Holiday Special > Text > Interviews > Tom Burman

Interview with Tom Burman, Make-Up Effects
By SKot Kirkwood - May 9, 2005

Tom Burman and his brother Ellis Burman, along with Stan Winston, worked on the Wookiee family costumes in the Holiday Special. Ellis has since retired, but Tom and his wife Bari currently run The Burman Studio, a very successful make-up effects shop that has won multiple Emmy awards and has been nominated for numerous others. We spoke with Tom about his experience on the Holiday Special a long time ago...


SKot: So you worked with Stan Winston?

Tom: Well, it was my studio at the time, and Stan wanted to go into partnership at that time. So he came and was working out of my studio for, I don't know, 8 months maybe? He didn't have a studio of his own. My studio was the only studio around back then.

SKot: Yeah, I read a couple things on your website and a couple other internet sites, and they were saying that yours was the first ever creature/make-up studio of that sort.

Tom: Yes.

SKot: Did Stan work pretty hands-on, on the production?

Tom: He did most of it. Some of the people that worked for me helped him out too. Some of the costume people and what not. Because he was just starting out...

SKot: Kind of a stepping stone for him, I guess.

Tom: I thought Stan did a bunch of renderings for [George Lucas]. He had given him some pictures that he did as a bunch of renderings. I thought it was a cool idea. I thought it was fun that they were making a family of Wookiees. I'd never liked the original Chewbacca, so I thought Stan was doing a better job than the original Chewbacca.

Realize back then I would do 4 or 5 films at once. And so he was working out of there, and I didn't charge him nor did I ever make a dollar on it. I was just working as a friend, advising him. So I didn't really pay attention to it... I thought he was doing a neat job, but other than that I was too busy doing what I was doing to give it that much attention.


Tom: I was hardly there [on the set]. I think my brother (Ellis Burman) went over there because he was helping Stan with all the mechanics... he was a makeup artist, retired now, but his real expertise was mechanical stuff, and he did some of the very early mechanical stuff, as well as like the very first Terminator, he did all the mechanical workings on the Terminator. That was his area of business; he was one of the very first people to do radio controlled mechanisms, things like that.

SKot: Did he do a lot with prosthetics, like facial prosthetics and so forth?

Tom: Well, his big thing in our business was that he mechanized those facial prosthetics, and parts and pieces for us. He had a company called Cosmokinetics.
I don't remember who else was there. I know my brother went over there a few times to help [Stan] out, as well as Vern Langdon (Vern also worked in make-up).


SKot: In addition to the articulated Wookiee masks, at the very end of the Holiday Special there was a scene, the closing scene, where there were a whole bunch of extras dressed as Wookiees, and they were very simplified, the way that they did that scene...

Tom: I think those were all Don Post masks.

SKot: Yes, that's what I've heard.

SKot: Were these modified at all from the off-the-shelf versions? Peter Kimmel (production assistant on the HS) told me the masks had like a black neoprene or rubber insert in them like a wetsuit, made more to fit a person's head rather than being just the mold of the mask.

Tom: Maybe they were put on neoprene diving material. Some people did that sort of thing from time to time. They'd mount them on that so they wouldn't fold and move oddly.

SKot: Yes, the one I've got doesn't have that--mine's just a standard off-the-shelf Don Post mask.

So, as far as the masks that you did work on, there were the three masks. The one that was most articulated was the Lumpy mask. The Chewbacca one, of course, was from Star Wars, so that had already been created. And then there was Chewbacca's wife Malla, and then the grandpa, Itchy. I believe that those two weren't very articulated...

The Itchy maskTom: Well, the grandpa was very articulated. I don't know if they took advantage of all the articulation in it in the actual show, but it was probably the most. It was funny, it was kind of toothless looking, it had a lot of gum action and was very funny.

SKot: That's right; I've seen a picture of it where you could actually see the gums. And the mouth, the jaw I guess, did move... the lower jaw, up and down.

Tom: Yeah... those were all made from vacuum forms. Overlaying vacuum forms and springs, and that sort of thing. Spring-loaded, you know, so they would fit up tight against the eyes. Foam latex on the outside of that.

SKot: And then the Malla mask seemed significantly less articulated... it didn't really have to do much during the show.

Tom: No, I don't think it did that much.

SKot: Now, I just talked to Don Bies, the curator of Lucasfilm for many years, and he was able to tell me that they have 2 of the masks still in the archives... some of the only things left over from the Holiday Special. They have the Lumpy mask and the Itchy mask. But the Malla mask disappeared at some point...

Tom: I have no idea where that went. If anybody'd had it, other than somebody stealing it, it would be Stan Winston. But I'm sure he sold them, because they were pretty tight in terms of licensing and so forth. I imagine he turned it over to them, costumes and everything.

SKot: I don't know at what point they went missing. But they do have all three of the suits, the furry suits. Did you have a hand in those as well?

Tom: Yeah, you know, I kind of helped oversee them, helped Stan with them just as an advisor. Because, you know, he had to do them very cheap, and they were going to try to hand-ventilate them and it was impossible to get them done in that length of time, so I came up with the idea to use wefting on them. It was hard to buy just wefted hair back then, so what they did was he bought dozens and dozens of wigs and took the wefting out of the wigs. It was all human hair.

SKot: I didn't know that they did that. That's one way to go.

Tom: It was easy, and at that time, cheap. Now, you could have done it with synthetic hair.


SKot: So, you didn't actually see the Special when it aired?

Tom: No, I never saw it.

SKot: You know, it's had a lot of criticism. It was two hours long, with less than an hour's worth of plot streched out over two hours, padded out with a lot of comedy and musical variety...

Tom: I know George was just upset with it, that's all I remember. Stan was hoping he would get a lot of kudos for it, because Star Wars was so popular.

SKot: Did you ever hear Lucas say what he thought about it?

Tom: I never heard exactly what his comments were. I know he just was upset, that he didn't like it. I was working with him on an equally bad or worse show called Howard the Duck. And I worked with him on Captain EO. The first time I heard him was on Captain EO, and he said he was disappointed. He didn't go into it.

SKot: It's a shame, because there was some great work that went into it. There were some really neat things in it that were forgotten over time.

Tom: Well, I always had my finger on the pulse, and they called me to work on Star Wars, and I turned them down. I thought, "What a stupid name, 'Star Wars'... I can't imagine it will turn out to be anything!"

SKot: A lot of people thought that. It sounded silly at the time!

Tom: Yeah, I worked with a camera operator who had actually worked on Star Wars, and he told me "I worked on the worst thing I've ever, ever worked on before. Do you know a guy named George Lucas?" and I said "No, I've never heard of him..." Then I said, "Actually, I did hear of him because they called me to work on that movie." And I said I knew I shouldn't have worked on it. And he said "Ah, you're lucky, what a piece of crap!" And, you know, I had to eat those words...