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Special effects makeup artist Dick Smith will be honored

Protege Rick Baker will host the celebration at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

June 16, 2009|Susan King

Dick Smith brought the devil out of Linda Blair, transformed Marlon Brando into a jowly Mafia don and punked out Robert De Niro with a startling Mohawk. So what's next for the 86-year-old special effects makeup artist? How about a tribute from his friends and colleagues?

Smith's innovative work on "The Exorcist," "The Godfather," "Taxi Driver" and "Amadeus" (for which he won an Oscar) among others has had a huge influence on the field. "The state of the art of makeup effects wouldn't exist if it wasn't for Dick," says six-time Oscar-winner and Smith protege Rick Baker. "He's an extremely inventive guy who came up with a lot of techniques and materials we use today."

Baker ("An American Werewolf in London") will host the Wednesday celebration of Smith's work at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theater, which will feature film clips, discussions with such makeup artists as Kazuhiro Tsuji ("Angels & Demons"), Greg Cannom ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") and Mike Elizalde ("Hellboy"), as well as actors Blair and Hal Holbrook, each of whom have been subject to Smith's transformations. Smith too is scheduled to speak.

Perhaps his greatest contribution, says Baker, was his willingness to share information with other artists.

That wasn't the case when Smith began in the 1940s as a makeup artist for NBC-TV in New York.

"He went to Yale, did a couple of makeups for fun and then landed the job at NBC," says Baker. "Most of the makeup artists were here on this coast and were a pretty secretive bunch. When Dick would try to find out from one of the guys here how to do things it was like 'tough luck guy.' So he came up with his own way of doing stuff."

Because it was easy and fast, special effects makeup artists had been creating a single, full-face mask for an actor in need of effects. Smith came up with the concept of using spot masks, called appliances, and overlapping them in areas as needed.

"If you are doing it as one big mask, you have to have a certain thickness of rubber built up on parts of the face you may not need to put rubber on," Baker says. "With Dick's technique, you put on rubber only where you need it."

Both Baker and Tsuji became fans of Smith as children and later found him to be a supportive mentor.

The L.A.-based Baker, who decided as a 10-year-old to follow in Smith's footsteps after reading a magazine article about him, started copying his hero's methods in a makeshift lab in his bedroom. Tsuji became obsessed with Smith's work while going to movies in Kyoto, Japan, and reading about his craft in Fangoria magazine.

"I wrote to him," says Tsuji, who has been working in American films for 12 years. "He wrote me right back. Whenever I made new makeup I sent him photos of it and he sent me back comments. He recommended me to be one of the crew of the Japanese film he supervised, 'Sweet Home.' Right after I graduated from high school, I moved to Tokyo to join that film."

Baker also wrote to Smith and sent him photos of his work after he graduated from high school. While on a trip to New York that summer, he met Smith at the makeup artist's house.

"I spent the day with Dick," recalls Baker, who worked with him on "The Exorcist."

"He told me anything and everything I ever wanted to know about how to do things, formulas and techniques. It was one of the greatest days of my life."

Though the event is sold out, there will be a standby line. For information go to www.oscars.org.

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susan.king@latimes.com

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