Legend has it that, upon first stepping onto a Hollywood soundstage, the twentysomething neophyte filmmaker Orson Welles announced "This is the biggest toy train set a boy ever had!" Sadly, Welles was soon forced to find another playground. More than half a century later, however, a contemporary "boy wonder" like special makeup effects creator/designer Rob Bottin could make an excellent living in Hollywood by playing with toys full-time. Indeed, Bottin really was a boy, aged 14, when he first became an active participant in movie magic. His mentor, future Oscar-winner Rick Baker, may have been the best teacher a student of special makeup FX could ever hope to have. The resourceful high school freshman even got his school officials to agree--unofficially--to allow him to attend classes in the morning and work with Baker in the afternoons.
As Baker's special makeup apprentice, Bottin's first film assignment was Dino de Laurentiis' lavish (but lambasted) 1976 remake of "King Kong". Their next job was working on the colorful inebriated aliens in the celebrated cantina sequence in George Lucas' "Star Wars" (1977). The neophyte FX technician soon started Rob Bottin Productions, his own FX company, at age 18. By the time Bottin and his mentor had worked together on Brian De Palma's "The Fury" (1978), Baker decided that that his protege had progressed beyond his apprenticeship.
A job with Roger Corman's New World Pictures followed fast on the heels of Bottin's high school graduation. He received his first feature credit as special makeup effects designer and special effects designer on Joe Dante's "Piranha" (1978), a giddy spoof of "Jaws" scripted by John Sayles. Bottin and other FX and makeup artists spent a lot of time on the bottom of a swimming pool with director Dante but the experience must not have been wholly unpleasant; "Piranha" marked the beginning of his long fruitful collaboration with the quirky filmmaker. (Bottin also appeared in the film in his own makeup as a piranha victim.) He also made his TV debut as a special FX designer that year with a syndicated special entitled "Manbeast! Myth or Monster". Back on the big screen, Bottin was credited as "giant mouse creator" on New World's "Rock 'n' Roll High School" (1979), a robust spoof of 50s teen movies helmed by Allan Arkush.
Bottin first began making a name for himself on two Avco Embassy Pictures projects helmed by rising young genre filmmakers of the day: John Carpenter's "The Fog" (1980) and Joe Dante's "The Howling" (1981). He provided gruesome FX and special makeup effects for Carpenter's moody ghost story about dead sailors come home from the sea looking for vengeance. Bottin himself wore the makeup as the captain of the rotting crew. He created a special makeup FX milestone of sorts with his trendsetting werewolf transformation for "The Howling". Whereas monster movies of old would feature a face sprouting hair and prosthetics through a series of lap dissolves, this film featured a harrowingly "realistic" depiction of a man's body parts painfully elongating and changing species. Bottin's erstwhile mentor, Rick Baker, had been hired to work on werewolf effects for "The Howling" on a provisional basis during an extended stall in the production of John Landis' big-budget "An American Werewolf in London". Bottin continued working after Baker was called back to the Landis film. The low-budget effort--another collaboration between Dante, screenwriter Sayles and Bottin--beat the highly touted "American Werewolf..." to the theaters and stole some of the thunder of Baker's work in that film.
Bottin reteamed with writer-director Carpenter for his 1982 remake of "The Thing". His outlandish, over-the-top special makeup FX may be viewed as Bottin's signature work. Indeed the grisly but inspired FX threatened to overwhelm the tense narrative. He segued to a more whimsical if still macabre mode for the Dante-directed "It's A Good Life" remake segment of "Twilight Zone - The Movie" (1983). With Craig Reardon and Michael McCracken, Bottin provided some memorably cartoonish creatures that seemed inspired by the drawings of Basil Wolverton. Waxing mythological, he shared an Oscar nod for his work on Ridley Scott's breathtaking if risible fantasy "Legend" (1985). Bottin's work was better showcased in the continuing collaboration with Dante. Rob Bottin Productions received its first feature credit (for "alien creature creation") on Dante's underrated "Explorers" (1985). He also crafted "The Greibble", a cartoonish monster, for a Dante-directed segment of Steven Spielberg's "Amazing Stories" (NBC, 1986). Spielberg also executive produced "Innerspace" with Dante at the helm and Bottin providing the FX.
Bottin also proved a valued collaborator to Dutch emigre gone Hollywood, Paul Verhoeven. He was credited with "Robocop design and creation" as well as special makeup FX on "Robocop" (1987) and retained the former credit on the sequels and the syndicated spin-off series. His work on Verhoeven's elaborate sci-fi adventure "Total Recall" (1990) won Bottin an Oscar. The creative pair worked together again on "Basic Instinct" (1992). Bottin's other assignments include George Miller's "The Witches of Eastwick" (1987), Barry Levinson's "Bugsy" (1991) and "Toys" (1992). More recently, Bottin's work was displayed at its darkest for David Fincher's stylish crime drama "Seven" (1995). He also contributed to Tom Cruise's repertoire of faces for Brian De Palma's "Mission: Impossible" (1996).