Tom Burman & The Burman Studios (1970’s)

Tom Burman owns a laboratory that is unlike any other in the world. Burman Industries Inc (formally The Burman’s Studio), Inc. Van Nuys, California, sports a vacuum form machine, a large walk-in oven for curing rubber, spray-painting booths, and other tools needed in the art of creating some of the most incredible makeups of today.

Burman was born in 1940 in Santa Monica, California. When he was three, his parents moved to a house next door to Warner Brothers Studios, where they lived until he was eight. Burman’s mother wanted him to be a doctor, but it was his father who had the greatest influence upon his son’s career. The senior Burman was an inventor, sculptor, and artist. He had his own business making masks and props. During his childhood, Tom got a taste of working with rubber, plastics, and other materials.

When he first tried to get into make-up in 1962, Burman was told by the union representative that it was next to impossible, and that if he had a wife and children (which he did), not to even bother to attempt. Somewhat discouraged, but not defeated, Burman took jobs ranging from working in the sewers for the South Laguna Sanitation Department, to building a full-sized elephant for a storefront in Glendale. Ca. (the pachyderm still graces the store’s entrance).

After a long time of doing mainly unsatisfying work Burman got a call from his father, a sculptor, who was then working for the Don Post Studios on a project for a Canadian wax museum (his father is responsible for setting up the entire Post mask production line, and introduced their first line of exclusive masks). They needed help, and offered Burman a job sculpting. During this job, he met the man who would eventually become his mentor. John Chambers. It was Chambers who ultimately set Burman up to be interviewed for 20th Century Fox’s make-up apprenticeship program. He was accepted, picked out of 96 applicants, and with that, his illustrious career began.

The first big movie Burman worked on, about four months into his apprenticeship, was Planet of the Apes. He assisted John Chambers in the creation and application of the ape make-ups (consequently, he worked on all of the Ape films). Planet of the Apes won an Academy Award for Chambers, only the second make-up artist to win an Oscar (the first was William Tuttle, for The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao), and Burman was very pleased to have been a part of it.

As Chambers’ understudy for the next three years, Burman worked on virtually everything 20th Century Fox was putting before our faces, from TV shows like Lost In Space, Time Tunnel, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, to theatrical releases like Hello Dolly.’, Doctor Doolittle, and In Like Fint. Berman did everything: high fashion beauty, and corrective make-up, laying beards and making prosthetic appliances; and all with little more than a few days to have it done. “Whenever we did things like Lost In Space and Voyage,” says Burman, “I’d have one, two, maybe three days to make a monster. The experience I gained from working with all those different kinds of make-up, and with so little time, has given me a definite advantage over some of the people who do the kinds of things I do today.”

Burman’s first pictures as a non-apprentice make-up artist included The Hawaiians (1970), The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972), and Red Sky at Morning (1971) ‘, the latter two being the first shows for him that had anything to do with lab work . “I also did an old age make-up for the remake of Lost Horizon (1973),” he adds. “From there I went directly to a production a film that later ended up as the Primal Man television series.” it was the first big project Burman had done outside Fox (he had since rented space in Burbank to work on it), and he later won an Emmy for the third episode of the show.

In A Man Called Horse (1970), actor Richard Harris suffers the Indian Mandan Sun Val Ceremony, whereby he is hung by bones piercing his chest. This effect was achieved by building a false chest, using foam rubber and having pockets in them filled with blood so that when cut into, the blood would flow out. This ceremony had to be researched so that it would be done as accurately as possible.

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Burman does most of his work in foam latex when dealing with appliances or prosthetics that go on the face or any part of the body, feeling that it’s been a most convincing material. He pre-colors and pre-paints almost all of his work. He also manufactures his own makeup that goes on rubber, explaining that you can’t use just any makeup on rubber, as it has a tendency to react chemically with the rubber.


Gargoyles ( 1972 TV Movie)

“Gargoyles” was one of the first productions that Stan Winston worked on as a special effects make-up artist.  He worked with Ellis Burman, Jr. and veteran make-up artist Del Armstrong in designing the “gargoyle” special effects makeup for Bernie Casey, Mickey Alzola, Rock Walker and Greg Walker’s gargoyle character roles. “Gargoyles:” An Emmy award-winning telefilm. Bill Norton’s “Gargoyles” won the 1973 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup (Ellis Burman, Jr.; Stan Winston and Del Armstrong).

