How Tim Burton Creates His Aesthetic Through Special Effects Makeup
Tim Burton has a signature style that is instantly recognisable. His films are filled with characters that have distinct looks, thanks to his use of special effects makeup. From Edward Scissorhands to The Mad Hatter, Burton’s characters have become iconic and beloved by moviegoers. In this article, we will look at how he uses makeup to bring his characters to life and discuss some of his most famous works.
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure
Tim Burton’s directing debut was with the 1985 Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, a film that would be a financial and critical success, with critics calling the movie “Mattel surrealism, a toy-store fantasia in primary colours and ‘50s decor.” and stating that “Whoever proposed teaming up Pee-wee with 26-year-old director Tim Burton knew what they were doing.”.
Despite being Burton’s debut film, you can already see evidence of Burton’s use of makeup to create an aesthetic, as throughout the film Pee-wee’s appearance doesn’t change in the slightest, which displays his characteristics of being childish and stuck in the past, as the character looks like he is from 1950s America, but lives in the 1980s. It also tells the audience that Pee-wee is very particular, and a bit peculiar, as he has to ensure that he always looks the same, despite being so unfashionable.
Following Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Tim Burton declined to direct its sequel and instead directed Beetlejuice, a darker fantasy horror comedy film. This movie would play to Burton’s strengths, and the darker horror theme allowed Burton to be truly creative. With a small budget of $15 million, the movie would make $75 million at the box office, and critics gave the movie a generally positive review, with the film receiving an 85% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The film would also win an Academy Award for Best Makeup, and the 1988 Saturn Awards for Best Horror Film and Best Makeup, and upon watching the movie, it is clear why. Throughout the film, makeup is used extensively to completely transform ordinary-looking people or limbs into fascinating otherworldly creatures with horrifying features. The film would be the staging ground for Burton’s famous gothic makeup, which can still be seen in his recent works, such as the Netflix hit series Wednesday.
In the 1989 Batman movie, Tim Burton uses special effects makeup to great effect, primarily on the character ‘Joker’ who had fallen into a chemical vat, survived, and subsequently required reconstructive surgery. This surgery has left the character with chalk-white skin, green hair and a rictus grin. Later in the film, the Joker develops a toxin called ‘Smylex’ which forces its victims to laugh hysterically before dying, and then donning the rictus grin as well. For the effect, special effects makeup was used rather convincingly to create this disturbing smile, as well as the chalk-white skin and green hair for the Joker, who in some scenes wears a skin-colour makeup in an attempt to hide his garish appearance from others, but in one scene this makeup is removed by being splashed away by water, and the blend of the cosmetics further increases the believability that the Joker’s skin is chalk-white.
Alice In Wonderland
Skipping through to later in Tim Burton’s career, in 2010 he directed the international sensation, Alice in Wonderland. This movie would be an incredible box office success, making $1 billion from its $150 million budget. Despite its less-than-ideal critical approval, the film would still win several accolades, one of which would be for Best Makeup and Hair.
In this film, special effects makeup has been used to completely change the appearance of the actors, so much so that they no longer look quite so familiarly human. For example, the Red Queen is the primary antagonist of the story, but she has an enlarged head, with a significantly enlarged upper head, that helps to create a heart shape (the character’s primary symbol). This helps to make the character easily definable and recognisable while making the character look strange compared to the other regular humans. Special effects makeup has also been applied to the Red Queen’s courtiers, who all share similar deformities akin to the Red Queen’s. Some of the courtiers have enlarged noses, some have several chins and others have enlarged bodies, with regular-sized heads. Combining all of these elements helps to create an aesthetic of feeling lost, as everything surrounding you is strange and doesn’t feel quite right, creating a feeling of odd familiarity, as you can recognise the surroundings, but they aren’t the same as what you’re used to.
Written by Mark Murphy