Makeup Pioneer Dick Smith

Makeup Pioneer Dick Smith

The Podwits were saddened to learn that Oscar-winning make-up icon Dick Smith, who defined generations with his pioneering makeup effects, passed away July 30th at age 92.

Before CGI was common place, Smith practically invented techniques that are still used to this day, and is credited by Special Effects legends like Rick Baker and Tom Savini in spearheading where Universal Studios travel-blazer Jack Pierce left off, bringing make-up effects into the modern realm. His effects ushered in a new era, and not only did he patent the still used blood-cocktail for the representation of real blood on film, he pioneered the use of foam latex as a prosthetic, which is an industry standard today.

Sometimes Smith’s make-up was considered too good. Quentin Tarantino called him the “God of Gods” in movie makeup. He turned Dustin Hoffman into a 121 year-old man in the 1970 film Little Big Man. He aged Marlon Brando in the gangster film The Godfather, and introduced squib effects for bullet hits, being one of the first to actual create entry wounds on the skin like in the case of James Caan’s famous death as Sonny Corleone at the Long Island toll booth, as well as one of the first to introduce the idea of an exit wound and blood splatter or brain-matter mist as well. He did the terrifying effects in William Friedkin‘s 1973 milestone film The Exorcist, transforming actress Linda Blair into a demon from hell. His effects on Max Von Sydow were so good as the elderly Father Merrin, that the actor had trouble getting work for almost a decade afterward because producers actually thought he was in fact the elderly man he portrayed onscreen.

Smith was the genius behind the make-up effects in Martin Scorsese’s 1976 film Taxi Driver, whose climax almost redefined a close-quarter shootout in a Hollywood film. He was the mastermind behind Marathon Man, the original Stepford Wifes, and The Deer Hunter. Along with his work on Godfather Part II, he turned William Hurt into the hideous monster in Altered States, and also worked on Stallone’s Nighthawks, John Carpenter’s Starman, Ghost Story, and David Bowie’s The Hunger, before finally won an Oscar for his work on 1984’s Amadeus. And that is only naming a few highlights in his extensive resume.

Smith onset with Marlon Brando on The Godfather, 1972.

Smith onset with Marlon Brando on The Godfather, 1972.

One of the primary reasons he was so highly regarded in his field was because of his philosophy of sharing whatever knowledge he had, and whatever secrets he invented or pioneered; like his use of foam latex or his signature blood-cocktail for film. He was considered a teacher for all the modern SFX luminaries, like the late Stan Winston, and the aforementioned Rick Baker and Tom Savini.

Hollywood wouldn’t be where it is today without Dick Smith, and moviegoers and filmmakers alike owe Mr. Smith a great deal of gratitude for making images in cinema look more realistic than ever before. From all of us at The Podwits, we’d like to say Thank you, Mr. Smith.

You will be missed.

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