Generations of movie make-up artists packed the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theater on June 17 to honor a man many described as their inspiration. “A Tribute to Dick Smith: The Godfather of Special Makeup Effects” paid loving tribute to Smith, whose long career has left a lasting imprint on the make-up world.
A who’s who of award-winning make-up effects artists admired castings, movie posters and other Smith memorabilia in the theater lobby during a pre-show cocktail party. Inside the theater, a gory opening montage featured footage from some of Smith’s best-known work (The Godfather, The Exorcist, Taxi Driver); Academy Makeup Branch Governor Leonard Engelman welcomed guests, then turned hosting duties over to six-time Oscar winner Rick Baker. Baker, one of Smith’s former apprentices, became choked up during his introduction and asked for a glass of water before he continued. “I was overcome by emotion … and thirst,” he said, stashing his half-finished water bottle behind an oversized Oscar statue. (continued below)
Baker traced the growth of Smith’s career, beginning with early TV clips from 1955’s Alice in Wonderland (featuring an early use of foam-latex prosthetics), 1961’s Way Out: Soft Focus (in which Smith created a man’s severely disfigured face) and 1967’s Mark Twain, Tonight! Twain star Hal Holbrook and Exorcist child star Linda Blair joined Baker onstage to describe working with Smith as actors.
“I spent two years with Dick,” said Blair, who spent many hours looking up at Smith as he cast her face multiple times to reproduce multiple expressions. “I could tell you every bit of Dick’s face, just as he could tell you mine.”
Legacy Effects artists John Rosengrant and Shane Mahan joined Baker and Andrew Clement (the first student of Smith’s Advanced Professional Makeup Course) to talk about Smith as educator and mentor. They fondly remembered Smith’s Monster Make-up Handbook, which taught kids how to replicate movie effects using ingredients from the family kitchen. Like many speakers, Rosengrant described Smith as a generous source of professional wisdom.
“It wasn’t about ‘I’m going to keep it and be better than you’—it was about sharing and making us all better,” he said. “Thank you, Dick.” (continued below)
Carl Fullerton, who apprenticed with Smith on Altered States (1980) and The Hunger (1983) described Smith as a tireless leader. “I started working with him in my early 20s and I couldn’t outwork the man,” he said. Fullerton, Mike Elizalde and ADI’s Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr., discussed Smith’s many make-up innovations, including the multistep process Smith used to create the hairy, apelike creature of Altered States. That process began with Smith asking one of the shop’s workers to strip down so he could study the man’s body-hair growth pattern.
Directors Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro and Weta Workshop cofounder Richard Taylor could not attend the event, but sent a congratulatory video clip from New Zealand.
The evening wrapped up with a discussion among Baker, Kazuhiro Tsuji, Kevin Haney and Greg Cannom, plus rare footage of Smith at work in the shop, some of which was shot by Smith’s son, David. The grainy film showed Smith demonstrating how to do a stipple make-up; wearing the dental prosthetics he used on Marlon Brando in The Godfather and revealing the mechanical apparatus that controlled “what was going on inside [Linda Blair’s] head” in the Exorcist look-alike dummy.
In describing challenges that sometimes seemed impossible to solve, Smith said, “I don’t have nightmares about monsters; I have nightmares about problems.” Cannom, however, said he approaches nearly all of his make-up challenges by asking himself, “What would Dick do?”
The second of two standing ovations greeted Smith when he joined Baker onstage at the event’s end to offer a few remarks. The night was capped by an historic group photo of professional make-up artists, with Smith seated at the center of an affectionate crowd.
For more photos, see Make-Up Artist magazine’s July / August issue (Issue 79).