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Interview with Tom Burman, Make-Up Effects
By SKot Kirkwood - May 9, 2005
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
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...
ON STAN WINSTON
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
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.
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.
ON ELLIS BURMAN
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).
ON THE WOOKIEE COSTUMES
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...
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
Tom: It was easy, and at that time, cheap. Now, you could
have done it with synthetic hair.
ON THE HOLIDAY SPECIAL ITSELF
SKot: So, you didn't actually see the Special when it
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
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
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
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...