Tithonus.

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A ballpoint pen doodle I was rather taken by, so I gave it the digi-color treatment. This is why you should always keep drawing, kids — because you never really know what you’ll end up with.

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20 YEARS OF QUAKE.

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A little late, yes, but I wanted to be sure and add my own drop in the quad bucket in tribute for probably the most influential (both inspirational and technical) first person shooter ever. And here’s looking to twenty more years (with id’s Quake Legends multiplayer game on the way, and a possible single player title from MachineGames — who on the day of Quake’s birthday this year offered up a custom episode for the original game) of gibs and glory to come.

Sir Christopher Lee (1922 – 2015).

To my nephews he was Saruman the White and Count Dooku, to me, the Prince of Darkness. In between there was the heroic Duc du Richleau in The Devil Rides Out, the wacky, yet sinister Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man, and the goose-stepping Captain Wolfgang von Kleinschmidt in Spielberg’s 1941. He served in the Royal Air Force during World War II (and was supposedly attached to the elite Special Air Service in its beginnings) and fronted a symphonic metal band as lead vocalist. How someone could not possibly be more awesome without bursting into pure energy is truly beyond me. One of the greats.

Rick Baker: Monster Maker.

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Three days ago (Thursday, the 28th), Rick Baker announced his retirement. If there ever was an “end to an era” moment in the realm of fantastic cinema, this was one of them. I just found out yesterday, seeing as how Thursday I was out seeing the new Mad Max movie (OMG go see it, BTW. Don’t really want to blog about it since most reviews out there currently are spot-on) and have been back to work since. But this to me is like the steam engine bowing its head to internal combustion. “First of all,” says the man himself, “the CG stuff definitely took away the animatronics part of what I do. It’s also starting to take away the makeup part. The time is right, I am 64 years old, and the business is crazy right now. I like to do things right, and they wanted cheap and fast. That is not what I want to do, so I just decided it is basically time to get out. I would consider designing and consulting on something, but I don’t think I will have a huge working studio anymore.” Just as his mentor Dick Smith passed earlier last year (July 30th, at the age of 92), I’m sure Baker noted a change in the technological wind. Insert heavy sigh here.

Rick Baker started out like most of his generation, raised on Forrest Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland, along with the likes of John Landis (who Baker would later collaborate with on Schlock and An American Werewolf In London), Dan O’Bannon (AlienReturn of the Living Dead), Joe Dante (PiranhaThe HowlingGremlins), not to mention a little guy from Georgia who caught the monster bug from his cousin Eddie and has been a rabid fan ever since. A book published by the magazine, Dick Smith’s Do-It-Yourself Monster Make-up Handbook, sent the young Baker (not to mention future protege Rob Bottin and current The Walking Dead producer and director Greg Nicotero) off and running. At the tender age of 10, “Rick Baker Monster-Maker (a title he has lovingly embraced ever since)” was unleashed upon an unsuspecting world.

At age 18 Baker would later write a letter to Smith about his own work (photographs included), and their initial long-distance conversation would lead to Baker assisting Smith on The Exorcist, the film that would forever change the conceptions of cinematic horror. Before then Baker had worked on the forgettable Octaman and Landis’ Schlock, one of my all-time faves:

After winning accolades for his work on The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (with future Aliens and Jurassic Park maestro Stan Winston) and King Kong (1976, with Carlo Rimbaldi), not to mention a journeyman stint on a little flick about a galaxy far, far away:

Baker would reunite with Landis to break new ground in the fields of animatronic and prosthetic effects (and win the first ever Academy Award for Best Makeup) with An American Werewolf In London:

From there he would create such myriad effects as the “living” television sets in David Cronenberg’s surreal media barrage Videodrome:

And a host of creepy monsters (including those portrayed by Jackson himself) suitable for Landis’ video (read: film short) for Michael Jackson’s landmark pop hit Thriller (Baker guest stars as the zombie opening the mausoleum door after the first graveyard shot):

Baker would best be known for his love of great apes, gorillas in particular. Beginning properly with Schlock, he initially sought out any work involving them, such as King Kong (where he would get to portray the eighth wonder himself) and The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981), where he starred as Sydney the Gorilla. It was Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984) which would allow Baker and his crew to begin thinking outside the boundaries of the traditional ape suit. Harry and the Hendersons (1987) would further the advances of Baker’s animatronic puppetry, but with 1988’s Gorillas in the Mist, Michael Apted’s biopic about Dian Fossey’s time with the mountain gorillas of Rwanda, Baker’s creations truly stepped forward as supporting characters in a story. Along with the remake of my personal fave “ape amok” flick  Mighty Joe Young (1998) and amazing prosthetic work in Tim Burton’s otherwise misguided remake of Planet of the Apes (2001) Baker’s position as the definitive simian progenitor in current cinematic history has been founded.

Baker was also best known towards the latter end of his career for his relationship with comedian Eddie Murphy, beginning with the John Landis film (and my personal favorite Murphy film) Coming to America (1988):

With the Men in Black movies, Hellboy and, ultimately the Wolfman remake (where his makeup effects were the only highlight, and a tribute to the late, great Jack Pierce), Baker saw his role in modern film effects shrinking. While computer animation has given us such wonders as Gollum in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films and the truly amazing simian characters of the current Apes film series (thanks due in no small part to actors like Andy Serkis), the involvement of practical effects is now an afterthought, at best. While no less an artistic endeavor, the digital realization of creatures, while certainly expanded in scope and variety, has been removed from the immediate realm of experience. While technology continues to be developed to emulate realism (such as WETA Digital’s Tissue system and Manuka rendering engine), the days of practical artistry in special effects are seeing their last days.

