Tim Burton is one of the last people
you'd imagine would become one of the most acclaimed directors in
the world. He is an introverted, unassuming person. His career got
underway at the most famous animation studio in Hollywood, he landed
his first directing gig because of a bootleg tape of a short film
that was never released, and (for a while, at least) he had a movie
in the top-ten grossers of all time.
Timothy William Burton was born August 25, 1958 in Burbank, California.
Burbank may not ring as many bells as Hollywood, but it is the home
to many film and television studios -- NBC, Warner Brothers, Disney,
and others. Burbank was quintessential 1950s American suburbia,
a world in which the shy, artistic Tim was not quite in step with
the shiny happy people surrounding him. He was not particularly
good in school, and was not a bookworm. Instead, he found his pleasure
in painting, drawing, and movies. He loved monster movies: Godzilla,
the Hammer horror films from Great Britain, the work of Ray Harryhausen.
One of his heroes was actor Vincent Price.
After high school in 1976, Burton attended the California Institute
of the Arts. Cal Arts had been founded by Disney as a "breeding
ground" for new animators, though they did offer other courses
of study. Burton entered the Disney animation program in his second
year, thinking it would be a good way to make a living. In 1979,
he was drafted to join the Disney animation ranks.
Burton did not enjoy being an animator, not one little bit. Imagine,
if you will, what it's like to be an animator. Films are projected
at 24 frames per second. For a 90-minute film, that's over 129,000
individual frames. Characters are drawn separately and then put
together, and placed over painted backgrounds. The work requires
talented artists, but they cannot deviate from the structured manner
of drawing the characters. Burton had been brought in to work on
Fox And The Hound. It bored him silly.
The studio recognized
that Burton's talent was not being utilized. They made him a conceptual
artist, the people who design the characters that appear in the
films. He did early work on The
Black Cauldron, the adaptation of the second volume of Lloyd
Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain (a seven-volume fantasy series).
If you're familiar with Burton's artwork, you can imagine that his
concept drawings were nothing like your standard Disney fare. It
didn't go over too well, and it was not used. However, he was set
loose on his own projects. These included a poem and artwork that
years later would become The
Nightmare Before Christmas, the animated short Vincent,
and the live-action short Frankenweenie.
The latter two received little or no outside exposure, but Burton
did get to work with his idol, Vincent Price, for the first time
and they remained friends until Price's death in 1993. Frankenweenie
was awarded a PG rating, which precluded its release with their
G-rated animated features. It was only released theatrically overseas,
and had limited availability on VHS. However, it would be the film
that landed him his first feature directing job.
Horror writer Stephen King (you have heard of him, right?) had seen
Frankenweenie, and strongly recommended it to Bonni
Lee, an executive at Warner Brothers. Lee then showed the film to
Paul Reubens. Reubens was the man behind Pee-wee Herman, and was
in the process of bringing his alter ego to the big screen. He knew
right away that Tim Burton was the perfect choice for the job, and
indeed they were a perfect match. As they say, the rest is history.
Following the surprise success of Pee-wee's
Big Adventure, Burton didn't make another film for almost three
years. It wasn't until he was offered the anarchic screenplay for
that he finally found another project suited to his unique vision.
The film was an even bigger hit, and led to Warner Bros. offering
Burton the job directing an eagerly awaited comic book adaptation
that had been years in the planning.
was less a movie, more of an event. It sparked controversy with
the casting of Michael Keaton as the Dark Knight, and generated
a merchandising blitz that is now standard for blockbusters. However,
despite all the hype and studio interference, Burton still managed
to put his own stamp on the film and it remains one of the most
influential Hollywood movies of the last few decades. It's box office
gross of over $250 million is also one of the highest in the studio's
Rather than jump
into making another blockbuster, Burton used his new clout to get
an extremely personal project greenlit by 20th Century Fox. Edward
Scissorhands was the first time Burton had full creative control
over a feature film, having written the story and also produced
the movie. The film was a hit with moviegoers and critics, and marked
the beginning of Burton being taken seriously as an artist.
