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Steve Johnson

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Fright Night Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson (born Steven Marcus Jacobs; February 7, 1960)[1] is an American special effects who worked on the original Fright Night. His work has appeared in over 200 films, countless television shows, theme parks, commercials, and music videos. Some of his best-known creations include "Slimer" for Ghostbusters, the alien seductress "Sil" for Species, the multi-tentacled "Doc Ock" for Spider-Man 2, and Robin Williams' robotics for Bicentennial Man.[2]

Early life Edit

Johnson was born in Houston, Texas. As a child, Johnson watched Universal monster films and the Hammer films. These films inspired him to become a special effects artist.[3] Johnson's biggest influences are Jack Pierce (makeup artist), Dick Smith (makeup artist) and Rick Baker. While he was still attending high school, Johnson met one of his idols, Rick Baker, and showed him his portfolio. Baker acknowledged Johnson's problem-solving talent and later helped him get a job working with effects creator Rob Bottin.[4]

Early career in filmEdit

Johnson's first job was with four-time Oscar winner Greg Cannom on The Galactic Connection, though the film was not released. He then worked on The Howling (1981) and two other films with Rob Bottin,[4] after which Rick Baker hired Johnson as a member of the special makeup effects crew for the John Landis blockbuster, An American Werewolf in London (1981).[5] In 1982, Johnson worked on Ivan Reitman's new project, Ghostbusters, where he created "Slimer" and the "librarian ghost".[6] In 1982, he and visual effects artist Randall William Cook were brought in by Richard Edlund to create and run the special makeup effects studio at Boss Films, where they created characters for films like Poltergeist II (1986), Fright Night (1985), and Big Trouble in Little China (1986).[7]

XFX and Edge FX Edit

Johnson started his own effects company in 1986 called "Steve Johnson's XFX."[6] It was later renamed Edge FX. In 1989 Johnson worked on The Abyss,[8] directed by James Cameron, which became one of the biggest blockbusters of the year. He created the "alien" creatures for the film's climax.

For the 1995 film Species, the filmmakers wished to create a half-human, half-alien character named Sil that was unlike any that had been seen on screen before. They brought in artist H.R. Giger to create the creature on paper, Richard Edlund for motion-capture visual effects (an art form that was still in early stages), and Johnson to design and create animatronics for the scenes that required Sil to be physical rather than digital. Sil's alien form had to have both a full-body animatronic version with replaceable arms, heads and torsos, as well as a rubber body suit that could be worn by actress Natasha Henstridge . Particularly challenging were the lab scenes where Johnson "used over 20 different puppets to create a two-minute sequence. It was one shot after another, with each shot requiring a separate strategy: gravity tricks, different puppets, opticals... We were very excited about it—and very nervous."[9] Johnson and Edlund also had to solve the problem of how to make skin for Sil that light could penetrate without the skin being completely transparent. XFX attempted for weeks to create an animated puppet that was covered with a clear plastic shell but could not find any materials flexible enough for the film's needs. "I was racking my brain at home, in the shower, in my sleep, everywhere," Johnson said. "Then it hit me: ladies' pantyhose. I bought a bunch of hose on the way to work. We put it on Sil and it worked perfectly. It's incredibly mobile and doesn't wrinkle."[8]

During the XFX and Edge FX years, Johnson also worked on two Stephen King mini-series: The Stand (1994)[8] and The Shining (1997), for which he won Emmy Awards. In addition, his company did four seasons of the TV show Outer Limits, three seasons of Stargate SG-1, and ultimately opened a studio in Vancouver called Pacific Effects Group. He also created earth-shattering illusions for several seasons of magician Criss Angel’s A&E television show, Mindfreak. In 2003, Johnson wrote, produced, and directed a short called Everloving, which played as part of the Brooklyn Film Festival.[10]

Brick and Mortar Productions Edit

After an eight-year hiatus, Johnson returned in 2014 to the film industry, partnering with documentary filmmaker Robert L. Lucas to create a new company called Brick and Mortar Productions. Their focus would be upon "practical make-up effects with digital effects and post-production CG cleanup." In 2014 they broke ground on a facility in Burbank, California that they hoped would be finished in 2015 and that would serve as "a think tank, a consortium, a place where people can get their hands dirty making monsters."[2]

InnovationsEdit

For the film Innocent Blood (1992), Johnson innovated contact lenses that could glow and change color on command without digital after-effects. They were scleral lenses coated with silicone glass and Scotch-Brite, so that when lights, such as those from a color wheel were projected on them, the colors would bounce back toward the camera.[11]

For Lord of Illusions (1995), horror master Clive Barker required Johnson to create an organic-looking creature with skin that could pulse, move, and morph without the use of stop motion photography or other techniques such as mold-casting that were industry standards at the time. Thus Johnson innovated a monster-making technique with Bill Bryan that employed plastic bags, old yogurt containers, colored methyl cellulose "slime", and used gravity and liquid as a propellant. This technique is one that he modified time and again, such as for making slimy tentacles out of plastic and goop for the embryonic pods in Species (1995).[2]

Personal life Edit

Johnson was married to actress Linnea Quigley from 1990 to 1992, and to Constance Zimmer from 1999 to 2001. During Johnson's eight-year hiatus from the film industry, he spent a year living in the remote jungles of jungles of Costa Rica,[3] as well as living in Austin, Louisiana, and the Smoky Mountains. During this time he wrote three books, and his effects were profiled in several other publications. Johnson's career in effects has been featured in books written by Anthony Timpone,[12] Thomas Morawetz,[13] and Rama Venkatasawmy.[14] Johnson is also an instructor at the Stan Winston School of Character Arts.[15] On May 1, 2015, a documentary about Tim Burton's cancelled film Superman Lives saw a limited theatrical release. Johnson was featured in the documentary, as he was a principal special effects artist on the film.[16] The documentary is set for a DVD/VOD release on July 9, 2015. [17]

