RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Rick Baker created some of the most memorable movie monsters of the past four decades, including "An American Werewolf In London"...
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, screaming).
MARTIN: ...And Disney's "Maleficent."
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ANGELINA JOLIE: (As Maleficent) Well, well.
MARTIN: Well, well. Baker won seven Oscars for makeup and is now retired - sort of. He just released a two-volume book titled "Metamorphosis." Here's NPR's Mandalit del Barco.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: One of the seven Oscars Rick Baker won was for transforming actor Martin Landau into "Dracula's" Bela Lugosi in the movie "Ed Wood."
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) Trick or treat. (Screaming).
MARTIN LANDAU: (As Bela Lugosi) Aren't you scared, little boy?
DEL BARCO: In the LA enclave Toluca Lake, Rick Baker answers his door wearing a T-shirt that says, I'd rather be making monsters. Inside, his house-turned-studio is packed with gorilla skull casts, monstrous sculptures, life masks of gruesome victims. There's a mysterious room that looks, from a distance, like Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory.
RICK BAKER: It's a room that you probably shouldn't go in (laughter).
DEL BARCO: Oh, OK.
Baker's massive book documents his long career, starting when he was a 10-year-old kid making monster masks in his bedroom. He was fascinated with the 1931 "Frankenstein" movie.
BAKER: I wasn't afraid of him. You know, I felt a sympathy for the monster. And he didn't ask to be made. And it was kind of like a kid, a misfit kid.
DEL BARCO: Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has called Rick Baker the greatest monster kid ever to be born. He went from making his own super 8 movies to working on the Claymation TV show "Davey And Goliath"...
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HAL SMITH: (As Goliath) Davey.
DEL BARCO: ...To helping with special effects on "The Exorcist"...
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, groaning).
DEL BARCO: ...To creating the giant gorilla for the 1976 film "King Kong."
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, screaming).
DEL BARCO: Baker even wore the suit to play the part of King Kong, though his acting was not credited. Baker says he had to fight to get into Hollywood's makeup union.
BAKER: The business rep of the union told me to give up. He said you're never going to get in. He said you have to be born into this. I mean, it was discouraging. But it was like, you know what? I'm going to show these guys.
DEL BARCO: Baker's talent and persistence paid off. In 1982, he won the first ever Academy Award for best makeup and hairstyling for "An American Werewolf In London."
BAKER: The big payoff was seeing his face stretch out and change, you know, right before your eyes.
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DEL BARCO: After that, the film's director, John Landis, asked Baker to create the makeup for the now classic "Thriller" video. Baker turned Michael Jackson and his dancers into creatures of the night. He and his crew also were featured zombies.
BAKER: I'm one of them that comes out of a tomb. And how amazing it was watching this amazing dance happen.
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DEL BARCO: Baker also used some creature masks he had laying around his studio for the cantina scene in the 1977 "Star Wars" movie. Director Barry Sonnenfeld says Baker worked with him on all three "Men In Black" movies and "Wild Wild West." He calls Baker a genius.
BARRY SONNENFELD: Rick thinks like a filmmaker and not exclusively like a creature designer or a brilliant makeup artist. He creates backstories for these aliens so that they're not just arbitrary.
LANDAU: Actor Vincent D'Onofrio says Baker spent months with him preparing his role as an alien bug disguised as a human in "Men In Black."
VINCENT D'ONOFRIO: He was attaching threads to my cheeks and stretching my face upwards and gluing it into positions. He will always go down as simply the best makeup artist ever.
DEL BARCO: At age 68, Rick Baker is still busy making monsters.
BAKER: This is how I have fun. And I'm going to do this as long as I can. And that's one of the reasons I retired. I have things I want to make for myself.
DEL BARCO: Wait 'til the neighbors see what he has in store this Halloween.
Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MEN IN BLACK [ALBUM VERSION]")
COKO: (Singing) Here come the Men in Black. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.