Barney Burman on SFX Make-up on "Grimm"

By Jamie Ruby

GrimmThe NBC series Grimm, inspired by the classic Grimm's Fairy Tales, follows Detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli), who is a descendant of the "Grimms:" a line of criminal profiles who are the only ones who can see the mythological creatures of the world for who they really are. He must work to keep balance between those creatures and humanity.

Barney Burman is a third-generation monster maker that has previously worked in both straight makeup and prosthetics on films such as Planet of the Apes, The Matrix Reloaded, and Star Trek, for which he won an Oscar, and television series such as The X-Files, Medium, and Eagleheart. He currently designs many of the creatures and special effects makeup on Grimm.

Burman recently sat down with the media to discuss his creativity on Grimm. ?

NBC Conference Call
Special Effects Makeup Artist Barney Burman

December 05, 2011

GrimmQUESTION: How do the effects on Grimm compare to other TV series you've worked on, like The X-Files, for example.

BARNEY BURMAN: Well like all TV, there's a quick turnaround, but I personally think there's much more of a fantasy element on Grimm that stimulates me personally. So there's a lot more license for coming up with things that don't necessarily need to be based in a scientific reality, even sort of a sci-fi reality, if that makes sense.

And it's it's something that I just love because there's so much more, in my opinion, put into the character of these things that we're seeing, rather than just the effect of it.

QUESTION: When you first learned about Grimm, what did you begin to flesh out in your mind? Was it the Big Bad Wolf, or something else?

BARNEY BURMAN: Well, fortunately, there's an episode coming up called "The Three Bad Wolves," and there's a character in that - well I guess "Three Bad Wolves," not surprisingly based somewhat on "The Three Little Pigs." There's a pig character in that that I had been sort of dreaming about doing for awhile. And so the fact that this came up and was my first episode was kind of a beautiful synchronicity.

SCIFI VISION: What's your favorite makeup effect that you've done and why?

BARNEY BURMAN: Well, the pig character was certainly one of them. I only hesitate in saying too much because my favorite has yet - one of my other favorites I should say - has yet to be seen. Yes, I don't want to give it away as far as what's coming up.

One of the things when someone asks me what's my favorite job overall, usually - and this is no exception - my answer is this one. The one I'm currently doing is the one I'm usually the most into and excited about. And that's been happening per episode with this. Each episode I get reinvigorated and reenergized about what we're making because, "Ooh, that's new. That's cool. That's different."

But I say of the ones that I can talk about, certainly the pig character was one that stood out for me.

QUESTION: It seems to me what's interesting about this show, it's not only the practical effects that you're working with in makeup, but also employing some of the digital effects and marrying the two together. Am I on target with that?

BARNEY BURMAN: Yes, to a degree. A lot of times it ends up being either just a practical effect - a makeup effect, or just a visual computer effect. But my favorite things which we've been able to do in recent years in entertainment is to be able marry the two together, so when we get those opportunities, I think those shine, at least as personal favorite moments for me.

QUESTION: And certainly the Burman family has been doing makeup for quite some time. You can almost tell the story of makeup by all the advancements that have been made. Have you talked to some of the older members that are still with us about some of the advances and what you're doing now?

BARNEY BURMAN: Well if you count talking to my father as one of those older members in makeup, then absolutely. We have a lot of discussion about current versus older materials. And maybe because of my connection to that, I try not to get stuck in just going with the latest technology, because quite often some of the old ways are tried and true and still work beautifully. So I really feel blessed that I have come from that background and have that lineage to refer to so I can make something work without limiting myself to just what's popular today, if that makes sense.

I know a lot of makeup artists - not a lot, I know some makeup artists who are fantastic with an airbrush. But you take an airbrush out of their hands and they don't know what to do. So I'm really happy - I consider myself one of the youngest old-timer makeup artists because I was able to grow up around it and experience some of those older techniques. It's been very valuable to me.

QUESTION: And would your father be Tom Burman?

BARNEY BURMAN: That's him.

QUESTION: Yes. He's great. Actually, I think he did The Island of Dr. Moreau.