Awards and nominationsEdit

  • 1992, nominated – 19th annual Saturn Awards for 'Best Make-Up' for Highway to Hell (1991) by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films[18]
  • 1993, co-nominated – 20th annual Saturn Awards for 'Best Make-Up' for Freaked (1993)]] by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films[19]
  • 1994, won (shared) – Primetime Emmy Award for 'Outstanding Individual Achievement in Makeup' for The Stand (1994)[20]
  • 1995, won (shared) – 'Best Special Effects' for Species (1995) from Sitges - Catalonian International Film Festival[21]
  • 1995, won – Universe Reader's Choice Award for 'Best Make-up in a Genre Motion Picture' for Species (1995) from Sci-Fi Universe Magazine
  • 1995, co-nominated – 22nd annual Saturn Awards for both 'Best Make-Up' and for 'Best Special Effects' for Species (1995) by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films[22]
  • 1997, won (shared) – Primetime Emmy Award for 'Outstanding Individual Achievement in Makeup' for The Shining (1997)[23]
  • 2003, won – Fangoria Chainsaw Award for 'Best Makeup/Creature FX' for Blade II (2002)
  • 2004, co-nominated – 'Best Special Makeup Effects' by Hollywood Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild Award for Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat (2003)

FilmographyEdit

  • The Fog (1980)
  • Humanoids from the Deep (1980)
  • Tanya's Island
  • An American Werewolf in London (1981)
  • Ghost Story (1981)
  • Videodrome (1983)
  • Ghostbusters (1984)
  • Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan (1984)
  • Biohazard (1985)
  • Fright Night (1985)
  • Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf (1985)
  • Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
  • Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)
  • Solarbabies (1986)
  • Predator (1987)
  • Dead Heat (1988)
  • Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988)
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
  • Night of the Demons (1988)
  • The Abyss (1989)
  • Exposure (1991)
  • Highway to Hell (1991)
  • Howling VI: The Freaks (1991)
  • To Save a Child (1991)
  • Suburban Commando (1991)
  • Innocent Blood (1992)
  • Pet Sematary II (1992)
  • Freaked (1993)
  • Necronomicon (1993)
  • Return of the Living Dead III (1993)
  • The Temp (1993)
  • Brainscan (1994)
  • Next Door (1994)
  • Night of the Demons 2 (1994)
  • Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (1994)
  • Roswell (1994)
  • Stephen King's The Stand (1994)
  • Evolver (1995)
  • Here Come the Munsters (1995)
  • Lord of Illusions (1995)
  • Species (1995)
  • The Surgeon (1995)
  • Bad Moon (1996)
  • The Dentist (1996)
  • Fatal Frames (1996)
  • Eraser (1996)
  • Amistad (1997)
  • Nightwatch (1997)
  • Species II (1998)
  • Stephen King's The Shining
  • The Warlord: Battle for the Galaxy (1998)
  • Wrongfully Accused (1998)
  • Bicentennial Man (1999)
  • Can of Worms (1999)
  • The General's Daughter (1999)
  • Virus (1999)
  • Arachnid (2001)
  • Blade II (2002)
  • Stephen King's Rose Red (2002)
  • Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat (2003)
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
  • The Rundown (2003)
  • Running on Karma (2003)
  • Spider-Man 2 (2004)
  • War of the Worlds (2005)
  • Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
  • Fear Clinic (2014)

ReferencesEdit

  1. Texas Birth Index, 1903-1997. Texas: Texas Department of State Health Services, microfiche roll number 1960_0008.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 ‘Make-Up Artist’ Exclusive: Announcing Steve Johnson’s New Shop
  3. 3.0 3.1 Make-up Artist Magazine, "Back From the Abyss: Effects artist Steve Johnson returns after a six-year absence", July/Aug 2011 issue 91
  4. 4.0 4.1 Rick Baker on making the Wolfman
  5. Steve Johnson-The Monster Maker Interview
  6. 6.0 6.1 Steve Johnson's XFX
  7. BREAKING NEWS: Boss Film Studios has closed its doors
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 FILM : Engendered 'Species': XFX in Sun Valley sprinted to create an alien that would attract and repulse viewers
  9. Creating a New Species
  10. Everloving, Brooklyn Film Festival
  11. Late Night Classics – Innocent Blood
  12. Timpone, Anthony. Men, Makeup, and Monsters: Hollywood's Masters of Illusion and FX. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.
  13. Morawetz, Thomas. Making Faces, Playing God: Identity and the Art of Transformational Makeup. Texas: University of Texas Press, 2001.
  14. Venkatasawmy, Rama (2012). The Digitization of Cinematic Visual Effects: Hollywood's Coming of Age. New York: Lexington Books. ISBN 0739176218
  15. Teachers
  16. 'The Death of 'Superman Lives';What Happened?'to debut at London Comic Con
  17. The Death of Superman Lives Documentary Gets New Trailer and Release Date
  18. The Newspaper of The Science Fiction & Fantasy Field "1992 Saturn Award Winners", volume=30.8, issue=391
  19. Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films
  20. 46th Primetime Emmys Nominees and Winners
  21. 28ed. Festival Internaciona de Cinema Fantàstic de Sitges (7/10 - 14/10)
  22. Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA
  23. 49th Primetime Emmys Nominees and Winners

External LinksEdit

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