Rick Baker, Along With Other Creative Primates, Fashions a World of Not-So-Naked Apes

By John Calhoun
What’s the definition of a dream assignment for Rick Baker, the five–time Oscar-winning makeup artist who is possibly the closest thing to a below-the-line celebrity Hollywood can offer? The answer to that is simple—it’s his latest project, Tim Burton’s new version of Planet of the Apes. "At the time Tim called me, I was actually planning on taking a year off," says Baker, who won his most recent Academy Award in March for Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. "I had just finished Grinch and Nutty Professor 2, I was burned out, and I thought, I’m going to close up shop and take a year to kick back. But I just couldn’t turn this down." It’s easy to see why. Baker, a self-dubbed "ape-crazy guy," has contributed to most of the simian-themed films of the past 25 years, including King Kong, Greystoke, Gorillas in the Mist, and Mighty Joe Young. For him to be given a shot at re-imagining the advanced, articulate chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans that populated the 1968 movie of Pierre Boulle’s novel—well, the much-needed breather from work would just have to be postponed.

Baker, of course, was intimately acquainted with John Chambers’ Oscar-winning work on the original film. "I was 18 when I saw it," he says. "I was already a makeup geek and an ape geek at the time, and had made a number of ape things on my own. I was blown away when I saw the film—especially the first time you see the gorillas on horseback. But even at the time, even though I thought the makeups were great, I saw some things I would do differently. So I finally got a chance to put my money where my mouth is."

Also where the apes’ mouths are—one area Baker felt could use some improvement. It may be recalled that Planet of the Apes wasn’t the only movie in 1968 with complex ape makeup: the other was 2001: A Space Odyssey, during the opening "Dawn of Man" sequence. "That was done a whole different way," says the makeup artist. "What I liked about Stuart Freeborn’s work in 2001 was that the apes could show their teeth. The apes in Planet of the Apes had little rubber teeth glued into their appliances, but they couldn’t move their lips over their teeth. They always moved together. I thought, that’s a shame, because apes are very expressive with their mouths, they bare their teeth and do many things."

Baker also hoped to diversify the various makeup designs more than Chambers had, even on the background apes. "Apes are as individual as you or I," he says. "In the original film, they came up with a design for a gorilla, a chimp, and an orangutan, and basically applied that to everyone’s face. The only difference was, if somebody had a more oval face or a more square face, it made the head shape slightly different. I like making characters—I wanted to play up the differences."

Costume designer Colleen Atwood, whose job was almost as crucial in turning such human actors as Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Roth, and Michael Clarke Duncan into other species of primate, says, "You look at the old movie to see what works and what doesn’t work, so you learn from it all. I had to consider movement in a huge way, because there is much more acknowledgement of ape movement in the costumes. It was like doing dance costumes." A character like Roth’s General Thade, for example, runs, jumps, and springs in an agile, decidedly chimp-like fashion. But as Baker points out, he and the rest of the Burton Planet of the Apes creators had the advantage of hindsight. "I had 30 years since looking at the first films"—not only Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1968 film, but the four sequels that followed in quick succession—"to mull it over."

This is not the makeup designer’s first go-round with Apes. Plans for a remake have been afoot for years, with various directors and/or stars attached. "I was originally approached about eight years before Tim approached me, when Oliver Stone had the project," says Baker. "That’s when I started thinking about what to do. For a brief moment, I considered doing animatronic heads, like I did in Gorillas in the Mist and Mighty Joe Young. I knew that we could make absolutely real-looking gorillas that were very animated. But I felt that it wasn’t Planet of the Apes. I mean, so much of the charm of the first movie was that they were actor-driven performances. It would also be a logistical nightmare to coordinate what an actor’s doing with what a puppeteer’s doing, when you have 500 apes on camera and 1,500 puppeteers behind camera. So I almost immediately ruled that out."

The Stone version was put on the shelf, but Baker retained some of what he had conceived while briefly working on it. "We used basically the same materials in our film that they did back in 68; what we did in our film could have been done then. We used foam rubber, as they had. But to create the ape-like muzzle on the first film they had a great big chunk of foam on the person’s face, and though the actors could open and close their mouths and wiggle them around a little bit, they really couldn’t articulate the lips very much. So I thought, I’ll make a set of dentures to push the actor’s face out into a muzzle-like look to begin with, and then sculpt a very thin muzzle, relying on the dentures to create a lot of that mass."

