Biography of Tim Burton

Tim Burton was born in California in 1958, and was a film enthusiast from an early age. Before he was even a teenager, he delighted in making stop-motion animated films on 8mm film in his family’s backyard. His deep interest in animation, painting, drawing, and film brought him to the Institute of the Arts in California, where he studied character animation. Soon after graduating, two short films that he made at art school—Stalk of the Celery Man and King and Octopus—grabbed Walt Disney Production’s interest, and he began an apprenticeship, becoming an animator, storyboard artist and concept artist for various films at Disney. While at Disney, he continued to make short films, including a live-action adaptation of Hansel and Gretel for the Disney channel, in which Hansel and Gretel use kung fu against the evil witch. The film was eventually shown at the Museum of Modern Art in 2009. This was followed by Frankenweenie, another live-action short film, about a boy reviving his dead dog after it gets hit by a car.

Burton’s first full-length film was a movie adaptation centered on the popular children’s television character, Pee-wee Herman, called Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. This was the first film on which Burton would collaborate with the composer Danny Elfman, who would go on to score all but three of Burton’s subsequent films. Burton’s follow-up to the breakout success of Pee-wee was Beetlejuice: an unusual film with a small budget that earned $80 million, won an Academy Award for Best Makeup, and spawned multiple spin-offs and a cult following. After Beetlejuice, Burton directed a version of Batman with Michael Keaton, the actor who played Beetlejuice, again with Burton as the titular character. Next came Edward Scissorhands, his first time working with soon-to-be frequent collaborator Johnny Depp, and viewed by many as an autobiographical fictionalization of his own boyhood. After a sequel to Batman, Burton wrote and directed The Nightmare Before Christmas, then Ed Wood (a film about “the worst director of all time”), another Batman sequel, an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, Mars Attacks!, Superman Lives, and Sleepy Hollow.

Since 2000, Burton has retained his characteristically quirky visual style, but with a markedly higher budget and an increasingly recognizable brand, directing a remake of the classic sci-fi movie Planet of the Apes, a remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, an adaptation of the popular Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd, an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland, a movie adaptation of Dark Shadows (a gothic soap opera from the 70s), and a full-length remake of his short film, Frankenweenie. Additionally, he directed Corpse Bride, Big Fish, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. He is currently remaking the classic cartoon Dumbo. Despite all his success, he has never won an award for directing.


Study Guides on Works by Tim Burton

Excitement sizzled like electricity through the air when Tim Burton was announced as the director who would bring Batman back to the screen with a new big screen update promising to take the Caped Crusader back from the campy wilderness he’d been...

Beetlejuice was one of Tim Burton’s first full-length movies, and established him as an unusual, singular, outrageous, and exciting director. The first screenplay for the film was written by Michael McDowell, and was apparently much darker than...

Big Fish is a 2003 movie directed by Tim Burton. It tells the story of a Paris-based journalist named Will Bloom who comes home to Ashton, Alabama, when he hears that his father, Edward, is terminally ill with cancer and has been taken off...