A Visual Retrospective of the Bold Sets and Aesthetic Style of Tim Burton’s Films

Known for his playful “Burtonesque” gothic style, Tim Burton has carved his own niche characterized by stark, eerie atmospheres and whimsical fantasy.

Renowned filmmaker Tim Burton established his distinct “Burtonesque” visual style through a childhood fascination with the unearthly and grotesque. Growing up in sunny Burbank, California, Burton found solace in the dark and eerie, frequenting cemeteries over playing typical childhood games. His love for Hammer horror films and B-movie sci-fi laid the foundation for his quirky, gothic aesthetic.

“Anybody with artistic ambitions is always trying to reconnect with the way they saw things as a child.”

Burton’s artistic journey began at Walt Disney Studios, where he worked as an animator, infusing his illustrations with a unique quirkiness. His early years at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) marked a period of artistic experimentation. Burton stood out as part of a group of “outcasts” who embraced creative risks and experimentation.

Although his time at Disney proved challenging, Burton’s iconoclastic style took root, featuring elongated shapes and a touch of the macabre. Disney rejected some of his concepts, including “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” a film that later became a hallmark of his career.

Tim Burton’s break came when he directed “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” in 1985, grossing $40 million on a modest budget. This success paved the way for iconic films like “Beetlejuice,” “Batman,” and “Edward Scissorhands.” Burton’s art and cinema are heavily influenced by German Expressionism, characterized by exaggerated backdrops, high colour contrasts, and a dreamlike unreality.

The Day of the Dead celebration in Latin America profoundly impacted Burton, as evidenced by films like “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Corpse Bride.” His gothic style, rooted in the unsettling and awe-inspiring, transformed suburban landscapes into dystopian realms, as seen in films like “Beetlejuice” and “Sweeney Todd.”

Burton’s influences, ranging from mid-century sci-fi to horror films, shaped his eclectic style. Yet, he can blend the ominous with the whimsy that separates his work. This joyful idiosyncrasy, rooted in a childhood spent feeling like an outsider, resonates with audiences, making Tim Burton’s films both personal and universally relatable. His legacy as a visionary director continues to captivate viewers, transcending the superficially sunny suburbs he once felt alienated.

Tim Burton Production Design: A Look at the Bold Sets of Every Tim Burton Film Share on X

Tim Burton Style


The Tim Burton Production Design Aesthetic


Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

Tim Burton Production Design | Tim Burton Style | Every Tim Burton Film

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When eccentric man-child Pee-wee Herman gets his beloved bike stolen in broad daylight, he sets out across the U.S. on the adventure of his life.

Director: Tim Burton
Production Designer: David L. Snyder
Set Decorator: Thomas L. Roysden


Beetlejuice (1988)

Tim Burton Production Design | Tim Burton Style | Every Tim Burton Film

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The spirits of a deceased couple are harassed by an unbearable family that has moved into their home, and hire a malicious spirit to drive them out.

Director: Tim Burton
Production Designer: Bo Welch
Art Director: Tom Duffield
Set Decorator: Catherine Mann


Batman (1989)

Tim Burton Production Design | Tim Burton Style | Every Tim Burton Film

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The Dark Knight of Gotham City begins his war on crime with his first major enemy being Jack Napier, a criminal who becomes the clownishly homicidal Joker.

Director: Tim Burton
Production Designer: Anton Furst
Supervising Art Director: Leslie Tomkins
Set Decorator: Peter Young


Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Tim Burton Production Design | Tim Burton Style | Every Tim Burton Film

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An artificial man, who was incompletely constructed and has scissors for hands, leads a solitary life. Then one day, a suburban lady meets him and introduces him to her world.

Director: Tim Burton
Production Designer: Bo Welch
Supervising Art Director: Tom Duffield
Set Decorator: Cheryl Carasik


Batman Returns (1992)

Tim Burton Production Design | Tim Burton Style | Every Tim Burton Film

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Batman returns to the big screen when a deformed man calling himself the Penguin wreaks havoc across Gotham with the help of a cruel businessman.

Director: Tim Burton
Production Designer: Bo Welch
Supervising Art Director: Tom Duffield
Set Decorator: Cheryl Carasik


Ed Wood (1994)

Tim Burton Production Design | Tim Burton Style | Every Tim Burton Film

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Ambitious but troubled movie directorΒ Edward D. Wood Jr.Β tries his best to fulfill his dreams, despite his lack of talent.

Director: Tim Burton
Production Designer: Tom Duffield
Art Director: Okowita
Set Decorator: Cricket Rowland


Mars Attacks! (1996)

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Earth is invaded by Martians with unbeatable weapons and a cruel sense of humor.

Director: Tim Burton
Production Designer: Wynn Thomas
Supervising Art Director: James Hegedus
Set Decorator: Nancy Haigh


Sleepy Hollow (1999)

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Ichabod Crane is sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate the decapitations of three people, with the culprit being the legendary apparition, The Headless Horseman.

Director: Tim Burton
Production Designer: Rick Heinrichs
Supervising Art Director: Leslie Tomkins
Set Decorator: Peter Young


Planet of the Apes (2001)

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In 2029, an Air Force astronaut crash-lands on a mysterious planet where evolved, talking apes dominate a race of early, rudimentary humans.

Director: Tim Burton
Production Designer: Rick Heinrichs
Supervising Art Director: John Dexter
Set Decorator: Rosemary Brandenburg


Big Fish (2003)

Tim Burton Production Design | Tim Burton Style | Every Tim Burton Film

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A frustrated son tries to determine the fact from fiction in his dying father’s life.