QUESTION: So yes, there's some animal in the lineage there.

BARNEY BURMAN: Yes, absolutely. In fact, there are a few times I've done something and thought that looks like something my dad would do.

QUESTION: I was curious about the particular challenges that come with bringing characters to life that have a lot of built in expectations? Whether it's Grimm Fairy Tales that people have in their minds, or Star Trek?

BARNEY BURMAN: Well good question. I'd say Star Trek definitely had built in expectations, and we really did not want to disappoint the fans of the old series or the old films at all. So we really wanted to stay very true to the look of those older characters.

And conversely, we decided we also want to bring a newer element into the world so that we're upgrading both technique and material, and the artistic aesthetic of what had been established before. So I felt like I was standing on the shoulders of giants in a way and just reaching to that next level.

Grimm is a fresh new take on an old world that I don't know if we need to worry about the establishment of what fans expect, and we can create and give them something new that they haven't seen before, and that's equally exciting.

QUESTION: Did you draw on any classic illustrations, or did it really just come out of new ideas?

BARNEY BURMAN: There's certainly an influence from the old illustrations. As far as the initial designs go, there's a couple of guys that have been doing it that were actually on board before I came on named Constantine Sekeris and Jerad Marantz. And those are two of the guys I would call if I don't have the time to design things myself. And on a schedule like this, it's just impossible for me. And those are two of the best guys out there, so I figured why even try to do anything that's going to top what they do? I can't. They are brilliant.

So they actually do a lot of the initial computer designs or Photoshop designs. And then they give them as concept work, and then they give them to me. And between what they do and the influence of older sketches and illustrations, and the influence of performers that are wearing the makeup, everything comes and sort of takes on its own individual look from all of those things combined.

QUESTION: I'd love to hear about work that has inspired you. I'm guessing maybe your father's on the list, and other relatives. And then advice you have for people who want to do the kind of work that you are doing now.

GrimmBARNEY BURMAN: Well yes, it's certainly my father's work in things like Cat People and The Island of Dr. Moreau and Invasion of the Body Snatchers was all certainly inspirational. His more recent work - he's done a lot of medical shows like Nip/Tuck and Grey's Anatomy, and they've done some amazing flawless work on that t- things that look absolutely lifelike, and that's what inspires me, too. I always try and make something take on as much of its own life as I can possibly make it.

Otherwise, [I] certainly respect the work of Rick Baker and (Rob Oaten) for design alone. (Rob Oaten) was a brilliant mind.

There's been other stuff from a multitude of many artists. Maybe Kevin Yeager and many artists that probably people have never heard of that I just find - if you look online, look on Facebook, there's so much beautiful work being done out there. A lot of stuff in the UK and in Italy, and everywhere all around the world I keep finding these really imaginative, wonderful ideas.

This may be sidetracking a little bit, but I was so excited when Grimm came along because it seemed like most of the shows that are being done in the States now are medical-oriented shows, and what I love to do is make creatures and monsters and change people around, and Grimm allows me to do that opportunity. So anyway, I just wanted to throw that out there.

As far as how people get it - what was the question? How do people get - what's the advice for people doing it?

QUESTION: Oh, for people who want to do what you do. For aspiring...

BARNEY BURMAN: Do it. Just start doing it. I mean, find out - there's plenty of information online. There's plenty of videos. Plenty of books out there that can be gotten through Amazon or what have you. And so it's not a big kept secret, you just got to look in the right areas and find out what are the materials people are using and just start doing it. Find some clay. Get some sculpting tools.

If you want to do makeup per se, then start making people up - making up your friends. If you want to be a sculptor, start sculpting. I would say that if anybody puts in even half the amount of time into something like this that say a doctor or a lawyer would put into becoming a doctor or a lawyer, then you can't fail.

QUESTION: I love the artwork that they supply on the show. All the sepia toned imaginings of your Ziegevolk and the Melifer, and the Hexenbiest, and all the characters that you get to design masks and whatnot. And I was wondering if you used them as a guideline, or had any input as to these drawings when they were being created for the show? And if you could talk about how your department and perhaps the art department overlaps in that way?

