Special Features
Making Monsters: Spotlight on
Hollywood's Make-up Artist
John Chambers

By William H. Pratt


  You may not know the name but you for
sure know this make-up artists work.  He was
John Chambers the man behind some of Holly-
wood's most famous creature creations.  He was
best known for his work on bringing the primates
to life in the Planet of The Apes series of films
and the TV series.  His work in Planet of The
Apes won the artist an Oscar for best make-up
in a feature film and that amazing make-up job still holds up today even 45 years
later.

  Born September 1923 in Chicago, the young John Chambers started out as a
medical technician in World War 2 helping rebuild faces of young victims with his
skill of prosthetics and limb replacement.  After the war Chambers would take his
make-up and prosthetic ideas to Hollywood where in 1953 he became part of the
NBC television network working on live shows.  He would also work for CBS and
ABC as well working on such classics as The Munsters and the sci/fi classic The
Outer Limits.  Returning back to NBC, he worked with actor Leonard Nimoy on the
pilot for Star Trek and created Mr. Spock's very famous pointed ears in 1964.  His
work would spill over into feature films as with Around The World in 80 Days but
his crowning a achievement was the creation of the ape design in the 1968 sci/fi
masterpiece Planet of The Apes.

  In the beginning, no Hollywood studio would bankroll the film as they saw it as
being nothing but silly.  After all...what a movie about talking monkeys!  When
producer Arthur P. Jacobs first read the book, The Monkey Planet by author
Pierre Boulle, he knew there was something magical in the storylines.  He brought
in Oscar winning actor Charlton Heston to help get the project off the ground.  The
one thing that mainly got this film the green light was the beyond amazing make-
up design by Chambers who proved to the movie studio that the movie could work
with actors standing in for their primate counterparts.  First shot as a demo short
film to spotlight the make-up and what could be done to get the movie made,
Chambers then went on to refine the ape faces and came up with the classic looks
of the three classes of talking primates that inhabit the film.  Chambers design for
the friendly Chimpanzees, the Gorilla soldiers and the aristocrat Orangutans was
based on the same idea and design, all differ greatly in creating the three gropes
of ape classes.

  For a film with only a five million dollar budget (remember this was 1967 when in
production), one million dollars went just to the make-up department alone,
making Planet of The Apes the most costly make-up project in all of film history at
that time.  Not only had the main cast of actors had to be made up but also all the
back ground apes as well.  All wore Chambers ape prosthetics.  He may have
crafted the ape designs but it took an army of make-up technicians to bring all the
ape cast to life.  Although the movie made back its money many times over by the
time the follow up movie went into production, the make-up budget was cut in half
forcing many of the non acting ape roles to wear over the head masks, not the
great make-up Chambers wanted to use.  This could very easily been seen in
wide shots of apes who were walking in the army or in back ground shots.

  Although best known for his work with the apes, John Chambers make-up went
far and beyond the planet of the apes with such films as The Island of Dr. Moreau,
Halloween 2, Blade Runner, Lost in Space TV series, Star Trek TV series, The
Steve Allen Show, Beyond West World TV series, Night Gallery and the list goes
on and on.  He was the make-up man go too guy when someone or something...
need to be made up.

  Among his many fans was a young make-up artist in waiting, his name was Rick
Baker, In 2001, this multiple Oscar winner himself got the chance of a life time.  He
was given the task of reworking, redesigning and crafting all new ape make-up for
the 2001 re-boot of the classic series.  Baker’s work, much as Chambers did 32
years before won the Oscar for best make-up in a motion picture.  Baker’s apes
may have given the creatures better realism and maybe just maybe better over-all
looks but although his apes truly were amazing and he is one gifted artist in his
own right....but when one thinks of Planet of The Apes, an image of the classic
John Chambers stunning make-up is what we all think of....we maybe those of us
over 30 years old anyway.

  That same year that Baker remade Chambers ape film, the long time make-up
man passed away at age 77.  He may be gone but his work will always live on.  For
every time we glance at the pointed ears of Mr. Spock, the androids of Blade
Runner or the many gorillas that beat the hell out of actor Charlton Heston, we will
think of artist John Chambers.  The man behind the apes.