Ellis Burman designed the leader of the gargoyles, who was portrayed by actor Bernie Casey, and Winston designed the background gargoyles, of which there were approximately twenty. Although some sketches were done before Winston became involved, there were only two weeks of preproduction time allotted. The script called for creatures that were part man, part bird, part lizard, part animal.

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“What it amounted to,” Winston related, “is that when I got my hands into the clay, my mind ’went bananas,’ so to speak. I had reptile books in front of me, bird books in front of me; and the gargoyle became more of a reptilian birdlike creature, rather than the gargoyle creatures of ancient times.”

Bernie Casey, leader of the gargoyles, was designed to look more like a devil/demon creature. His skin was of a reptilian quality, yet his face was more manlike. He had enormous wings that actually beat. It was a heavy, cumbersome, trying makeup. Casey and Winston became close friends, and because of their camaraderie and the stress Casey was under in portraying this creature, Winston took on the job of applying Burman’s creation. Winston did design the demon gargoyles’ teeth.

The background gargoyles wore slip-rubber (over-the-head) masks. Because they had only two weeks in which to accomplish the entire job, the suits themselves were designed by special effects man Ross Wheat. The suits were basically wet suits, and everyone pitched in to apply the scales. The heads, face, and hands of the gargoyles were what was designed by the Makeup Department, that is, Burman and Winston.

One sequence at the end of the film called for two baby gargoyles to crack forth from their eggs. The design of these little creatures fell to Winston. To Winston’s way of thinking, baby “anythings” are cute, and of anything he designed on the film, the most challenging for him was to design two “cute” baby gargoyles. One of the baby gargoyles was actually one of the producer’s sons.

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The Thing with Two Heads (1972)

The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (1973)


Tom and his brother Ellis Burman were responsible for the title character’s unique mask, metal teeth and crushed face for Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

“I did Phantom while John Chambers and myself were in partnership,” Tom Burman recalls. “It was The John Chambers Studio, and I bought him out when he wanted to leave, because he thought he had Hodgkin’s disease. I took it over, and Paul Lewis, the producer/ production manager of Phantom, came in and told me what he wanted. I never met Brian De Palma on that, though I met him later when did some of his other films; I worked through Paul. We did Phantom extra-cheap, because it was the first job my brother and I had as our own independent shop.”

The Phantom, a.k.a. Winslow Leach (William Finley), has a unique look with his birdlike helmet and steel teeth-a design that has been imitated numerous times in movies, TV shows and comic books since. “I know, I know,” Burman laughs. “I noticed that, too! I would like to take credit for that, but Ellis made the helmet. I sketched it out and my brother sculpted, molded, cast and painted it. I did the Phantom’s teeth; the guy next door was a dental technician who specialized in making metal plates to go between teeth, and that made me think, ‘Metal teeth would be kind of cool.’


“I also did the Phantom’s face wound, with the Death Records label on it. The helmet the Phantom wore was fiberglass, while his facial scar was a foam rubber prosthetic; we had done a life cast of William Finley’s head. We also did some of the gore, I believe we did the makeup at the end, when the Phantom stabs himself.”

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A Bigfoot creature was created for a Wolper documentary called Monsters! Mysteries or Myths (1974). Burman purchased every publication he could get on Bigfoot to come up with his concept. The appliances were foam rubber; the teeth were made of acrylic. All of the hair pads were glued directly onto the actor’s skin. Feet were made for him but not hands. The man stood seven feet three and a half inches high. The makeup took three hours for the face and two hours for the body—five hours of makeup!

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Up from the Ape (1974) (THE ANIMAL WITHIN)

William Shatner had the opportunity of working with Burman again in the short-lived television series “The Barbary Coast (1975).” Time was extremely sparse on this series, and Shatner, Burman, and the wardrobe man were given only a bare outline of the character involved each week to work from. The three of them would confer as to what their ideas on the character were, then separate to do their individual jobs. Much to his surprise, Shatner discovered that once the makeup was applied and the costume donned, he could look into a mirror and become the character whose lines he’d memorized. The wardrobe and makeup would suggest to him that special gait or voice so necessary to bring forth the character he was to portray.

