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Insider Profiles

Of Monsters and Men

Barney BurmanAcademy Award-winning Barney Burman was born with a passion for ghoulishness in his blood.


Describing what he does for a living, Barney Burman keeps it short and sweet. "In brief," he says, "I make monsters and dead people."

But it's not as macabre as it may sound. Burman is a special effects makeup artist who's worked on a wide range of films and television shows bringing fantastical creatures to life. He's turned actors into primates for Tim Burton's "Planet of the Apes" and into zombies for "Dawn of the Dead." He won an Academy Award for his work on J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek," for which he crafted a menagerie of aliens and Spock's Vulcan ears. Currently, he's the makeup artist on the TV show "Grimm" — hence the monsters and dead people.

Immersing himself in these realms of fantasy is something Burman was introduced to at a young age. His father, also a highly regarded makeup artist for film and TV, would put Burman into creature and monster suits. "I'd get to wear those suits around and go out made up as weird creatures on Halloween or just to go around the neighborhood scaring people looking in their windows," he says.

This childhood thrill extended to a fascination with Hollywood as a destination. Burman grew up in the Los Angeles suburb of Canoga Park, just 20 miles outside of Hollywood, yet it seemed worlds away. "There's always a little bit of mystique about Hollywood," he says. "Even being that close to it, but not being in it, created mystery and excitement to go there."

Today, Hollywood has changed a great deal. "It used to be the hub of the film industry," he says. "Now, movies are being made all over the world and in other states." Case in point: Burman flies every week to Portland, Oregon, to ferry his monstrous creations to the "Grimm" set.

But he still feels a certain attachment to the iconic neighborhood. When he needs a break from his detailed, deadline-driven work, he often visits Hollywood, where places like TCL Chinese Theatre and the Hollywood Heritage Museum offer a window into the past. Yet Burman also appreciates new venues that have sprung up in the area, such as Susan Feniger's Street restaurant, whose menu is inspired by street food from around the world.

Sampling the best of what the globe has to offer is compelling for Burman — of course, not just in the culinary sense. "I have been able to thankfully build a career and a reputation that allows me to be the one [who] producers want to go off and make movies somewhere else and bring me along [for]," he says.

At the same time, he's pleased when he can work close to home and be involved in projects that draw inspiration from the city itself. "Star Trek," for example, used sites in and around Los Angeles to create the look of its alien landscapes. It's a reminder of how slippery the line is between fantasy and reality in Tinseltown — something young Burman, sporting his monster suit, delighted in fully.

Check out Barney's Los Angeles.