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Cult Stars

How an Oscar-Winning Make-Up Artist Brings Wild Characters to Life

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Fri, Aug 16, 2013 at 10:23 AM

click to enlarge Making up Volcanalis, a character on NBC's Grimm - NBC
  • NBC
  • Making up Volcanalis, a character on NBC's Grimm
Volcanalis only appeared in one episode of NBC's fantasy show Grimm, but he certainly made an impact. A monstrous figure, he glowed lava-orange with a face that was cracked and charred at the edges.

Turning this impressive concept into a TV reality proved to be a challenge for Academy Award-winning special effects make-up artist Barney Burman and his B2FX team. They had two weeks to crank out Volcanalis inside B2FX's North Hollywood headquarters and transport the pieces to Grimm's Portland, Oregon set. Altogether, about a dozen people were involved in turning actor Brian Steele into a character who was, essentially, a walking volcano.

"I read the script and thought it was going to be this big CG character," Burman recalls. "The CG guys asked, 'Can you do this?"

Burman says that he hadn't been so nervous about a project since he worked on Star Trek, the 2009 film. That was a big deal, a project so grand and intense that he now has an Oscar to show for his efforts.

Grimm is a little different. It's an ongoing gig for B2FX and, in this particular instance, Burman was tasked with a character so conceptually wild that he wasn't quite sure how to approach it. After some brainstorming, the team kicked into gear, working in ways that they hadn't done before Volcanalis. They made a prosthetic suit. In addition, they made a light suit, a form-fitting piece to be worn under the prosthetics. They worked out a way to get the characters' mouth to light up like a volcanic eruption. "I had no idea that it was going to work until we got it on set and turned it on," says Burman. In the end, Volcanalis was a scorching success.

click to enlarge Barney Burman in his studio - LIZ OHANESIAN
  • Liz Ohanesian
  • Barney Burman in his studio
This is the crux of Burman's job. You give him a concept for a fantastic character. He makes something that will mess with the audience's sense of fiction and reality. He does this for TV, film, music videos and a host of other related projects.

Burman was raised in the make-up world. His grandfather made masks and other items -- "things that were make-up FX before they had a name for it," he says -- for film. His dad helped usher in the new wave of FX make-up in the 1970s and '80s. When Burman was a child, he had a fetus that his father crafted for The Other and would bring it to school just to get a rise out of people. By the time he was 18, he was working in the FX make-up industry while pursuing an acting career. Years later, when Burman hit his early 30s, he moved away from the on-camera facet of his career to concentrate on his behind-the-scenes work.

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