1975 Barbary Coast

There were days on “The Barbary Coast” that Shatner had to have three extensive makeups applied in one day. Several days he spent as much as nine hours in the makeup chair. With nearly twenty-seven different characterizations, none of which were even similar, Shatner recalls “The Barbary Coast” as a physically punishing show but considers Burman a genius in his field

In The Devil’s Rain (1975) with Ernest Borgnine, it was necessary to create the effect of people melting, and the challenge was to bring them down to nothing without using stop-motion. Tom’s ever-present objective when working on such a film is to fool the audience and have them ask, “How the heck did he do it?”

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The makeup team went into this picture rather blindly, and after a lot of brainstorming, it was decided to use inflatable figures. A vacuum was used to draw the figures down to nothing. At the same time, liquid and smoke were pumped into the figures. The effect of breathing was created by injecting air into the dummy, drawing it out, injecting it in, drawing it out; but each time drawing out a little more so that it would start to sag, at the same time, pumping more smoke and fluid. Three different colors of fluid were used, and the effect of a person melting into the ground was achieved. In the beginning of the melting process the people would have, as Tom describes it, “goop” running off their arms and hands. This would accumulate and smolder until their faces appeared to slowly melt away.

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Ernest Borgnine played the grotesque Goat Demon. Foam appliances were used on all the melting faces, similar to those made for Planet of the Apes (1968). A wig covered a fiberglass helmet that had the goat horns attached to it. Tubes went into the appliances so that it would spill the “melting fluid” out through small holes. William Shatner, who also starred in The Devil’s Rain, described the ordeal he and the others faced with the makeup demanded for their roles.

“We were fitted for a mask which covered the cheekbones and forehead. The eye-holes were covered with a gauze-like material that allowed us to see but gave the appearance that we had no eyes. Actually, we were practically blinded. This went on for days. When the time came to “melt,” liquid was injected into tubes and poured out of the eye-holes. This gave us the feeling of drowning because the liquid first filled the mask, filling our noses before pouring out the eye-holes.”

Monsters! Mysteries and Myths (1974)

The Mysterious Monsters (1975)

The Food of the Gods (1976), which starred Ida Lupino, Pamela Franklin, Marjoe Gortner, and John Cypher, had its problems, too. With only thirty days to tackle the task of creating and building fifteen giant rats, two giant chickens, ten giant worms, and eight giant wasps, plus the various makeup appliances, there was no time for preliminary sketches nor for trial and error construction.

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Seven of the giant rats had to be animated, and their heads had to be removable for close-up inserts. The chickens and the rats were built from neoprene the heads cast in neoprene and the bodies modeled in clay. Hard neoprene was used because of its durability, enabling the crew to mount the mechanics inside the neoprene without risk. The feet, ears, and tails were cast in latex, and the bodies were covered with scotch foam and synthetic hair (fun fur). The mechanical heads were used as inserts, appearing at the edge of the picture, from left or right, when they were devouring people. They had one handle with which to hold the head and another handle to operate the mouth and pull back the lips. The rooster head was operated in the same way.

Three of the rats were suits. Burman’s son, Barney, would crawl inside the suit and operate it when they wanted the rat leaping toward the camera or onto someone’s back. The other five rats were complete dummies, over nine feet long. The insects were cast in neoprene, and the wings were vacuum formed in clear vinyl plastic. The worms were built out of foam rubber, using monofilament inside so they could be animated. To animate them, Tom put a small hole in the top of a table, and by pulling underneath the table, the worm would coil up. When the monofilament was released, the worm would straighten out. When the worms wrapped themselves around Ida Lupino, the effect was most realistic indeed.

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The rooster was made with neoprene, and the inside of its mouth was foam rubber. The combs were foam rubber so that when the rooster went from side to side, they would flop like a real rooster’s would. The eye was vacuum formed and hand-painted. The body was made from scotch foam, covered with “tricky feathers” that were dyed individually to match the actual rooster that was used for the matte shots. A matte shot is a technique of blending actors filmed in the studio with trick scenes or scenes done on location. The actor is filmed against a non reflective background such as blue velvet. A high-contrast negative of this image is then combined with the desired background.

The insects in The Food of the Gods were cast in neoprene and the wings were vacuum formed in clear vinyl plastic.  In making up the men who were stung by the giant wasps, Burman made a series of foam-latex appliances and the camera was made to move back and forth from one actor to another. Each time that the audience would see the actor, his face was a little more swollen. Burman used about five stages of swollen face, laying the actor down in place, putting one appliance on, coloring him, taking it off while the camera was on the other actor, then putting on a more swollen face for the next shot.