BARNEY BURMAN: Well, there's a lot of communication between me and props and our department and - we talk things through as much as we can, but also on a schedule this type I'm also talking to wardrobe and to the stunt coordinator. And it's kind of mayhem. It reminds me of the movie Shakespeare when I think Geoffrey Rush is trying to explain to his backers how it's all going to come together in the end. And they said, "How?" And he goes, "I don't know. It's a mystery." And that's kind of how I feel on this show.

I don't know how it's going to come together every week, but I know that it will. And we try to talk to each other as much as possible, and sometimes that's more important than other times. But as far as the established process is once the writers and producers come up with their character, they relay as much of that information what they want to the digital artists I mentioned, Jerad Marantz and Constantine Sekeris, and then they send me a design.

And then I'll take that design and start fleshing it out as a sculpture, and on the specific performer that's going to wear it. So I let their design give me a head start. And then the person's actual head and face will dictate the changes.

Does that answer your question? I'm not sure, but that's basically the routine we've fallen into.

QUESTION: There's a lot of humor, like the goat beast. You know, they're saying that possibly that John F. Kennedy, and Frank Sinatra, and Casanova were these in the past. And I was wondering, of all these particular characters that you get to recreate for you and Stevie Bettles who works with you - if you could talk about your favorite?

I know that you guys work hard with Silas weekly, as he transforms to Blutbad. [I was wondering] if you had any anecdotes or if you had any particular pet favorites?

BARNEY BURMAN: Well, Silas I got to say is one of my favorite characters on the show. He's such a really talented actor and he brings so much to that character and makes him so much fun. I'm glad you mentioned Stevie. Thank you for that because Stevie Bettles is somebody whose work I've admired over the years and have hoped to work with but never had the chance.

I met him briefly. He came in for a couple days on Star Trek, but we didn't get to socialize or anything. And then when this job came up, I just sort of took a chance and said, "Hey, are you available for this?" and he was. He'd just come off of another show and we hit it off immediately. I knew it was going to be a great match up and it was. He and I have a very similar aesthetic value as far as makeup and design and the heart goes. So I'm very, very lucky to have him on board.

And I'm actually really excited - again, I don't want to say anything that's going to give anything away, but I'm very excited about the historical elements of some of the characters that they're starting to touch on, and I personally hope it delves more into that as we move along. But, I see all kinds of really fun possibilities there.

QUESTION: Could tell us, when you first stepped into Grimm and working on the series, were there any specific creative challenges you found starting out on the show?

BARNEY BURMAN: I think the biggest challenge is always time. I come, fortunately, from a background of working very quickly in television. From my father, I grew up doing a lot of shows like The Tracy Ullman Show and then other things where we had a very, very quick turnaround from the time we got an actor in to the time they had to be on set and made up. So, that was a fantastic training ground.

But pretty much everything I do, I just always thought, "Oh, if I had another day. Oh, God. If I just had one more day to sculpt that, or one more day to paint that." But in the end, and especially when it shows up on the show, the cinematographer, Cort – I'm blanking on his last name, how embarrassing, but Cort – the cinematography is just stunning and he does such a beautiful job making anything that we make work, even if I'm not 100% satisfied, because I'm probably never 100% satisfied with my work, I know that it's in good hands as far as how it's going to be shot and how it's going to be used on the show.

QUESTION: You started working in the studio in an early age, and I hope you don't mind me asking, what are some of your earliest memories of working with your dad? And what continues to fuel your passion working in this industry?

BARNEY BURMAN: Well, one of my earliest memories, I remember my dad using me as a model to make giant rat suits for a film called Food of the Gods, and I have little moments like that. And then he used me again as a model for making the alien heads for the little aliens in Close Encounters, which is the first time I ever got paid by a production. I got $75.00 to have those aliens modeled over the top of me.

I have a lot of little things like that. He would use me as a model for doing tests for Invasion of the Body Snatchers, smearing gelatin in the hair all over me. And the gelatin being a little hot and getting little burns going, "Ow, that hurts." And he's just like, "Be quiet you baby." So I went through - I think now I might have called Social Services. I don't know.

