Everyday is a Halloween. Isn’t it? For some of us…
Once considered an eccentric outsider because of his quirky style, now, without a doubt, evolved into an iconic director, animator and storyteller. Tim Walter Burton the American artist, film director, producer, writer and animator developed not only a signature but has also inspired filmmakers over the years. Indeed talent, originality, and drive is great for any field, but they don’t necessarily make anyone a top contender in Hollywood. Media often describes Tim Burton as weird, even a bit twisted, but of course, no one knows him better than a friend.
A PURE GENIUS ODDBALL
A native son of Southern California, Burton was born in Burbank on August 25, 1958. Jean Rae, his mother, was an owner of a cat-themed gift shop while his father, William Reed Burton worked for the Burbank Park and Recreation Department. Burton spent his formative years drawing, watching old horror flicks especially that of Vincent Price, and reading the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl–early influences that undoubtedly helped him become today’s maestro of everything that is bizarre, crazy and wonderfully strange stuff.
“I was always a loner and spent a lot of time by myself, making up stories and that kind of thing. We lived near a cemetery, so I’d like to go there and wonder about the scary guy who dug graves. I never really hung out with other kids and always found it difficult to really connect with people, in particular, girls. Looking back, it’s kinda scary how solitary I was. I think if you’ve ever had that feeling of loneliness, of being an outsider, it never quite leaves you. You can be happy or successful or whatever, but that thing still stays within you.”
In the ninth grade, his talent was recognized by a local garbage company after winning a prize for an anti-litter poster he designed which the company placed on all their garbage trucks for a year. At 13, he created one of his oldest known juvenile films The Island of Doctor Agor a short film made in his backyard using crude stop motion animation techniques.
Burton was not a good student but was remarkably an introspective person who found pleasure in painting, drawing and watching films. After high school, he won a scholarship to the Disney-created California Institute of the Arts and later work as an animator at Disney Productions.
It was weird doing things that I knew nobody was ever going to see and yet I got the opportunity to do them.
After working on several cartoons, Burton felt out of place. In the The Fox and the Hound for instance, he realized he was not Disney material for he could not even draw cute foxes. The studio however, recognized his unique talent and decided it could be better served if he was given more room and creativity to work. His first solo project with Disney was Vincent, a stop-motion animated short which was a tribute to his favorite Vincent Price who also narrated the film. Disney’s executives, however, found Vincent to be a bit dark for their tastes. Burton later said, “Disney seemed to be pleased with it but at the same time kind of ashamed. I just think they didn’t know what to do with it. . . It’s like “Gee, what shall we worry about today, this five-minute animated short film or our $30 million dollar movie? ‘… it didn’t rate really high on their priority scale. Plus, I didn’t even know whether I was an employee then.
Despite receiving a cool reception, the short showed up on ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ DVD, where its stark design was perfectly in keeping with Jack Skellington and the rest of the Halloweenland Crew.
After the project, Disney gave Burton the chance to direct Frankenweenie, a heartwarming tale about a boy and his dog. The stop-motion animated film, Frankenweenie was said to be the distilled essence of a Tim Burton movie. All his interests and obsessions with monsters, weird stuff and people seemed to be packed in that one movie. Unfortunately, Disney found the work unsuitable for children. Worse, the MPPA agreed slapping the film with a PG rating. Disney had to scrap its plan of showing the short before their classic Pinnochio was released. Burton started to struggle pursuing his own vision. It did not take long before he left Disney.
INSANE, BRAVE AND BRILLIANT
People have said to me, ‘You either have a lot of confidence or you’re completely insane’. I think its somewhere in the middle. I have this reputation for being dark which I don’t think I really am.
With his roots in drawing and animation, Burton crafted over his career distinctly designed films that reflected the gothic horror influences of his youth. His works captured the attention of many major studios and producers including actor Paul Reubens who was looking for someone to helm a film about his alter-ego, Pee-Wee Herman. After watching Frankenweenie, he helped get Burton hired as the director of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985). It became his first project after leaving Disney. Burton made it to be one of Warner Bros.’ biggest hits of the early 80s. His success led to the making of the afterlife comedy Beetlejuice on 1988. Unknown to many, the project was a comic twist on all the “Shock Theatre” that had kept him up late as a child.
The success led to another job directing the 1989 big-budget version of Batman; another gothic production. At the time of its release, Burton was criticized for focusing too much on the villain than the hero and the casting of Keaton in the title role. But with Burton’s superb direction and an edgy script, the film was surprisingly a success giving him the kind of artistic freedom that most aspiring Pee-Wee directors can only dream about.
As a director, Burton helmed some of the biggest blockbusters in Hollywood history including the fantasy film Alice in Wonderland (2010) which garnered a worldwide gross of over $1 billion, Batman (1989), the musical adventure film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), the sci-fi film Planet of the Apes (2001); and the Batman Returns (1992). He was also the man behind movies like Edward Scissorhands (1990), the animated musical The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993, 2009), the biographical film Ed Wood (1994), Cabin Boy (1994), James and the Giant Peach (1996), Mars Attacks (1996) Superman Lives (1998), the horror fantasy Sleepy Hollow (1999), the fantasy drama Big Fish (2003). Also, the Corpse Bride (2006), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), Dark Shadows (2012), the remake of Frankenweenie (2012), Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012), biographical drama Big Eyes (2014), Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016), and just recently, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016).
Burton also wrote and illustrated the poetry book The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories, published in 1997 by Faber and Faber and the The Art of Tim Burton on 2009, a compilation of his drawings, sketches and other artworks. A follow-up to it, entitled The Napkin Art of Tim Burton: Things You Think About in a Bar was released in 2015. It contained sketches he made in napkins at bars and restaurants he once spent his time. The compilations were published by Steeles Publishing.
In addition, he has dipped into television and internet animation on occasion. He contributed character designs to Family Dog, an episode of the anthology series Amazing Stories that was directed by future Pixar genius Brad Bird. It was a huge hit, bringing high quality animation and voice acting to television before ‘The Simpsons’ changed the landscape. Other than this, was the Saturday morning cartoon version of Beetlejuice, which Burton developed and featured a new theme by Danny Elfman. On the Web front, Burton created the flash animated series The World of Stainboy, based on a character in his book The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories.
HYSTERICALLY FUNNY, LOYAL AND HONEST
Burton has worked repeatedly with Johnny Depp, who has become a close friend of Burton since their first film together. They worked on eight films together. Producer Scott Rudin once said, “Basically Johnny Depp is playing Tim Burton in all his movies.” Although Burton didn’t agree with the statement, Depp did— stating that their first project together centered around Burton’s teenage social awkwardness. Whether or not Burton wants to admit there’s a bromance happening between the two celebrities or not, it’s pretty obvious to the rest of us that there’s a lot of love shared between them. Their affection extends beyond film roles too— Depp is also the godfather of Burton’s son, Billy Ray Burton. Burton also penned a poem for his favorite buddy Depp. He has also worked with musician Danny Elfman, who has composed scores for all but three of the films Burton has directed. Actress Helena Bonham Carter, Burton’s former domestic partner, has appeared in many of his films. Tim Burton, his bizarre characters and dark scenery.