Early on, Tim Burton’s exposure to classic horror movies reflected the kind of works he would later on make as a filmmaker.
Burton’s early career was filled with luck and opportunities, but not necessarily inspiring and fulfilling ones for him. He hailed from Burbank, California, an area where many television and movie studios are located. He received a Disney scholarship to attend the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). His first job was with Disney. However, struggle was always imminent, especially during his early career. Although he was able to work on his own personal projects while working as a mainstream animator, his actual job of drawing sweet Disney characters were not within his artistic sensibilities. His personal works didn’t get released by Disney as they were judged to be unsuitable for children.
For his years of struggle as a young artist, what kept him in the industry were his distinct talent and the originality of his works. As more people saw his earlier films, he soon received the breaks he needed to shoot films that were within his interest and domain.
Tim Burton Biography: From His Early Years to His Early Career as a Filmmaker
Tim Burton Biography: From His Early Career to His Rise to Hollywood Fame as an A-list Director
Tim Burton Filmography: His Early Works as a Filmmaker (1971 to 1990)
The Island of Doctor Agor (1971)
Burton was 13 years old when he made this Super 8mm film, an adaptation of the classic H.G. Wells story entitled The Island of Doctor Moreau. This short film was filmed around Burbank and other nearby areas in California.
Stalk of the Celery (1979)
Also known as the Stalk of the Celery Monster, Burton made this animated short while he was a student at the CalArts.
Doctor of Doom (1979)
Featuring a doctor’s creepy lab, this black and white animated short was shot when Burton was still an student. Another renowned filmmaker who was his classmate at CalArts during the late 70s, the Pixar director Brad Bird, starred in this film as Don Carlo.
Hansel and Gretel (1982)
With some animation elements, this live action short featured Japanese actors and striking set designs reminiscent of Burton’s later works for Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands. The story was a Japanese spoof of the fairytale and its animation elements were also reminiscent of his later work for Nightmare Before Christmas. Shot during Burton’s employment at Disney, he made the film in between working on his professional Disney projects. Hansel and Gretel was aired at the Disney Channel, along with Burton’s animated short Vincent.
Luau explored a quirky party-going main character who met many other weird but interesting characters along the way.
A boy named Vincent Malloy dreamed of being just like Vincent Price and losing himself in macabre daydreams annoyed his mother. Vincent Price himself narrated this film.
Starring many famous names including Shelley Duvall, Daniel Stern, Barret Oliver, and Sofia Coppola, Frankenweenie delves around the story of young Victor’s pet dog Sparky who gets hit by a car, then Victor decides to bring him back to life. Although not recognized for original release by Disney after Burton utilized the company’s resources to create the film (it was scheduled for release on the same program as the 1984 re-release of the 1940 film Pinocchio, but pulled out after test screenings upset children), its censored version was finally released on VHS by Disney when Burton became famous. In the 1993 release of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Frankenweenie’s first uncensored copy was also released in home video.
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
After watching Frankenweenie, the impressed Paul Reubens hired Burton to direct his pet project entitled Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. The film was about the eccentric man-child Pee-Wee Herman who embarked on the big adventure of his life by traveling across the United States. Burton found both creative freedom and commercial success in this film. During this time, Burton, a fan of the eccentric musical group Oingo Boingo, asked songwriter Danny Elfman to provide the music for the film. This started a thriving partnership between the director and the music composer.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1986)
Burton shot one episode (The Jar) for the TV program Alfred Hitchcock Presents, an anthology series modeled after and frequently based on the original series from the 1950s to the 1960s.
Faerie Tale Theatre (1986)
Inspired by an earlier 1958 children’s program entitled Shirley Temple Theatre, actress Shelley Duvall hosted this high quality classic entertainment program for children. Burton shot the TV episode entitled Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp.
Beetlejuice was a supernatural comedy horror film about a young couple forced to cope with life after death. This comic book adaptation featured up-and-coming Hollywood performers Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, and Winona Ryder. With a relatively low budget, it grossed $80 million and won an Oscar. Not too long, it was adapted as a cartoon series where Burton worked as executive producer.
The hype for Burton’s Batman movie was such a big event during its time. From the controversy of the casting of Michael Keaton as the Dark Knight to the biggest studio merchandising and marketing machinery ever utilized in a movie during its time, Burton rose into superstardom as a Hollywood director for Batman He made his stamp in the movie amidst the interference and creative clashes with the movie studio. The film grossed over $250 million, one of the highest in the studio’s history. It also grossed about $400 million worldwide and it won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction. This film also made a mark on Jack Nicholson’s career as he played the role of the Joker.
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Edward Scissorhands was the creation of an eccentric and old-fashioned inventor (played by Vincent Price). Although he looked human, Edward’s left hand was replaced by scissors. The film was seen as an autobiography of Burton’s childhood in the suburbs of Burbank. Reuniting with Winona Ryder from Beetlejuice, he also met Johnny Depp in their first director-actor movie tandem. Later on, their fruitful partnership would result to more blockbuster hits that further pushed their marks in Hollywood.
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“Tim Burton Biography,” M&C
“Biography,” The Tim Burton Collective.
“Tim Burton: Biography,” TV Guide.
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