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Rob Bottin: A Wizard in the World of Special Effects : Movies: The makeup effects artist creates more high-tech illusion in the futuristic action-thriller 'Total Recall.'

June 06, 1990|TORENE SVITIL | Torene Svitil is a Los Angeles free-lance writer.

Against the rise of red, dusty rocks standing in for Mars in a small corner of a Saugus warehouse, post-production scenes were in progress on Paul Verhoeven's "Total Recall." As the cameras rolled, the crew huddled around the star of the scene--writhing and twisting as she was slammed against the rocks by unseen forces. Her forehead seemed to wrinkle with pain, her hands clutched at her neck as she gasped for air. Then suddenly, her eyes popped from her head and her tongue lashed out toward her collarbone.

"Keep the chin up so we can see the eyes and the tongue come out," makeup effects artist Rob Bottin yelled over the noise to his crew of puppet operators. "More mouth! Eyes open! Chin up!"

The star? A mechanized puppet so closely resembling actress Rachel Ticotin that a casual observer could have mistaken the puppet for the real person. It was designed by Bottin, the 30-year-old wizard of illusion whose credits include "The Howling," "The Thing," "Legend," "Inner Space," "The Witches of Eastwick" and "RoboCop."

"People think that guys like me take a little wad of nose putty out of our pockets and slap it on somebody's face and we can do anything," said Bottin, relaxing amid the debris of plaster and latex corpses in his studio. "What happens here is an incredible amount of scientific experimentation."

Weeks of planning were needed before Bottin's crew could begin building the Rachel Ticotin puppet. Since the script called for Ticotin's character to decompress in the vacuum of Mars' atmosphere, Bottin and Verhoeven first discussed exactly how they wanted that to look.

Smarting from criticism about the violence in "RoboCop," which Verhoeven also directed, they decided against using gory bursts of blood from collapsing arteries and went instead for a transformation of flesh stretching and malforming. The scene with ejected eyeballs was just the beginning.

Before they could begin, Bottin said there were a host of questions to be raised and answered.

"If the eyes are going to come out and the tongue is going to come out, how does it come out? Does it come out and fall down? Does it come out and move? Does it twist? Does it go up and lick the eyebrows? Does it fall down to the stomach? How does the neck move if the tongue is doing that? What are we going to do with the eyes if the tongue and neck are in the way?"

Once these questions were answered, the crew studied videos of the actor's face, walk and whatever else had to be duplicated by the mechanical devices in order to map each precise element. Then they assembled the miniature motors, the little rubber muscles, cables, wire springs, tiny inflatable balloons and flexible skin needed to simulate life.

Bottin started his career at 14, the protege of special effects artist Rick Baker who, impressed by a carefully rendered drawing enclosed with a fan's autograph request, invited the boy over to talk monsters.

Every time he tells this story, Bottin said, he receives a deluge of drawings from aspiring junior makeup effects artists. "Back when that happened, it was like being in the right place at the right time. No one knew who Rick was; this stuff (special effects) wasn't celebrated. The thing that changed all that was 'Star Wars.' "

After assisting Baker with the celebrated cantina scene in "Star Wars," Bottin--working in his parents's El Monte garage--did a stint with New World Pictures and then did a dazzling solo in creating the werewolf transformations for "The Howling."

At 21, while filming "The Thing," Bottin was hospitalized with exhaustion, double pneumonia and a bleeding ulcer--all the result of taking on too much too soon.

"I would hoard the work," he said. "I didn't want to take a job and give somebody else the pleasure of making it. But unfortunately, I like extravagant projects with a lot of stuff going on. So you become more of a director and you learn to enjoy the work of others rather than to feed your own ego constantly. You convince yourself that by hiring all those people, you're just a bigger octopus with more arms strapped on."

"There's some spark of madness that sets him apart," said Joe Dante, director of "The Howling" and "Inner Space." "His great strength is in what he imagines he can do. Sometimes he imagines things that just can't be done, even by him. But he's always the first one to want to do something that's different, that has never been done before."

When the "RoboCop" script called for the robot policeman to carry a gun in a holster, Bottin couldn't believe that something high-tech enough to be resurrected from the dead would slap on a pistol like a Western gunslinger. Instead, he made the weapon of RoboCop's metal body.

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