Baker, ever the polite gentleman, bids this all with a tip of his hat and a bow. While I’m sure his influence, whether personal or inspirational, will continue to be a part of the coming era, he has now taken a seat from the active stage. To paraphrase Stephen King, gone are the days where you could be assured the monster would have a zipper down its back.

 

 

Hans “Reudi” Giger (1940 – 2014).

Keats wrote “Whatever the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth — whether it existed before or not.” The meaning of this quote mystifies many, but I have always understood it. The greatest artists seem to have some tenebrous connection to a plane of understanding that we somehow glance past, and have even managed to establish considerable real estate there. Some of these include artists I have blogged about before, including Jean “Moebius” Giraud. The very minute you look at their work, a recognition takes place. Back in the recesses of the brain, a sequence of firing neurons unlocks some obscure mystery that provides no immediate answer — but leaves the viewer convinced that “something” is going on, not unlike Spielberg’s Roy Neary in Close Encounters of the Third Kind bewildered by his mashed potatoes. This is the truth of which Keats tell us. H. R. Giger’s art — while not immediately deemed “beautiful” by most — is the stuff of dreams or nightmares, and its own kind of truth.

Like David Cronenberg, who once looked upon the human body as a surrealist canvas with which to illustrate its inner turmoils (compare Max Renn’s bodily infused “cancer gun” in Cronenberg’s classic Videodrome to Giger’s “Birth Machine”), Giger’s art — or more specifically his concept of “biomechanics” — externalized the tropes of mankind by mutating his exterior in an industrialized fashion. He created a world that, while wholly alien, was altogether too familiar once closely inspected.

Speaking of Alien (nyuk nyuk), it was that film that first alerted me to Giger’s art. I vividly remember having a copy of Famous Monsters of Filmland that featured a number of Giger’s Alien designs, which I frantically tried to reproduce with oil pastel. My left thumb and forefinger bore a grayish-green stain for several months. The detached intensity of his art, the coldly illuminated environments and their nightmarish denizens looked eerily familiar and simultaneously horrifying. Needless to say, I was in love with Giger’s work and have been ever since.

Giger set a window in the Lovecraftian Wall of Sleep and shone a light into the viscera of mankind’s primal workings. He was able to set that most lofty of goals, and do it in such a way that isolated his vision enough to realize its importance, its truth. Most see his work as “weird” or “surreal”, but I have always appreciated it as a complete aesthetic, with its own archetypes and language. I would imagine he and his fellow Swiss Carl Jung will have a lot to talk about.

 

David Trampier (1954 – 2014).

Having blogged before about my first impressions of role-play gaming, particularly that of Dungeons & Dragons, I won’t go into that here. That is, outside mentioning again one of D&D’s main attractions for me — the art of David Trampier.

In 1977, Trampier, along with David Sutherland and brother-in-law Tom Wham, were the first illustrators for the burgeoning Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game, the first published product of which was the Monster Manual.

Next came the Player’s Handbook, Trampier’s cover art for which has since become an iconic portrait of the fantasy role-playing experience.

In 1978, Trampier provided the cover and interior art for James Ward’s brilliant post-apocalyptic role-playing game Gamma World.

In 1979, Trampier supplied the art for the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Screen (which I proudly own a mint-condition copy of):

As well as the cover and interior art for Gary Gygax’s seminal work T1 – The Village of Hommlet.

Finally, beginning in the September 1977 issue of TSR’s Dragon magazine, Trampier turned the tables on the role-playing heroic types and made the bad guys the focus of his laconic wit with Wormy.

Sadly, Trampier bowed out of his illustration career in the late 1980’s leaving his publishers befuddled and fans (myself included) saddened by his loss. It wasn’t until 2002, due to a Southern Illinois University student newspaper article, that anyone knew of what had happened to David Trampier (he had been working as a cab driver in Carbondale, Illinois). Because of this, Trampier was again courted by many companies to either provide new art or allow publishing rights to his previous work, both of which he denied. In 2013, Trampier suffered a stroke, lost his job when his taxi company went out of business and found out he had cancer. Castle Perilous Games & Books, a local game store in Carbondale, wanted to negotiate his art for the Dungeon Master’s Screen, as well as republishing his Wormy comics via Troll Lord Games. He had been scheduled to make an appearance at the local Egypt Wars convention, where he would have been able to contact the Troll Lord Games representatives, but passed three weeks before the convention.

David Trampier’s art was concise, detailed and effortlessly stylized at many levels. His work brought a dimension of credibility to the games he visualized, beyond simple illustration. Upon seeing his art one got the idea that something deeper was at work, cultures and ecosystems were being represented.

His work was a considerable influence on me, and surely millions of D&D fans for over 30 years. If I had to gain any insight of the man through his work (which, honestly, I am left to do), he was both immensely intelligent and devoted to the worlds he helped create. Due to his position at the dawn of what would become to be a national obsession in the 1980s (and ever since), Trampier will forever be associated with the phenomenon that is Dungeons & Dragons — if not one of the many reasons it was and continues to be so successful.