It was an idea that translated into practice beautifully. But Baker had a lot of other conceptual work to do, and not a lot of time to do it. "When Tim first talked to me, I think it was about six months away from filming. All of the sudden, the movie was on the fast track. If they had asked me how much time it was going to take, I would probably have said a year. From day one I said, you’re six months behind." There was no real script yet—"Tim said it needed work, and he didn’t want to show it to me at that point. He just said, it’s a bunch of apes, and it’s not on Earth like the first film. So I started coming up with concepts, and had two weeks to do a bunch of designs. It was a really fun period, but not much of it applied when we finally got our actors and a script. It’s kind of hard to do designs when you don’t have the actors, because so much is dependent on the structure of the person’s face."

In fact, Baker attempted in vain to affect casting. The denture-and-thin-muzzle solution he had come up with worked particularly well on certain physiognomies. "When I tested it on myself eight years ago, I thought it looked good, but I have a fairly big nose and bridge. Apes are very flat across there. I’ve also got kind of a short upper lip; I thought, if we had somebody with a much flatter nose and a long upper lip, this makeup would look really cool." With that in mind, the designer experimented on life casts of actors who met the criteria. "I gave Tim the life casts, and said, this guy has a good face, so there’s minimal thickness on here. This one doesn’t look as good because the guy’s got a big nose. He totally ignored it. When they said, ‘We’re looking at Tim Roth to play Thade,’ I was like, ‘What part of this big nose thing did you not understand?’ " But Baker agreed that Roth was a good actor for the part of the movie’s chief antagonist, and made it work. "I think he’s one of my favorite makeups in the movie."

During the design process, the makeup artist also flirted with other ideas. "We went off on directions like, since it’s not Earth, then we’re not really bound by Earth apes, are we? We could maybe play with what an ape on another planet is like. I thought about putting in some other primates, like baboons. I also thought, these apes have a society, they build houses, they make clothes, they would probably have a fashion sense and maybe trim their hair. But then we finally got a script, and I said, we should forget about all this space ape stuff, and go back to chimps, gorillas, and orangutans. That’s what the movie’s about; that’s what people expect. My experiment with playing with hairstyles was taking them away from being apelike."

Individualizing the apes only went so far, too. "I held back at some point, because chimps can be anywhere from fair-skinned to black, and they have all kinds of interesting mottling and markings. But I thought we should standardize things for clarity’s sake—if you have a black chimp in a helmet, and a black gorillas next to him in a helmet, are you going to be able to tell the difference? So we kept the chimps in brown shades, the gorillas black, and the orangutans gray." Baker did vary mottling and wrinkles from ape to ape, and built in structural differences to the initial sculptures.

Ape Fashions
By John Calhoun
Atwood also used sculptures in her design process. "Instead of using drawing for my basics, especially for the military costumes, I sculpted them, so we could really look at the scale in 360." The life-size figures were sculpted by Jose Fernandez from body casts, and face casts were taken from Baker’s prototype masks. "The apes’ heads are bigger than human heads, so the scale of everything is tricky," says Atwood, who, like Baker and production designer Rick Heinrichs, has worked with Burton on several films. "Everything’s scaled up, the way it might be in opera. A really good example is Michael Clarke Duncan, who’s already huge. With the gorilla head and neck muscles on him, it increased the size of his head by probably a third. I used an almost architectural approach to his costume—to me, he looks like a walking building." The designer gave all the film’s gorilla characters padded undersuits for a barrel-chested shape, while the chimps wore a sleeker "modified muscle suit."

Duncan’s gorilla character, like Roth’s chimpanzee, is a general in the ape army. "The armies are in red," says Atwood, "because part of the story is shot against black lava and green trees, and since the apes photograph dark, we wanted to go with a color that looked stunning. But Michael Clarke Duncan is in black, which represents that he’s the baddest guy. And Tim Roth is in a dark plum color, which is much darker and moodier than the other chimps’ costumes." Leather and vinyl were common elements in the costume construction, and Atwood used painting and surface techniques to finish off the fiberglass armor, which was mass-produced in China. The helmets, which are prominently featured in print ads for the movie, are based on a Nautilus design. "That’s a very Tim Burton sort of signature," says the costume designer. "They were loosely based on sea life, just because we liked it, and it worked with their heads. Not for any intellectual reason."

