After I earned the part of Mrs. Lovett via the traditional route of a lengthy audition process, Tim came to my kitchen looking shocked. “I found this original drawing from 20 years ago,” he said. “It looks like you and Johnny. I drew you before I knew you existed.” — Helena Bonham Carter
And so begins this entry on the Art of one of my top 5 film directors, the amazing-beyond-words Tim Burton. One of my best friends, Drea, has this ginormous book she ordered online that I had the fortune to borrow and pore over for weeks. It has over a thousand of his drawings within the pages, and I had such a hard time editing down my list to be featured here. What you’ll see and read below are select scans from the book, as well as snippets about Burton I’ve reflected on after reading it.
The quote above struck me the most in telling the story of Tim Burton because I feel it encapsulates what he’s been doing all these years. For this eccentric, disheveled-haired, and quiet director, the things he does aren’t just for the sake of making films; it’s his whole love story with art and film and life. It comes from such a raw and private place that audiences the world over fell in love with him and his works.
Raw and private are two words that can also describe his art. You can see how seemingly haphazard and childlike Burton sketches and colors. And it was written that he was hesitant to have this book published precisely because he felt his drawings aren’t (or shouldn’t be) considered as art.
“Burton claims he can’t draw properly, but that hasn’t stopped him from keeping his visual diary where pictures are far more descriptive than words.”
Tim Burton began his film career as a student at Cal Arts, the same Alma Mater where many Disney and Pixar artists came from. He started out as an animator at Disney but left after a while because he felt his style was too different (and we all know and can see how certain that is).
It would take the film Batman — and Burton’s consequent rise to popularity as a film director — for Disney to consider making a Tim Burton film, and this resulted in The Nightmare before Christmas.
It’s this sort of training — of having and making concept art for his stories — that makes him different from other directors. And this is probably why his vision is adapted to the silver screen almost faithfully — he is able to communicate to his teams and crews what he imagines not through words or a storyboard or a mood board, but through his pristine and uncorrupted drawings.
Burton is able to vividly describe character development and costume design through his drawings.
Oogie Boogie Series 1-3, 1993
He is able to help his production design crew materialize the worlds he imagines for his movies.
It has been said more than once in the book (and you can very well tell from the examples here) that Burton draws on anything. The best part is, he uses different media for them!
Here, he uses pastel…
While here, he uses oil and acrylic…
And Burton’s go-to media: pen and ink and watercolor.
Love him, hate him, find him weird — however you feel about Tim Burton, one cannot deny his talent as a visionary. So why do we connect with him and his works (onscreen or on paper) so much? I think Helena Bonham Carter said it best:
Tim resonates with the young because, like any good artist, he has kept in touch with the child he once was. Or rather still is. His inner child is pretty outer.
*Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street came out in 2007. The drawing he was referring to (from 20 years ago, he says) is not in the book.
Update: I was fortunate enough to have caught this exhibit when I went to the Cinematheque Francaise Musee Du Cinema in Paris this spring! WOOOOOOOOOOOW. Do not miss this exhibit if it comes by your town; there are hundreds more of Burton’s works on display apart from those found in the books.
Of course, you couldn’t take photos inside, but the space was arranged chronologically and per movie. Displayed were some of Burton’s early works as a high school student, including entries to contests, job portfolio samples, and letters to his idols and colleagues. There were also a lot of sculptures and installations inspired by his movies and other creations.
It really felt like you were inside his brain! Awesome, awesome exhibit worth every Peso, Dollar, or Euro. The mouse highly recommends. 🙂