You might recognize Dick Smith’s name for his work on Little Big Man, Amadeus, or Taxi Driver. Though he won an Oscar in 1985 for Best Makeup and Hairstyling for his work on Amadeus, his peers and proteges guess he would have won many more had the make-up award category even existed before 1981. For this reason, he also won an Academy Honorary Award for his career’s work in 2012.
Nicknamed “The Godfather of Make-up” throughout the industry, Dick Smith pioneered many of the special make-up effects techniques we use today. The make-up for Little Big Man wasn’t just an old-age make-up, it was an old-age make-up that evolved to show the progression of over 100 years. He didn’t just do static bullet holes for The Godfather, but ones that bled and burst on screen. His make-up on Linda Blair for The Exorcist scared the audience so much, digital experts on movie remakes have attempted to recreate it. And, perhaps most memorably of all, David Bowie was so overwhelmed at the sight of his old age makeup for The Hunger that he left set for a full two days.
Writer, producer, and motion picture craftsmanship expert, Scott Essman, and special make-up effects artist, Mark Viniello, both came into contact with Dick Smith in very different ways. Taking up an interest in professional make-up artistry, Scott Essman was led to pursue Smith after hearing his name in interview after interview with other successful make-up artists. Viniello, on the other hand, pursued Smith as an aspiring make-up artist, mailing Smith copies of his work for months before Smith took him on as a student. Both talk about how they had to wear him down before he would take them seriously, contacting him repeatedly for information and advice. However, after years of collaboration, both came to consider Dick Smith a friend. Here are some of the most interesting things we learned:
- He’s responsible for multi-piece prosthetics. Back when make-up artists were using foam prosthetics in the 50s, these masks would have to be tugged and stretched to fit the actor’s face because the foam would shrink. This was very difficult and very uncomfortable for the actor because it was so hard to be expressive and move under the prosthetic. “Dick said there’s got to be a better way” says Viniello, “so what Dick reasoned is if there were little sections that overlapped, he could glue it on piece by piece and have a better glue down so the actor would be more comfortable and have more movability.” Now, years later, even though make-up artists all use silicone, Smith’s multi-piece prosthetic technique is still used.
- He was blatantly honest. When Viniello first approached Dick Smith for make-up advice, Smith told him he didn’t have “the skills you need to be a make-up artist.” After wearing him down by sending him continuous letters and photos, Smith eventually acknowledged his “drive” and and agreed to teach him. But, as Viniello says, “he didn’t sugar-coat anything,” and he developed a reputation for refusing to teach people he didn’t think would be worth the time. According to our host, he turned down Guillermo Del Toro as well.
- His attention to detail made him successful. When asked what set Dick Smith apart, both Viniello and Essman said it was his attention to detail. “Every wrinkle was based from a wrinkle in a photograph that he had up above his area where he was sculpting” says Essman. Viniello added that “he was never satisfied…not only artistically but also technically. He changed things to suit what he needed.” This attention to detail and perfectionism is likely why all his make-ups looked so real.
Thanks for all your stories Scott and Mark!