In the story, the orangutans are primarily higher-echelon members of ape society—"senators and intelligentsia," says Atwood. "They have more gown-like costumes, with narrow shoulders and bigger stomachs than the gorillas." Some of the orangutans are dressed in blue, like Glenn Shadix’s senator and Paul Giamatti’s human slave trader. "I gave the male orangs the big cheek pads and neck wattle, which have a certain regal quality, but not him," says Baker of the Giamatti character. "I visualized him as a Peter Lorre-like character, a slimy guy that you can’t really trust. My thought was, he should be self-conscious about the fact that he doesn’t have these pads. When he’s around somebody he’s trying to impress, he tries to pump himself up."

Differentiating the ape species was one thing; differentiating the sexes was another. The chief female on view is Helena Bonham Carter’s Ari, chimp by birth and human-rights advocate by conviction. "Tim said he wanted her to be attractive to a human male,"says Baker. The homo sapiens in question is Mark Wahlberg, who plays Captain Leo Davidson, the crash-landed Earthling astronaut who starts all the trouble on the ape planet. "I told him, that’s going to be tough, because if you’re just looking at a chimp’s face, it’s really hard to tell a female from a male, and some of them are hideously ugly. If anybody would be attracted to a female chimp, it would be somebody like me, and I’ve never been attracted to a female chimp." Trying to humanize her would only make matters worse—"it would make her even more grotesque, like a freak human." Softening her wrinkles helped, but Burton also wanted a hairstyle, a feature Baker had already rejected on most of the ape characters. Finally, a high-fashion hairstylist was brought in to design Bonham Carter’s coiffure.

Atwood designed the character’s costume, along with those for the other female ape characters, "with a nod toward the East. I used more standard materials on the women, with a lot of handwork and texture. It’s two or three fabrics screened and sewn together, so there are layers. It’s got a little sheen to it, just to make it a little bit more feminine and pretty. She’s allowed to be girly."

Also on the costume designer’s docket, though not on Baker’s, were the human characters. "In the beginning, Mark Wahlberg is in the all-white spaceship and suit, in a total homage to the earlier movie," says Atwood. Unlike Charlton Heston, unfortunately, Wahlberg never changes into a loincloth. "We took his costume and did different steps of distressing to marry it into the land." All of the other human characters are lowly natives of the planet of the apes, and most are dressed in clothes that reflect the desert and jungle environments. The base was a tightly fit stretch fabric, with artwork screened and painted on the costumes to resemble reptile scales and other animal skins. Rocks, shells, pinecones, and palm bark were also attached to the clothes, and a pearlized paint covered everything, "to give it a kind of otherworldly hue." Between the apes and humans, Atwood’s crew, from seamstresses to sculptors, made thousands of costumes, working right up to the end of production.

Baker and his crew had enough to do without worrying about the human characters. During preproduction, Baker had about 70 workers at his Cinovation Studios headquarters in Glendale, CA, manufacturing appliances. "We had three tiers of makeup," he says. "Our number ones were custom makeups that we designed for our principal actors. Number twos were foam-rubber head masks made on a generic life cast, with numerous sizes and shapes altered to fit the actors once we found them. Then we had our number threes, which were like hollow, slip-rubber Halloween masks, for the background." Even with these, however, each hair (a mixture of yak and human varieties) was individually implanted and dressed. "During my 30 years in the business," says Baker, "I’ve discovered that if you make something to be in the background, it’s going to show up in a closeup somewhere."

About 30 makeup artists, including makeup supervisor Toni G and sculptor Kazuhiro Tsuji, worked on application during production. Other than applying his own makeup (he cameos as a gray hair–streaked chimp), Baker wasn’t one of them. "I designed and sculpted and had my hands involved in all the makeup," he says, "but I really felt, because so many makeups were going on, that it would be better to be the eyes for everybody." This was also his procedure on the makeup-heavy Grinch, whereas on a film like The Nutty Professor, "I applied Eddie’s makeup, because he was basically the only guy. When I put a makeup on, I’m just staring at it all day, and looking at things to improve upon it. I thought it would be wrong in the case of this movie to be focusing on one makeup. I was going through withdrawal, not putting makeup on, especially since they’re apes. But I got over that pretty fast, because first makeup call a lot of times was 1am. I’d come in when they were just about done."