Director: Tim Burton
Production Designer: Dennis Gassner
Art Directors: Roy Barnes, Jean-Michel Ducourty, Robert Fechtman, Jack Johnson, and Richard L. Johnson
Set Decorator: Nancy Haigh


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

Tim Burton Production Design | Tim Burton Style | Every Tim Burton Film

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A young boy wins a tour through the most magnificent chocolate factory in the world, led by the world’s most unusual candy maker.

Director: Tim Burton
Production Designer: Alex McDowell
Supervising Art Director: Leslie Tomkins
Set Decorator: Peter Young


Corpse Bride (2005)

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When a shy groom practices his wedding vows in the inadvertent presence of a deceased young woman, she rises from the grave assuming he has married her.

Director: Tim Burton and Mike Johnson
Production Designer: Alex McDowell
Art Director: Nelson Lowry


Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

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The infamous story of Benjamin Barker, aka Sweeney Todd, who sets up a barber shop in London which is the basis for a sinister partnership with his fellow tenant, Mrs. Lovett.

Director: Tim Burton
Production Designer: Dante Ferretti
Supervising Art Director: Gary Freeman
Set Decorator: Francesca Lo Schiavo


Alice in Wonderland (2010)

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Nineteen-year-old Alice returns to the magical world from her childhood adventure, where she reunites with her old friends and learns of her true destiny: to end the Red Queen’s reign of terror.

Director: Tim Burton
Production Designer: Robert Stromberg
Supervising Art Director: Stefan Dechant
Set Decorator: Karen O’Hara


Dark Shadows (2012)

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An imprisoned vampire, Barnabas Collins, is set free and returns to his ancestral home, where his dysfunctional descendants are in need of his protection.

Director: Tim Burton
Production Designer: Rick Heinrichs
Supervising Art Director: Chris Lowe
Set Decorator: John Bush


Frankenweenie (2012)

When a boy’s beloved dog passes away suddenly, he attempts to bring the animal back to life through a powerful science experiment.

Director: Tim Burton
Production Designer: Rick Heinrichs
Art Directors: Tim Browning and Alexandra Walker


Big Eyes (2014)

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A drama about the awakening of painterΒ Margaret Keane, her phenomenal success in the 1950s, and the subsequent legal difficulties she had with her husband, who claimed credit for her works in the 1960s.

Director: Tim Burton
Production Designer: Rick Heinrichs
Supervising Art Director: Chris August
Key Set Decorator: Shane Vieau


Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

Tim Burton Production Design

When Jacob discovers clues to a mystery that stretches across time, he finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. But the danger deepens after he gets to know the residents and learns about their special powers.

Director: Tim Burton
Production Designer: Gavin Bocquet
Supervising Art Director: Peter Russell
Set Decorators: Jan Pascale, Monica Alberte, and Elli Griff


Dumbo (2019)

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A young elephant, whose oversized ears enable him to fly, helps save a struggling circus, but when the circus plans a new venture, Dumbo and his friends discover dark secrets beneath its shiny veneer.

Director: Tim Burton
Production Designer: Rick Heinrichs
Supervising Art Director: Chris Lowe
Set Decorator: John Bush


The Stylish Trademarks of Every Tim Burton Film


What do you think of the Tim Burton production design aesthetic? Which Tim Burton film is your favourite? As always, we would love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

 

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Posted by Alison Hickey

Alison Hickey is a set designer based in Toronto. Her credits include 'Schitt's Creek', 'The Good Witch', 'Remedy', and 'Spun Out'.

  1. LOVE THIS POST! LOVE! love love love. thank you πŸ™‚
    my favorite set will always be edward scissorhands. i love the pastel suburban tract houses, the kitsch, everything.

    Reply

  2. My favorites are “Sleepy Hollow” and one you didn’t list “Sweeney Todd”. I love it when he goes back in time and recreates those stylish, old world sets.

    Reply

  3. +1 for Tim Burton and this post.

    @Edwina, Sleepy Hollow is right there between Mars Attacks! (1996) and Big Fish (2003).

    Reply

  4. Edwina, I had Sweeney Todd lined up but it slipped through the cracks! I just added it to the post now. πŸ™‚

    Reply

  5. I love them all! So hard to pick a favourite. I really love Edward Scissorhands, and I thought that Sleepy Hollow was very beautiful. Alice in Wonderland was truly fantastic, though! I’m hoping it wins!!
    -J

    Reply

  6. thats so weird burton has a really unique visual style yet he has almost always used a different production designer!

    to be hon. i thought alice in wonderland was DREADFUL, i hope it doesnt win anything, TRON deserves it way more (have you guys peeped the directors background? Architecture degree hello!)
    Apart from Avatar, i doubt we will see such a big budget design heavy flick for a while! I was literally salivating in the theatre…

    I guess Edward Scissorhands was nice but my fave burton prod design is prb the nightmare before chrsitmas. does that count? πŸ™‚

    keep up the blog, shame it isnt more often, btw who is alison? i only knew about rose πŸ™‚ love and wallpaper

    Reply

  7. I wanted to put Nightmare Before Christmas on this list but I wanted to keep it to just movies Burton directed, and Henry Selick directed that one. It’s one of my favourites too, though. πŸ™‚

    I’m a film student who is helping Rose with posts for the website.

    Reply

  8. 17 Interesting Things To Know About Tim Burton - Just Girly Things August 8, 2017 at 2:09 PM

    […] Art Departmental […]

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