I really enjoyed it in all honesty, being turned into all these different creatures and different things. And as I grew up, I wanted to be Lon Chaney and I wanted to end up doing makeup on myself and then performing as those characters.

And as that performing bug waned, one thing I realized is that by creating these characters on other people, I felt like I was making these - and I still feel like I'm making these completely new characters that no one's ever seen before, and bringing them to life along with the person that's wearing it.

So I feel kind of like Oz sometimes, which is an extreme, but like the guy behind the curtain. And then there's that big face out there in the front that represents him and his work.

QUESTION: You've worked on all kinds of projects from B-movie quickies for the likes of Roger Corman and epic productions like Star Trek. How does working for Grimm fit in terms of balancing time and creativity?

BARNEY BURMAN: Well, like I mentioned, I always want more time. I always want another day or another two days, or sometimes it's just a matter of another hour or two. But I feel like the creativity aspect is very similar to what I did on Star Trek, but it's just compressed as far as time goes. I feel like on Grimm they give me so much freedom and license to create. It's really a dream job for me.

And like I said, I always want to get a little more time whenever I can. So I end up working very late and working long days and long weeks, but I really wouldn't have it any other way. I'm having such a fun time doing this job, and even when there isn't time to do more, everyone's extremely nice about it. And they're, "You know sorry. But this is what we have to have by this time."

And in part, sometimes the creativity comes out of how to make that happen in this timeframe and not have the quality go away. So it's quite a challenge, but really a delightful one.

QUESTION: It sounds like you're in no danger then of falling into an assembly line mentality.

BARNEY BURMAN: I don't think I could. I don't think I would be able to survive through that.

That reminds me, there was a sound designer that I think worked on Raging Bull and he said he destroys all his tapes after every production. And whereas I'm not nearly that brave, I feel like I have the urge to do that. Once a production is done, get rid of it all and start fresh each time.

I can't bring myself to do that, and that would be irresponsible, but I certainly am of that attitude. I don't ever want to pull a stock thing off the shelf, and especially for this show because it deserves better than that.

QUESTION: As far as working on this show designing the makeup, [are you] sketching it, or using a computer, or just sculpting, or all the above, or which one of the three do you use?

GrimmBARNEY BURMAN: Well, the two designers that were on board before I came on, Jared Marantz and Constantine Sekeris, it seems like they're doing Photoshop work, and then once it comes to me I'll get the actor and start buffing it out in clay. Clay is just one of my favorite things. And in a way, I feel like I have a very old relationship with clay, I like the three-dimensional quality of it.

And then if and when things need to be tweaked or something new comes up, I'll get on the Photoshop and I'll do a little quick Photoshop-type sketching. Sometimes I'll take photos of the clay model, put that into Photoshop and tweak it to find out what's needed.

But for the most part, things have been running fairly smoothly at hitting the looks from the digital concept that they initially bring to me to the clay model, and then into the full-fledged makeup.

QUESTION: Do you have time to do a head cast of the actor?

BARNEY BURMAN: Oh, yes. We have to. It's crucial. I always want everything to be as good as it can be on this show, and the only way to do that is to make sure that we have good, proper fitting prosthetics and makeups.

SCIFI VISION: What do you find to be the hardest material to work with?

BARNEY BURMAN: For me, fiberglass. I don't like it, but fortunately I have a couple of guys on my crew that are really masters at making fiberglass work. I've only needed it a few times. I won't say for what creature, but we had - last episode, someone had to claw at the ground and we don't want rubber hands to look like rubber hands, so we made some fiberglass hands. And when I get into something like that, I get really intimidated and I want to try and think of a way not to do it because I personally don't like fiberglass. But then, I got these guys Nick Risinger, who runs my shop as well, and (Dave Pertite), who's my chief mold maker, they're like, "Yes. Don't worry about it. They'll be great." So they take it on and they - it's beautiful work. It's one of my shortcomings unfortunately, [but it] is their strength, so I was smart enough to hire guys that are better than me at certain things.

Photos by Scott Green/NBC

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