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Plagued by the unpleasant weather, and being on a fifteen-by-three-mile-wide island with only one small store for supplies, the production team had their share of accidents. They constructed a large rooster wing, and then it was left out in the snow. It had to be dried and almost rebuilt right there on the island.

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Burman found himself facing another difficult task when he created the spacesuit and the alien look for David Bowie for his role in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). The space suit that was created was another difficult task. The use of radiator tubing made David Bowie appear as if he had to wear a cooling suit on the planet he came from. The suit had to be totally self-contained. Burman had to have compressed air bottles concealed inside a special backpack. The compressed air was metered through regulators and flow valves and injected into a suit that was filled with liquid so the air bubbles would pass through and give the effect of liquid in motion. Although Burman played around with this for months,

In 1976, Tom bought Ellis’ interest in the business (Ellis went on to open his own shop, Cosmikinetics), but the brothers still work together on many projects, as each values the other’s resources. “Ellis’ real expertise,” says Tom, is in animation and mechanical articulation. He’s a good artist too.” In keeping with what appears to be family tradition, Tom’s eldest son Robert now works at the Burman Studio doing lab work, in hopes of entering his father’s profession.

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In Demon Seed (1977), a supercomputer, complete with the power to reason, produces a child through artificial insemination. A complete body cast of a midget was taken for the Demon Seed and over that the entire suit was sculptured. Plaster molds were made, then cast in neoprene, then recast in rubber. Each one of the segments of neoprene was cut apart, polished, painted, and then stuck back onto the thin rubber suit. They were all formed together so that the midget could actually get inside. The arms, legs, head, and body were all separate pieces, and it was put on much the same as a suit of armor would be put on. It was a very difficult structure to work out, as the scales were overlapping so that one scale could fold within another, allowing the man to move freely.

Empire of the Ants (1977)

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Burman spent part of the winter of 1977 in the Virgin Islands where work was in progress on The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977). Burman’s creative input came not in the concept but in the detailing of the Humanimals, the name given the half animal, half human beasts. By employing his expertise in the realm of synthetic or “fun fur” and scotch foam, Burman was able to create the illusion of furry bodies, particularly with the Bullman. Burman considers the Bullman as one of his most successful Humanimal creations, likening his pathetic looks to an almost Frankenstein quality.

Tom was hired to build aliens for Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). The aliens, which were designed by Joe Alves, were animated by radio control, and quite a unique effect; but when Tom showed up with them on the set in Mobile, Alabama, the director rejected them after having approved the whole lot from photographs. “Actually, what was so bad.” recounts Tom, “was that they didn’t tell me this to my face. When I got there they didn’t make any sort of comments at least not to me then later the producer, Julia Phillips, called me into her office and told me that the heads I had built ‘sucked’. That’s the word she used.” Tom smiles. “I think what they wanted was for me to become angry enough to quit. Then they could buy time  which they used anyway by saying ‘the make-up man quit’, and putting it all on me.” Tom didn’t quit. He went back to his studio, took ten days, and he and his brother Ellis rebuilt everything. They brought it all back to Alabama, Spielberg approved it all, and everything appeared to be fine. “We left the show because I had another commitment,” says Tom, “and then Spielberg turned right around and wouldn’t give me credit for what I’d done.” Perhaps the crowning blow, according to Tom, was that Spielberg later publicly put him down in an article that appeared in Cinefantastique, saying Tom had not done his job properly. “Spielberg’s an extremely talented man,” emphasizes Tom, “but he has some growing up to do in this business.”

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I also did the metal teeth for Richard Kiel as Jaws in the James Bond movies The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979), although I believe John Chambers was given credit.

1979 Moonraker (1979

 For the most part, Tom is designer, sculptor, and lab technician. He has created special make-up effects for a good many pictures, including Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) (the pods and doubles of the actors), In June of 1977 Burman met with director Philip Kaufman and producer Bob Sole to begin discussion of concepts for their latest undertaking, a remake of the fifties science fiction sleeper which became a classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This version, filmed in color as opposed to the original black and white, was to be a remake more than a sequel. Although the story line remained similar to the original, it was also to be updated. The film starred Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, and Leonard Nimoy. Kevin McCarthy, who played the film’s hero Dr. Miles Bennell in the original version, does a guest appearance. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is extremely vivid, and Tom Burman, along with his partner in this project and longtime good friend Ed Henriques, began in September of 1977 to create the special makeup effects needed for the film. Burman was faced with the problem of creating a pulsating pod which would split open and from which a fetus would emerge. The fetus would then begin to grow into one of the actors. Seedpods were created in various scaled sizes, with the first fetus designed to about the actual size of a real infant. This infant was mechanically animated.

