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June 24, 2011

The Legendary Man- Dick Smith


Dick Smith born in Richard Emerson, on June 26, 1922 New York. The legend known for the wonders he has done as a makeup artist. He studied in Wooster school and Yale University. The books for Hollywood make up techniques inspired him to change his professional mind from dentistry to makeup artist. He worked for NBC's make up director for 14yrs.

He proved his talent in movies like Little Big Man, The God Father, The Exorcist, Taxi Driver and Scanner. Mr. Smith has had the pleasure to work with famous actors like Dustin Hoffman, Marlon Brando, Robert DeNiro and Peter Sellers.

There were days when way back Mr Smith faced difficulties cause of the secretive attitude of people, as there were not much makeup artist in new York and that times, no one wanted to reveal their artistic techniques. But his dedication and creative mind took him a long way.

It was eventually in 1940s where he introduced his artistic creations for makeup. In 1969, he used overlapping foam latex appliances to transform 32-year old Dustin Hoffman into a 121-year old Indian man, when his contemporaries thought this idea was crazy for the movie "Little Big Man".

process little big man

Still he worked for 6 Weeks on the old age make-up, using photographic references for every wrinkle. The aging make-up work he used changed habits in the industry it boomed up his reputation.

He was now on roll and continued his revolutionary work during the filming of The Godfather, released in 1972.

"He created the first ever bleeding special effects in this movie by creating bladders that were hidden under a foam latex forehead, with a squib that detonated the bladder, allowing blood to pour through a pre-arranged hole in the middle of the forehead.

He applied this to Sterling Hayden, the police captain who was shot in the head during this movie. It involved running wires through his hair, which were covered by the forehead make-up. Electricity was sent through the wires to set off a tiny charge that ignited a small cap, which punctured the bladder, freeing the blood to trickle through the hole. This was the first time special make-up effects had ever been done.

ghost story

Mr. Smith also pioneered the use of articulated puppet heads for the terrifying apparitions in "Ghost Story". Here is Alice Kridge in various stages of decomposition. These were few of the outstanding creative models, he worked upon and achieved huge applause for people.

Another marvelous creation of Mr. Smith was upon Linda Blair as the hideously possessed little girl from "The Exorcist". "The very first time he saw her," "My heart sank" was his reaction. She was a cute, apple cheeked, butterball nosed kid. If you want to suggest evil, you want someone who is generally lean, thin lipped, with deep set eyes, and a definite bone structure, none of which Linda had." The Regan makeup seen in the film was the result of a trial and error process that lasted nearly a year, and a dozen different makeups.

It was torturous for Dick. The Director, Billy Friedkin, was possessed in many ways himself, driving Dick mercilessly. Years later, Friedkin saw a documentary about Mr. Smith which outlined what it took to do just one prosthetic makeup, and he was appalled. He called Dick and apologized, saying that he had no idea. Friedkin had a trophy made which he presented to Mr. Smith in appreciation of the hell he had put him through.

"One of the biggest thrills in film making is helping an actor achieve a character. In all of my experience, I cannot think of anything else that comes close to the excitement of this art form." - Dick Smith


These days, Mr. Smith spends most of his time advising special make-up effects students around the world via correspondence through his course: The Dick Smith Advanced Professional Make-Up Course. There are currently 26 people in Australia who have signed up to it and he is a great admirer of the talent in this part of the world. He is looking forward to share more of his wisdom in the future to help the next generation of make-up artists become even better than him.