Thursday, July 31, 2014

RIP, Dick Smith

Legendary makeup effects artist Dick Smith has passed away.  He was 92.
Smith was an innovator in his field and a true master of the art form.  He pioneered techniques that would revolutionize the industry, such as the use of air bladders and in using liquid foam latex to fabricate elements that would give actors a greater range of motion and expression.

Smith wasn't selfish and wouldn't keep these secrets to himself, as he didn't just seek to make himself better; he wanted others to be better and to continue taking the art form to new heights.  Throughout his life, Smith would teach and mentor other people in the field of special effects, sharing his techniques and discoveries.  His apprentices include Rick Baker, Richard Taylor, Greg Cannom, and Alec Gillis, amongst others.

After starting his career in the realm of cheap B-movies (The Alligator People [1959]) and television (he won an Emmy for his work on Mark Twain Tonight! [1967]), Dick Smith transitioned to legit film work.  His first big achievement was turning Dustin Hoffman into a 100 year old man in Little Big Man (1970) and he would follow that up by making screen icon Marlon Brando into the jowly Don Corleone in The Godfather (1972).
Maybe Dick Smith's most iconic work, and definitely his biggest contribution to genre cinema, was his groundbreaking work on The Exorcist (1973) and the way he turned little Linda Blair into a demonic possessed spawn of evil.  His work on that film still impresses to this day.
Smith would continue to rip through the 70s, providing his talents for The Godfather II (1974), Taxi Driver (1976; which was so realistic in its violence that Scorsese had to tone down the color of the red blood to secure an R rating), The Sentinel (1977), The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), and The Deer Hunter (1978).

The 80s would bring Dick Smith his first Academy Award nomination and win (shared with Paul LeBlanc) for his work on Amadeus (1984) in which then 44 year-old F. Murray Abraham was turned into the 77 year-old Antonio Salieri.  During the 80s Smith would also work on Altered States (1980), Ghost Story (1981), The Hunger (1983), Spasms (1983), Starman (1984), and Dad (1989), for which he would receive his second Oscar nomination for his work on Jack Lemmon.

Smith would also receive "makeup consultant" credit on a number of films (what that means exactly I'm not sure; I'd imagine he just got together with the producers/effects artists and offered advice?), including Midnight Cowboy (1969), Marathon Man (1976), Scanners (1981), Poltergeist III (1988), and Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990).

The 90s would be Dick Smith's final working decade, in which he returned to television to provide special effects makeup for all 72 episodes of Monsters.  Smith would also work on the weird Meryl Streep/Goldie Hawn flick Death Becomes Her (1991) and Mel Gibson's man-out-of-time love story Forever Young (1992).  Dick Smith's final film credit of his career was. . .*sigh*. . . The House on Haunted Hill remake (1999).  Hey, they can't all be winners.

In 2011, Dick Smith was awarded an Honorary Academy Award (presented by Rick Baker) for his contributions to the film world and earlier this year in February of 2014 he was given the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hollywood Makeup Artists and Hair Stylist Guild Awards.

Dick Smith was a legend,  a pioneer, and an icon of his field.  He was also a good guy, by all accounts.  This quote from Rick Baker has been making the rounds, but hey, it's appropriate and it sums things up nicely:

"There's never going to be another Dick Smith.  Dick is, without a doubt, the greatest makeup artist who's ever going to live."
RIP, Dick Smith.
The Godfather of Makeup.

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