For Baker, working on the Men In Black movies is especially fulfilling because the films inevitably require him to design in so many different ways: “Some films are straight makeup – say, we’ll do age makeup. Others will call for fake bodies or heads. Others, we’ll make animatronic characters and puppets. The Men In Black movies involve all of those things – and I got to design for the computer-generated stuff as well. We ended up making about a hundred aliens for this movie, and you could have made a whole story about any one of them.”
Director Barry Sonnenfeld says that Baker’s sensibilities mesh perfectly with the “play it straight” tone he brings to the rest of the movie. “You don’t want to design weird, wacky aliens,” he says. “If the aliens are funny, you want it to come out of observational humor, or their attitude, or the audience thinking, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’”
For the 1969 sequence, Baker came up with the idea that the aliens would be “retro” – that is, inspired by the aliens seen in 60s-era sci-fi. “The challenge on the first Men In Black movie, and it’s stayed our challenge since then, is to do aliens that look unlike any aliens that we’ve seen before,” says Baker. This time around, Baker pitched the filmmakers on a unique solution: “Let’s intentionally do aliens that look like something we’ve seen before, only a better version of them. Let’s imagine that the guys who made monster movies back in the 50s and 60s really happened to see a real alien and based their monster design on that. And they liked that idea. That was where I really had fun on this movie – to do my version of those classic science fiction aliens as a lot of fun.”
How does one design a retro alien? “Lots of brains and veins, stuff like that,” he says. “We have an alien based on a fish, definitely from an aquatic world. I have a cameo in the film, where I’m an alien with an exposed brain. By comparison, our 2012 aliens are much more sleek and polished.”
Of course, Baker also designed the lead alien: the bad guy, Boris the Animal, played by Jemaine Clement. Baker designed a very badass biker costume, complete with goggles that seem to be embedded deep in Boris’s eye sockets. “I got the chance to make Jemaine into something he really isn’t,” says Baker. “He’s really a very gentle man, but in the costume, he is much more menacing – and, the women on set have told me, sexy.”
“When I first came in, Rick Baker sat me down and asked, ‘Are you claustrophobic?’” Clement recalls, laughing. “He asked me all of these questions – I’m not sure if they were intended to scare me, and they did scare me a little. He also mentioned that a lot of people who do a makeup-effects character only do it once in their careers.” And with good reason: on his first day on set, Clement spent eight hours in the makeup chair (a total that was soon streamlined to three-to-four hours once they established a rhythm).
In the end, it seems that when Baker is working on the Men In Black films, he’s like a kid with his hands on a really great practical joke. “Castmember Emma Thompson said to me that one of the things she liked about the first two Men In Black films was that the aliens aren’t necessarily in your face all the time, but they’re there. You know, an alien might appear for only a few frames past somebody in the Men in Black headquarters, but it’s fun to do that. I think it’s cool to put in aliens that people won’t even see until their fourth or fifth time around. For example, in this movie, in the Coney Island sequence, there’s a crazy alien in the back playing pinball. You have to look for it.”
Opening across the Philippines on May 23 in 3D and regular theaters, “Men in Black 3” will be distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.