Its Alive – Interview with Barney Burman
Academy Award Winning Special Effects Make Up Artist Barney Burman was born to a long line of Hollywood makeup artists. Whether as a child victim for his father’s creations or as a proud father creating costumes for his own son, Barney has been carrying on the family tradition of “make believe” for most of his life. Like a real-life modern day Dr. Frankenstein he’s brought some of Hollywood’s most memorable characters to life, so life-like in appearance chances are you’ll be even more frightened and amazed viewing his creations in real life than you ever would be watching them on the BIG SCREEN.
ART WALK NEWS: Where were you born?
BARNEY BURMAN: I was born in Glendale. I’m a 3rd generation Southern Californian. Born in the same hospital as my mother’s mom, my grandmother, Marie Hoerber.
AWN: WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CREATION?
BARNEY B: My 1st creation? That’s a tough one. It’s like asking how long I’ve been doing this and that’s hard to answer. Hard to say when I started really. I remember playing with clay and making messes in my father’s studio and then getting in trouble ‘cause I never cleaned them up. (lol) I used to sculpt new faces on my G.I. Joe’s. The 1st time I sat down and designed a make-up though? It was on myself for a make-up contest for Make-up FX Artists. It was called Screaming Mad George’s 1st Annual Monster Maker’s Contest. I guess I was already 20 years old. I think it was late because I didn’t really have that much interest in becoming a make-up artist, I was too busy pursuing an acting career at that time.
AWN: What kind of materials do you work with to create your creatures?
BARNEY B: Whatever is needed. Usually it’s something like medical grade silicone or foam latex. But we’ve been known to add weird things like feather stocks (which make great whiskers) and mattress foam and even “El-wire” (Electric wire that glows) for some creatures. Then there’s a bunch of materials we use in the preparation like different types of clay or stone molding materials. We use a mish-mash of various types of acrylic and vacu-formed plastic for teeth. It’s a never ending list really.
AWN: What is the process from concept to finish?
BARNEY B: Oh geez! That’s a small question with a very big answer. I’ll be as succinct as I can be… Once we have a concept we bring an actor in and take a life cast off his face. Sometimes that’s a whole head and or hands or even a full body. Then we make a plaster positive (a stone likeness of the actor) and we sculpt the look of the creature in clay on top of it. From there we make negative molds of the sculpture. Once we open and clean them out what we have left is a positive of the actor that fits inside the negative of the sculpture. We fill that gap with silicone (or, as I mentioned, foam latex) and once that cures (goes from a liquid to a solid) we open the mold and then we have our prosthetic. We glue that onto the actor and paint it and add hair or whatever other elements might be necessary and voila! And all that takes a minimum of 8-10 days and that’s already a crazy rush… even though occasionally we have even less time.
AWN: Who works with you to complete this process?
BARNEY B: I’m really fortunate to have an amazing crew of technicians and artists. Nick Reisinger is my friend and shop foreman. He makes all the teeth and keeps things running back in the shop, where all the real work happens, while I sit in my comfy office designing, budgeting and scheduling. Occasionally I get to sculpt or paint something before it leaves the shop as well. Sherri Smith runs the front office and she’s an amazing stickler for details so I know I can feel secure that the business end will all be taken care of. My artistic front man, doing a great deal of the sculpting and painting in the shop is a self taught Italian FX artist named Daniele Tirinnanzi. And Matthew Corrigan handles the casting department, which means he oversees the injection of the silicone into the molds and makes sure they all come out perfectly. All of them are super dedicated, detail oriented professionals and
I’m lucky to have them.
ART WALK NEWS: What do you like best about working in the world of makeup?
BARNEY B: There’s a moment… A few actually, during the process when something changes from a lump of clay into a face with the potential for life. Or when the application is happening and suddenly that potential for life actually seems to live and breathe. And it’s not just the guy or girl wearing it, it’s something more. It’s a moment when suddenly you believe it. You know it’s going to work and you feel like you’ve just created something that never was before. And then you walk out of the trailer and the cast and crew and director and producers all see it and no one can take their eyes off it. And you feel like Dr. Frankenstein beaming with pride because you put the proper brain in this time. It’s a “Wow” factor and it just feels great!
AWN: Tell me about a few of your favorite make up jobs?
BARNEY B: There’s different categories of my favorites. Certainly I’m proud of the work we did for J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek (2009), for which I was honored with an Academy Award. I was also very pleased to be able to transform Tom Cruise into the bully studio executive Les Grossman for Tropic Thunder. But I’d also put a lot of the work we’ve done for Grimm right up there with some of my most proud accomplishments, more especially considering the time and budgets we’ve had to work with. I’ve also got great memories from working for other people on their projects. The Grinch, Planet of the Apes (2001), Pearly Harbor, Master and Commander: Far Side of the World, The Pirates of the Caribbean. Those are really just a few of the films where I worked with and under some amazing talents, the best in the business really, and had a fantastic time. Learned a heck of a lot as well.
AWN: What do you like to do when your not working? Do you have any hobbies?
BARNEY B: I write a lot. I’ve finished nearly a dozen screenplays over the years and am on the road to directing my first feature. I also have a son, a fiancé and family and that all takes up a lot of time in a really wonderful way. My fiancé, Amy Gray, and I also really like to hike and travel. We did the 4 day trek up the Inca trail to Manchu Picchu two years ago and now we’re looking for our next great adventure. We also love watching movies, of course, and she’s turned me into something of a “foodie.”
AWN: You’re going to be speaking in Canada? What will you talk about? Do you do this show every year?
BARNEY B: I pretty much speak wherever I go, not just in Canada… (Crickets?)
No, I’ve done IMATS (International Makeup Artist’s Trade Show) a few times and always have a blast. This will be my first time at the Toronto show though. I’m really looking forward to it. If I can get it done in time I’m going to try to do some kind of a demo. As for what I’ll actually be talking about? lol… I’m still working on that. Any suggestions?
AWN: What are you doing for Halloween?
BARNEY B: I usually run and hide. It’s a time of year when people come from out of the wood work to ask me to do the thing for them that I spend all year doing anyway. I do always enjoy making a mask or a make-up for my son, Anton though. Last year he was a sort of red skull face and the year before that we turned him into “Woody Kreuger.” He was an evil, charred, killer Woody doll from Toy Story. It was hilarious!
AWN: How do you like living/working in DTLA? How long have you been there?
BARNEY B: Actually, I neither work nor live Downtown. My studio is in North Hollywood (the Noho Arts District) and I live in Los Feliz. I used to live Downtown on Industrial between Alameda and Mateo. That was back in the early 90’s… Boy, has that area changed! Much much better now than it was back then.
AWN: Anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
BARNEY B: Do your homework, kids! And eat right. LOL…I jest but in reality both of those things are true.
FUN: Barney’s dad Thomas Burman is a 5 time Emmy Award and 1 time Oscar winner best known for his work in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek, Cat People, God Father III, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Goonies, and Grey’s Anatomy.