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Waiting for Bottin

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From 1980 to 1995 Rob Bottin
was one of the most accomplished
special makeup effects artists
working in motion pictures. With
groundbreaking work in films
like The Howling, Twilight Zone,
Robocop, Total Recall and Seven,
he set new standards for the craft.
But after 1995 he dropped out
of sight, leaving a legacy of great
work that provides inspiration
for film buffs and emerging artists
alike. And now there’s only a
vacant shop where his legendary
Azusa studio used to be.
The makeup and creature
genius ran his operation out of
an old public works building
at the foot of the San Gabriel
Mountains, its own little magical
cavern a freeway ride from the
magic of Hollywood. From there
he nurtured his distinctive design
aesthetic, perhaps unsurpassed
by anyone other than his mentor
Rick Baker, and Dick Smith, a
mentor to Baker and many other
makeup artists.
In the 1980s, Bottin’s work was
possibly even more innovative
than Baker’s, as he rose to become
the most prominent special
makeup effects artist of that era.
Though his productivity slowed
through the 1990s—there were
rumors that he became burned
out—his body of work stands the
test of time. His story is equally
interesting.
Bottin was only 13 when he
first became an active participant
in the movies, as apprentice to
Baker, a future Oscar winner. His
first major film, with Baker, was
Dino De Laurentiis’s lavish 1976
remake of King Kong. Their next
big job was working on the colorful
aliens in the celebrated cantina
sequence in George Lucas’s
Star Wars (1977).
“I wanted to be just like Dick
Smith,” says Rick Baker, reflecting
on his own early career. “And all
of a sudden this 13-year-old kid,
Rob Bottin, came along. Rob did
this drawing of Lon Chaney from
Mockery that was amazing. It
blew me away. He ended up coming
out to my North Hollywood
shop on the weekends. I thought
I’d be like Dick Smith and take
him under my wing and teach
him. He then spread the information
to everyone. And it’s helped
to elevate the state of the art.”
At age 18 Bottin, the neophyte
effects technician, started
his own company Rob Bottin
Productions. His first feature
credit was as special makeup
effects designer and special effects
designer on Joe Dante’s Piranha
(1978). He later did the monster
effects on Roger Corman’s
Humanoids From the Deep (1980).
He also built a Baker-designed
gorilla for Tanya’s Island in 1980.
His career really took off with
his special makeup effects in
John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980),
in which he also had a bit part
as the decaying Captain Blake
of a lost ship, and Joe Dante’s
The Howling (1981). For the latter,
he created a special makeup
milestone with his werewolf
transformation. The werewolves
in The Howling became animals
without camera cuts or dissolves;

Bottin’s wolves’ noses elongated
and sprouted ears and hair. Much
like mentor Baker’s work in An
American Werewolf in London
and Smith’s effects in Altered
States, Bottin’s wondrous creations
in The Howling ushered in
the era of special makeup effects.
“I think that the effects in that
scene are probably less sophisticated
than Rick Baker used in
American Werewolf, but they look
better,” says Dante. “The way John
Hora lit them disguised their
weakness, whereas the way they
were lit in American Werewolf, it
was very bright and you could see
the texture of the rubber. I think
The Howling is one of the best-looking movies I’ve ever done.”
“The core of the transformation
to me is Rob Bottin’s genius
in the way he storyboarded out the
various stages,” says actor Robert
Picardo, who played Eddie in The
Howling. “And, Rob, bear in mind,
did this movie when he was 20, so
he was an extraordinary talented
guy. In addition to that, Rob has
very clear ideas as to how he wants
his makeup to work, so he helps
direct those particular scenes, the
transformation scenes; obviously
Joe was there, but Rob knows
the makeup from the inside out,
so he makes certain suggestions,
technical suggestions of how I
might move or exaggerate either
a grimace or a facial gesture. I’m
listening obviously to Joe, but I’m
also listening to Rob so that he
gets what he wants from the way
he completes the makeup. That
was a tremendous help to me, and
it has been in all the collaborations
that I’ve had with both Joe
and Rob.”
Bottin reteamed with writerdirector
Carpenter for the 1982
remake of The Thing. His outlandish,
over-the-top special makeup
effects may be viewed as Bottin’s
signature work. Myriad effects,
including a husky dog that comes
apart and transforms into a hideous
monster, and a man whose
head falls off a human body and
becomes a spider, were breathtaking.
Bottin worked again with
Dante, creating cartoonish creatures
for the “It’s a Good Life”
segment of Twilight Zone: The
Movie (1983) and his comic fantasy
Explorers (1985).
In the mid 1980s, Bottin also
created multiple characters for
Ridley Scott’s fantasy Legend. His
realization of Darkness and Meg
Mucklebones are among the most
imaginative fantasy characters
ever created for film. For his next
big project, Bottin created the
robotic suit and makeup effects
for Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop.
He also created many makeup
illusions for George Miller’s The
Witches of Eastwick (1987).
It was his elaborate work on
Verhoeven’s sci-fi adventure
Total Recall (1990) that finally
won Bottin the Oscar. For the
project, he created numerous
mutant makeups, a Robert
Picardo-inspired Johnny Cab
robot, and the unforgettable splitting
woman’s head that Arnold
Schwarzenegger dons.
Come the 1990s and Bottin’s
worked slowed significantly. His
makeup films included Seven and
Mission: Impossible and he created
numerous character makeups
for Fight Club. However, increasingly,
he shunned giving interviews
and took on fewer projects.
Always eager to direct feature
films, Bottin was long-rumored
to both direct and create makeup
for Jason vs. Freddy, an all-out
battle of horror heroes, though he
apparently priced himself out of
the job as his concepts were too
elaborate for the producers.
With his shop a virtual ghost
town and no directing opportunities
on the horizon, his next move
continues to remain a mystery.
Whether he succeeds in directing
or returns to creating fantastic
effects, Bottin’s impact cannot be
overstated.

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