Average application time for the principals, says Baker, was three hours. "Helena’s makeup took closer to four hours, because once you got the ape makeup on, then you had to do a beauty makeup—fussing over her eyelashes and hair." The actress’ makeup was broken down to a face appliance with brow, cheeks, and muzzle, a chin, separate ears, bald cap, and wig. The typical gorilla makeup included a cowl-shaped appliance with head crest and ears, a face piece and chin, and a wig that extended from the tops of their heads over their necks and shoulders. Then, of course there are hands. "People don’t realize that hands are a problem, and there are so many of them on this film," says Baker. "If you’re actually gluing appliances on, it takes longer than the face, and it’s much harder to maintain, because actors are always using their hands. Glove hands don’t move as well and look bad. We ended up with a hybrid, a lycra spandex glove that we tied yak hair into, and rubber fingers. They would just slip off." There were also hairy toes, poking out of "demi-boots" designed by Atwood. "Tim liked seeing their feet," she explains.

Atwood’s crew got the actors after their long sojourn in makeup. "We took about a half-hour to dress them," she says. "We had to keep our time down, because the other end of it was so long; they certainly weren’t in the mood to spend an hour getting dressed. I had one-on-one on each principal actor, and sometimes two people to get them ready if we were in a rush."

Like any big Hollywood movie, though perhaps a bit more so, Planet of the Apes was an intensive experience for everyone involved. So after production shut down, did Baker finally take his much-needed vacation? "I’m doing Men in Black 2 now," he says. "I actually got kind of jazzed up when we were doing Apes, and I guess it was temporary insanity when I said yes to this."

Animal Planet
By Scott Essman
With the success of recent blockbusters such as Titanic, X-Men, and The Grinch, Hollywood can’t seem to get enough of those big-ticket pictures. The studios have recently green-lit sequels such as Jurassic Park III [see ED July 2001, "3X a T-Rex"], remakes including Planet of the Apes, and franchise pictures, including three projected films for a Lord of the Rings trilogy and two Matrix sequels. And with big pictures come big sets, big backdrops, and the necessary design elements to make them work onscreen.

Of course, big doesn’t always mean impersonal. Consider the work of Planet of the Apes’ Rick Heinrichs, who has been collaborating with director Tim Burton since the two were classmates at the California Institute of the Arts two decades ago. Heinrichs served as a visual associate on Burton’s earliest films, Vincent and Frankenweenie, before graduating to more detailed assignments in the 1990s. He has served as Burton’s production designer since the eventually canceled Superman project first began in 1997. Though the Nicolas Cage vehicle was aborted just as elaborate sets were going to be constructed, Heinrichs and Burton went right into preproduction on Sleepy Hollow, which earned Heinrichs an Oscar.

"Design-wise, when you hire Tim, you’re know that you’re going to get something that comes from him," said Heinrichs. "Tim greatly admires the original film, so there are visual links and story links to the original, but the names are different and the action is different. We are describing it as a re-imagined Apes."

For the new version, Heinrichs designed many facets of the ape planet’s environment—decidedly not Earth this time around—both onstage and on practical locations. The production shot for 10 days at a Heinrichs-fabricated "ape encampment" near Lake Powell, AZ, in November 2000, then returned to Los Angeles for several months of shooting onstage and in desert locations just outside of the city. "Whenever you built exteriors onstage, you like to marry it to a real location to give a virtual feel to the stage stuff," he says. "That worked really nicely for us on Sleepy Hollow; in Apes, we have three different kinds of exterior looks. A recurring element of the film’s look is a very natural sculptural quality." Typical for many big Hollywood movies, Heinrichs had crews prepping sets on stages in Los Angeles while he and separate art department crew members went on location with the main unit in the fall of 2000.

A primary set piece is Ape City, built on the football field–sized Stage 30 at Sony Pictures, which can be configured to work as a tank set. Heinrichs’ village was built to the entire depth of the tank and nearly to the top of the stage. He is pleased that for all of its construction glory, Ape City was shot practically and will go to film relatively untouched. "Industrial Light and Magic is doing the digital effects for us, since there are certain things that you can’t get around doing, given today’s technology," he says. "But Tim doesn’t like to go to CGI, calling attention to the visual effects, if he can possibly help it. ILM was great in underplaying what they were doing."