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Joe Gibb, an actor who is also a midget, portrayed the second-sized fetus. Gibb was covered with foam-latex appliances to effectively portray the second-sized fetus. The third, and full-sized pod person, was covered with a clear plastic silicone material, had nylon “tendrils” inserted in the material, giving an almost corn-silk appearance over his body. Throughout the film, a dilapidated beggar is seen on the streets with his dog, a boxer. Donald Sutherland comes across the sleeping beggar in one sequence and sees one of the frightening pods (which are the body snatchers) forming next to the beggar’s body. Angered, Sutherland kicks the pod. Later, Sutherland and Adams, behaving as though their bodies have already been snatched by the pods, are discovered by the beggar’s dog, who now has the face of the beggar. In order to achieve this makeup effect, a cast was taken of the beggar’s face and also of the dog’s face. Burman then fit the beggar’s face to the dog’s and the results were stupendous. In the film’s finale, Brooke Adams collapses as though she is drying up. This was achieved by making an inflatable skull. A foam-latex appliance of Adams’s face covered the skull. A vacuum pump, hooked to the skull, drew the face into the skull first, and then the skull deflates.

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The physical creation of Misquamacus for The Manitou (1978) was assigned to the skilled hands of Tom Burman. It’s very difficult to design prosthetic pieces that move, bend and wrinkle naturally. says Tom Burman. Also the anatomy had to be exaggerated they wanted a very ‘ropey’ look to the muscles. The design seeks to elongate the upper body, torso and abdomen. It was very difficult to incorporate that look and still make it functional.” Once the final visualization was agreed upon, a positive cast had to be constructed of the actor’s body, the entire body head, hands, feet, everything! The hands, feet and face were cast in the standard alginate. The body cast was taken with plaster bandages. First the actor was coated with vaseline, then plaster bandages were applied directly to the skin. ‘We marked the body at halfway points with indelible pencil.” There were 36 pieces, including wig. scleral lenses, and teeth. Felix Sita and Joe Gieb played the role. The application took five sometimes six hours to complete. Of the Misquamacus actors Tom says: They were the most cooperative subjects I’ve worked on-never complained at all. I would have cried like a baby if someone had done that to me! The sequences involving Misquamacus in makeup took about 7 or 8 days to complete and received an ovation of appreciation from the crew.


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Prophecy (1979)

The cub is part mechanical and part puppet. Its facial designs are manipulated by both standard hand-puppet procedures and wires: a marinette-meets-the-muppets design. In certain scenes, when a full body shot of the cub is called for. a mechanized, thrashing body makes an appearance.

For mother, a similar approach was developed that combined both live-action and mechanical effects. A bear suit of the monstrous variety was designed and built. Instead of using muscle-bound stuntmen to portray the full-sized bear, however, director John Frankenheimer recruited a few ballet dancers and mimes to give the giant a powerful, yet graceful movement. Its actions were choreographed to the 9th degree, leaving no movement to chance . Adding to its grace is the fact that the creature was photographed so the movements in the final film are in lumbering down motion.

The creature’s mutated head was filled with special air pockets that allowed every small nuance, every nerve, every muscle of its face to seeming come alive on screen. These air pockets were alternatively filled and depleted by computer control during the creature’s various periods of rage. Its cheeks bellowed. Its eyes rolled. Its lips twitched menacingly as the cameras rolled. The finished creature Is both a mixture of outright horror and spectacular subtlety, as fascinating as it is gruesome.

Tom Burman & The Burman Studios (1970’s)

The Thing with Two Heads (1972)

Frogs (1972)

The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972)

When the Legends Die (1972)

Gargoyles (1972) Ellis Burman Jr.

Lost Horizon (1973)

Genesis II (1973)

The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (1973)

Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Monsters! Mysteries and Myths (1974)

Up from the Ape (1974) (THE ANIMAL WITHIN)

Barbary Coast (TV Series) (1975)

The Mysterious Monsters (1975)

The Food of the Gods (1976)

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) Ellis Burman Jr.

The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)

Empire of the Ants (1977)

Dark Echoes (1977)

Demon Seed (1977)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

The Manitou (1977)

Ringo (TV Movie 1978)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Prophecy (1979)











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