studios were using foam rubber that was invented a decade earlier, and the lack of change prompted the studios to get rid of Pierce in favor of somebody new.
“I mean Frankenstein saved Universal. And his work, they still make money on his designs today.” says Baker, “But I took note of that. I’m going to make sure I know what’s new and current and stay up, cause I don’t want to be obsolete.”. When Rick learnt about 3D Printing, he immediately started brainstorming how he could apply this technology could improve his workflow and quality of work.
Due to the nature of the art, each pieces is unique and requires its own set of processes and has it’s own set of challenges. The basic process of traditionally creating a prop or application piece involves first modeling the desired piece out of clay, creating a mold of the sculpt, and finally casting a piece from the negative of the mold.
One of the challenges many users face is moving from a labor manufacturing process like clay modelling to a completely digital workflow but Rick has found many freedoms working digitally.
“I saw how word processing was so much easier than typing. And I thought, I wish there was a way that you could draw on that, and I had somebody look into it and I got photoshop when it was 1.0”
This same transition applied to 3D printing. Utilizing Z-Brush, Rick could undo errors, copy and paste elements of his work and easily save his progress in various stages. With the hundreds of designs that he already had sitting inside of his computer screen, being able to physically create these works was an easy step towards 3D printing.
“A lot of people that started out with me or who have worked with me over the years, have also gotten into 3d printing.They all said good things about Raise3D and I thought this looks like the printer for me, so I bought one. So right away, right out the box I started printing things and I pretty much didn’t shut it off…
I’ve also been real happy with the service. And I can’t say that about the other printers I’ve had where it’s been very difficult to get someone to respond to an email or an answer. I found this company to be great about that.” Rick Baker, Special Makeup Effects Artist
One of Rick’s more recent makeup looks involved creating parts and props for a halloween event with his family. He digitally designed and sculpted the variety of parts to be printed which included some sword based props and finger extensions. The finger extensions for his daughter were created by modeling one finger, then scaling the size up and down to print a copy for each finger. This process was able to print the final product and avoided the molding and casting phases.
“I basically modeled 1 finger in Z-Brush and scaled it up and scaled it down and printed out copies of them and basically just popped them onto my daughter’s finger.”. Traditionally, over a week of time would go into something this involved. In reality, the modeling of the 1 initial finger took about 20 minutes and was rescaled to various sizes. Within the same day, the first version was printed and wearable.
Another effect that was created for the makeup look included a tongue piece. The theme was vampires from the TV series The Strain. For Rick, he began by creating a traditional clay sculptor, molding, and casting the final piece as a proof of concept. Once the concept proved possible, he digitally created a model for his daughter and printed the negative of the mold and was able to cast within it.
For both the fingers and the tongue piece, sizing was an issue that would have been more prominent if done traditionally. Resizing involves sculpting the model in clay again and again until the model is correct. Each time molding takes place, this clay model is destroyed and would be created anew for each change in version.
When creating the tongue effect, Rick decided to model digitally. In the event that the sizing was incorrect, he could just go ahead and rescale it until the size was right. Fortunately for Rick, the sizing for the first print of the tongue piece was perfect. Regardless, Rick mentions how sculpting digitally has the added benefit of speed simply due to the fact that you’re not pushing clay around.
With a 3D model, changes can be made easily and efficiently, but in the case of the tongue that needed to be made in a non-rigid material; he further utilized the printing process to eliminate the moldmaking step. Instead of printing the tongue itself, he printed the shell of the mold to use directly.
“That whole process I just saved so much time on those items. Same thing with the sword handles and things that I did. To actually model it, mold it, cast it, I’d still be working on it.”. For finger extensions, you would first have to cast the hand and create a base to sculpt on. Just to get this part ready, that would be 3-4 days of prep. If making quick work out of the sculpt, it would be another 3 days to create the clay model. Another 2-3 days goes into molding. Over a week of time would go into something this involved. In reality, the modeling of the 1 initial finger took about 20 minutes and was rescaled to various sizes. Within the same day, the first version was printed and wearable.
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