To realize Ape City, Heinrichs and his team spent four months of rigorous design in the summer of 2000, then embarked on a 19–week build in the 200' x 120' x 46' space. "The idea is that the apes came from the jungle, migrated across this lava field, and that’s where the Ape City ends up," said Heinrichs.

With the input of concept artist Mauro Borrelli, Heinrichs designed a city that is part jungle, part ancient Earth. "You can see directed spots of specific human cultures in Ape City," he notes. "We researched and referenced ancient Egypt, Turkey, and Thailand, but what we ended up going for was something that was much more its own design. We pictured something that the apes themselves came up with." Details abound in Ape City, ranging from lighting fixtures to crimson tents to towering effigies of "famous" apes. Art department coordinator Kirstin Mooney reflects on the evolution of the design of the Ape City minutiae, first brought to life by 35 art department personnel: "Working on a Tim Burton movie, you start out with this thing in the script that describes a big ape statue," she says. "And then, between him and Rick, they bounce ideas off each other about what it could really be. Finally, you end up with a something that you would just never see in any other movie."

Art director John Dexter oversaw a tabletop foam model of the city and a 100,000-sq.-ft. warehouse in the industrial section of downtown LA served as the construction headquarters for all things ape. Inside, 100 foam carvers, cloth fabricators, and construction crew members, supervised by lead sculptor Jamie Miller, built the various pieces of Ape City, which were then shipped to the Culver City stage, where 45 set decorators and dressers were required to outfit the city in full.

Across the human city of LA, at downtown’s six–stage LA Center Studios, the Planet of the Apes art department utilized the new soundstages to create many of the additional set pieces in the film. First up were interiors of the spaceship, the Oberon, created on Stage Four. With designs by Sylvain Despretz, the Oberon included various interior quarters that disintegrate in a spectacular planetary crash. Then, at a Death Valley location, the production filmed the crashed ship, which Heinrichs’ team made out of carved-resin pinnacles over a steel structure. With multiple pinnacles rising from a rock-and-sand environment, the effect of a massive crashed vessel is complete. "Tim wanted to shoot the pinnacles to give you the idea that there was a much bigger structure under the sand," Heinrichs says. Several pieces were shipped back to LA and the location was duplicated on Stage Six at LA Center Studios in the Hollywood equivalent of a giant sandbox—a 116' x 72' platform covered with walnut dust out of which several of the pinnacles stand.

Blanketing Stage One, 5' taller than the studio’s other stages at 40' high, was Planet of the Apes’ primary jungle set. "We built a 20'–deep bog here for when the ship comes crashing in and Mark Wahlberg’s character lands on the planet," says Heinrichs. "Then the shooting crew went away, and we filled in the bog, put in greenery, and created more space for them to do all kinds of stunts and scenes that imply Leo [the Wahlberg character] could be going through the jungle for quite a long time." Built primarily with 6'– to-8'–thick artificial trees covered with thousands of silk leaves and surrounded by hundreds of potted plants, Heinrichs’ jungle set appears prominently at the outset of the film.

The production designer’s most elaborate set at LA Center Studios was the interior of the crashed spaceship. Similar to the ship’s emerging pinnacles, the interior of the ship was constructed with a steel structure covered by two types of foam—dense foam to cover the steel, and more flexible foam for the exterior surfaces. "Our sets are all stunt-safe," Heinrichs says, "so actors can come running up and down and swing from these things and jump on and off of the pieces."

Supported by a wood frame, the crashed Oberon was painted in a complex swatch of beiges and rust colors by a paint crew of 20, supervised by Clyde Zimmerman. "You get this multilayered effect as though the wreckage included many, many layers of metal that has been decomposing over time," said Heinrichs. A key plot point, utilizing a time-travel concept, leads to a revelation of the ship’s origins. No need to spoil the surprise, however—Planet of the Apes opens July 27, and the world will learn its secrets.

Rick Baker photo by Scott Grief/©2001 Twentieth Century Fox; all other photos: Sam Emerson/©2001 Twentieth Century Fox