Tim Burton is one of the last people you’d imagine becoming 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, certainly 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 was 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 for a living. In 1979, he was drafted to join the Disney animation ranks.
Burton did not enjoy being an animator, not at all. Imagine, if you want, 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 The Fox And The Hound. It really bored him. 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 would become The Nightmare Before Christmas in the years later, the animated short Vincent, and the live-action short Frankenweenie.
All these were made because I respect Tim Burton and his work.