Rob Bottin is a magician…plain and simple. Magicians make people believe in things that don’t really exist or could never happen and that’s exactly what Rob Bottin spent the best part of 30 years doing to film fans across the globe.
His is a fantastic story, the likes of which you don’t seem to hear about anymore. As a child Bottin was obsessed with horror films and the magazine ‘Famous Monsters of Filmland’. This passion led him to begin creating his own concepts and work which would soon catch the attention of a very high profile name. Upon sending some artwork to one Rick Baker he was hired and mentored in the best way possible. Some of his initial work included Star Wars (in which he actually played a member of the cantina band), following which he broke out into his own solo projects, starting in spectacular fashion with The Howling; Joe Dante’s werewolf movie. Through this project he was able to meet John Carpenter and the rest, as they say, is history.
I was lucky enough to see a lot of Bottin’s most revered work whilst I was still a child. Films like Robocop, Total Recall and Innerspace featured prominently in my VHS collection and were watched on repeat from around age 8 until…..well…..I still regularly watch them over 20 years later. Importantly I remember being overawed by each of these films’ effects back then (and still now). Of course as a child I didn’t think of them as special effects, but I also didn’t think of them as fake; they were real. Robocop was real, Kuato was real, and Martin Short’s muscle spasms were hilariously real!
However, even taking into account all of these incredible movies, there are a couple of projects that stand out as being bastions of next level practical FX work. The first is Legend, for which Bottin totally transformed Tim Curry into ‘Darkness’, the red demon with immense black horns who appears hellish and otherworldly; terrifyingly tangible in a way that CGI could never match up to. It easily stands up against any of today’s movie magic and remains a masterpiece of creativity and execution.
The other project for which Bottin will never be forgotten is John Carpenter’s The Thing! So the story goes Bottin wanted to tackle all of the film’s extreme effects himself, and took to working 7 days a week, more than 15 hours per day, for over a year to get the film completed! He worked closely with conceptual artist Mike Ploog to design and realise many of The Thing’s horrific creations. Ploog designed a walking mouth on legs and Bottin said, “Put some eyeballs on it!” to which Ploog replied, “You can’t put eyeballs on a mouth!” Obviously living on a diet of Coca Cola and chocolate bars had turned Bottin into an evil genius!
Though this immense schedule would cause Bottin to have to spend 2 weeks in hospital, suffering with exhaustion, the work itself shows the stress to be worth it. Often hailed as the best practical FX of all time, the terrifying, vomit inducing creatures and shape shifting transformations that take place in The Thing are wildly original and heart stoppingly authentic (despite not resembling anything else seen before or since).
It is a sad fact that in recent years Bottin has defected from Hollywood. His last film was released in 2002, meaning either nobody has tempted him enough since then, or nobody has asked. It is a tragedy in a world that relies so much on computers to create movie magic, that a man like Rob Bottin is out there not doing what he does best, and reminding us why practical effects are always the better option.
This one man gave us belief in so many things that didn’t exist. He made us believe in small things like Tyler Durden’s chemical burn in Fight Club, disgusting things like John Doe’s murders in Se7en and impossible things like Vance Norris’ head growing legs and walking across the room like a spider in The Thing.
Wherever you are Mr Bottin we salute you. Thank you for making the impossible a reality; for showing us nightmare creatures coming to life and for creating worlds that we could believe in so much, that we could almost reach out and touch them.
Rob Bottin – A true magician!