He followed it up in 1992 with the sequel Batman
Returns. It was not as big a hit as the first film, and suffered
a backlash from parents who considered it too dark and twisted for
younger Bat fans. Although the film was an artistic triumph, the
perceived disappointment led to Joel Schumacher taking over the
franchise (although Burton did have a producer credit on Batman
Forever). The same year Burton also found time to play a small
cameo role in Cameron Crowe's grunge film, Singles,
and an even smaller cameo as a corpse in his buddy Danny DeVito's
After finally seeing his dream project realised with the feature
length stop-motion film The Nightmare Before Christmas,
Burton returned to smaller filmmaking with his next project, Ed
Wood. An affectionate tribute to the supposed worst filmmaker
of all time, it was not a hit at the box office, but won Burton
the best reviews of his career, as well as two Oscars. It was followed
by an indirect homage to Wood's films, Mars
Attacks! The film was a disappointment at the box office, and
scorned by many critics, but has gained a cult status over the years.
Burton made something of a comeback three years later with his first
real horror film, Sleepy
As for Burton's
personal life, he married German artist Lena Gieseke in 1989 (while
in the middle of production on Batman). They separated
shortly after filming of Batman Returns. He began
dating Lisa Marie shortly after. She appeared in four of his films:
Ed Wood, Mars Attacks!, Sleepy
Hollow and Planet
of the Apes.
Between Mars Attacks! and Sleepy Hollow,
Tim Burton spent over a year working on a new Superman film. A preliminary
script draft was written by independent filmmaker and comic geek
extraordinaire Kevin Smith. Nicolas Cage was attached to the project
to play the Man Of Steel. However, Burton was not particularly happy
with the script, and a spiraling budget caused Warner Brothers to
pull the plug on the project.
His next project was a reworking of the classic sci-fi film Planet
Of The Apes. The film was rushed into production after
a long gestation period, and may have suffered as a result. The
film was visually stunning, and featured several strong performances
by the actors in Rick Baker's astonishing ape makeup, but it was
regarded as a disappointment by many.
At the same time Burton's personal life was in a state of upheaval.
Both of his parents died within a short space of time, and his relationship
with Lisa Marie ended. Shortly after the release of Planet
of the Apes, Burton began dating one of the stars of the
film, Helena Bonham Carter. Their son, Billy, was born in October,
Burton's next project
couldn't have been more different, even though it shared the same
producer (Richard D. Zanuck). Big
Fish was an adaptation of the novel by Daniel Wallace. Perhaps
the theme of a man trying to reconnect with his dying father resulted
in this being Burton's most personal and emotional film in years,
and it earned respectable reviews and box office.
In 2005, Burton directed back to back movies for the first time.
His first project was another movie based on a novel, Charlie
and the Chocolate Factory. Johnny Depp played the lead role
of Willy Wonka, and the film was one of the most successful blockbusters
of 2005. It was followed two months later by the release of the
stop motion animated film, Corpse
Bride. Both films generally received good reviews, and Corpse
Bride was even nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature
(it lost to Wallace and Gromit).
Burton's next directorial project turned out to be the long-rumored
Todd. It was released in the U.S. in December, 2007 to rave
reviews. After producing the animated feature 9 (released on 9/9/2009), Burton followed
it up in 2010 with the 3D Alice in Wonderland (which, despite the
title, was actually a sequel to the Disney classic, not a remake).
Despite a mixed reception, the film grossed over a billion dollars
that he wants to take time off to be with his family, Burton
has no less than eight films currently in development, either
as producer and/or director. The first of these to see release
will probably be a feature length version of his short, Frankenweenie.
Burton has claimed for years that he wanted to expand on this
story, and he will finally get his chance. Though his recent
films have been disappointing for some, one can only hope that
at least a few of these future projects will connect with the
filmmaker and create some more of that Burton magic.
Mike Jackson and Arran McDermott 2010
Tim's Biography can also be read on the following
languages, click on the link to get to the translation:
One of the questions we receive most frequently
is an address where Tim Burton can be
contacted. The following are the only
addresses we have. We're not sure if they're
up to date, so you may or may not receive
c/o Mike Simpson, William Morris Agency
One William Morris Plaza
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
Tim Burton Productions
7175 Willoughby Avenue
West Hollywood, CA 90046
Can't hurt to send a few postcards. (advertisement)