Steve Johnson (special effects artist)

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Steve Johnson
Steve Johnson, convention appearance, Texas October 2013.jpg
Johnson at a convention in Texas, 2013
Steven Marcus Jacobs

(1960-02-07) February 7, 1960 (age 59)
ResidenceLos Angeles, California
Years active1980–present
Known forSpecial effects
Linnea Quigley (1990–1992)

Constance Zimmer (1999–2001)

Steve Johnson (born Steven Marcus Jacobs; February 7, 1960)[1] is an American special effects artist whose career has spanned more than thirty years. 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, Doctor Octopus's arms for Spider-Man 2, and Robin Williams's 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, Dick Smith 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 film[edit]

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.[9]

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]


In 2017 Johnson published the first volume in his five volume series "Rubberhead," which chronicles his career in special effects. Volume 1 was critically acclaimed and features hundreds of photographs from Johnson's thirty plus year career. Volume 1 also features a foreword by acclaimed filmmaker John Landis.[11] On April 2, 2018, the Kickstarter for Rubberhead Volume II went live.[12]


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 Scotchlite,[13] so that when lights, such as those from a color wheel were projected on them, the colors would bounce back toward the camera.[14]

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][15]

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 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,[16] Thomas Morawetz,[17] and Rama Venkatasawmy.[18] Johnson is also an instructor at the Stan Winston School of Character Arts.[19] On May 1, 2015, the documentary, The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened? directed by Jon Schnepp, about Tim Burton's canceled film Superman Lives was released. Johnson was featured in the documentary, as he was a principal special effects artist on the film working primarily on Superman's "light up" regeneration suit.[20] In Fall 2016, he currently is promoting a special effects/biography book called Rubberhead: Sex, Drugs and Special FX on[21]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Partial filmography[edit]

Johnson has worked on the following films:[2][7][30][31]


  1. ^ Texas Birth Index, 1903-1997. Texas: Texas Department of State Health Services, microfiche roll number 1960_0008.
  2. ^ a b c "'Make-Up Artist' Exclusive: Announcing Steve Johnson's New Shop". Make-up Artist Magazine. Retrieved 2014-12-30.
  3. ^ a b Nazzaro, Joe (July 18, 2011). "Back From the Abyss: Effects artist Steve Johnson returns after a six-year absence" (July/Aug 2011 issue 91). Make-up Artist Magazine. pp. 40–41.
  4. ^ a b "Rick Baker on making the Wolfman". CraveOnline Media. Retrieved 2015-01-07.
  5. ^ "Steve Johnson-The Monster Maker Interview". Stan Winston School of Character Arts. Retrieved 2014-12-06.[better source needed]
  6. ^ a b "Steve Johnson's XFX". Beckson Design. Retrieved 2014-12-30.
  7. ^ a b "BREAKING NEWS: Boss Film Studios has closed its doors". Visual Effects Headquarters. 1997. Retrieved 2015-01-07.
  8. ^ a b Schnaufer, Jeff (1995-07-07). "FILM : Engendered 'Species' : XFX in Sun Valley sprinted to create an alien that would attract and repulse viewers". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-12-30.
  9. ^ "Creating a New Species". Archived from the original on March 29, 1997. Retrieved 2013-09-09.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  10. ^ "Everloving". Brooklyn Film Festival. Retrieved 2014-12-23.
  11. ^ Johnson, Steve. "Rubberhead: Sex, Drugs, and Special FX." California: Montauk Publishing, 2017.
  12. ^ "Rubberhead Volume II". Kickstarter. Retrieved 2018-04-13.
  13. ^ "Episode 26: The Master Rapture". Retrieved 2016-10-13.
  14. ^ Bene, Jason (2012-04-25). "Late Night Classics – Innocent Blood". Killer Film. Archived from the original on 2015-01-10. Retrieved 2015-01-07.
  15. ^ Steve Johnson, Bill Bryan (performers) (2012). Make a Monster - Plastic Bag Technology (DVD). Stan Winston School of Character Arts. ASIN B00AID1JCM.
  16. ^ Timpone, Anthony. Men, Makeup, and Monsters: Hollywood's Masters of Illusion and FX. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.
  17. ^ Morawetz, Thomas. Making Faces, Playing God: Identity and the Art of Transformational Makeup. Texas: University of Texas Press, 2001.
  18. ^ Venkatasawmy, Rama (2012). The Digitization of Cinematic Visual Effects: Hollywood's Coming of Age. New York: Lexington Books. ISBN 0739176218
  19. ^ "Teachers". Stan Winston. Retrieved 2014-12-31.
  20. ^ "'The Death of 'Superman Lives'; What Happened?'to debut at London Comic Con". MCM London Comic Con. Retrieved 2015-05-02.
  21. ^ "'RUBBERHEAD: Sex, Drugs and Special FX'". Retrieved 2016-11-05.
  22. ^ Brown, Charles N., ed. (August 1993). "1992 Saturn Award Winners". Locus: The Newspaper of The Science Fiction & Fantasy Field (monthly). Oakland, CA. 30.8 (391). ISSN 0047-4959.
  23. ^ "Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA. Date: October 20, 1994". IMDb. Retrieved 2015-01-08.
  24. ^ "46th Primetime Emmys Nominees and Winners". Academy Of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 2014-12-30.
  25. ^ "28ed. Festival Internaciona de Cinema Fantàstic de Sitges (7/10 - 14/10)". Private Foundation Sitges International Film Festival of Catalonia. Retrieved 2014-12-31.
  26. ^ "Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA. Date: Date: June 25, 1996". IMDb. Retrieved 2015-01-08.
  27. ^ "49th Primetime Emmys Nominees and Winners". Academy Of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 2014-12-30.
  28. ^ "Fangoria Chainsaw Awards (2003)". Retrieved 2017-02-02.
  29. ^ "Hollywood Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild Awards (2004)". Retrieved 2017-02-02.
  30. ^ "Everloving". Brooklyn Film Festival. Retrieved 2014-12-23.
  31. ^ Newton, Steve (2014-02-26). "Horror in Vancouver: Watching Helen Shaver give demonic birth in Poltergeist: The Legacy". Vancouver Free Press. Retrieved 2015-01-07.

External links[edit]

WARNING, December 2017: Apparently there are no works by this Steve Johnson in the Library of Congress (LC) catalog (that is, for LCCN below), where "Johnson, Steve, 1960–" and "Johnson, Steve, 1960 June 14–" are two others born 1960. This effects artist is "Johnson, Steve, 1961–" at WorldCat (below), but that is yet another person in LC catalog.