Masters Of Color: Tim Burton

There are two sides to Tim Burton that come across in most of his work. Through the use of a variety of light sources, color tones, and his hand-painted characters he expressively creates two separate, colorful worlds that captivate viewers and tickle their imaginations: a dark, grey scale Gothic world, and a goofy world, filled with pastels and striped patterns.

Color in Films

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Color is another huge element in Burton’s films, created by careful lighting and, in the case of his puppet films, pensively hand-painting… Besides granting “Nightmare” a Gothic flair, the lights and colors contribute to the film’s symbolism.


In Halloween Land, everything appears in gloomy shades because the characters there lack the sincerity, hope, and imagination of a warmer atmosphere. In Christmas Land, the landscape buzzes with all the festive colors traditionally associated with the holidays; the waves of red, green, and gold allude to cheer and optimism. The Real World, where Jack goes to deliver presents, though, is much blander; the houses, the cars, the people–everything is a neutral tone or a humdrum pastel. In other words, reality hovers somewhere between Halloween Land and Christmas Land in terms of faith and rosy sentiments. – Excerpt from A Brief Exploration of Tim Burton’s Special Effects by Christine Stoddard’s


Corpse Bride

Just as the color palette is very precise in “Nightmare”–with all its carefully chosen shades, “Corpse Bride” also features two main color families that help contrast two worlds through the use of diligent lighting and hand-painting. Life scenes show everything in grays, like tintypes, while Death scenes are much more flamboyant (Burton 2008). The Life scenes therefore come across as uptight and dreary, whereas the Death scenes read as significantly more relaxed and fun. – Excerpt from A Brief Exploration of Tim Burton’s Special Effects by Christine Stoddard’s



Edward Scissorhands

The first thing that strikes the viewer is the use of colours. The small mountain and the mansion on top of it are set in a dark grey shade that strongly contrast to the pastel colours of the suburb below. This can also be found in the clothing of people. While Edward’s colours are black and white the others are dressed in soft pastels. Since black is the traditional colour signifying the bad guys we of course assume at first glance that Edward is evil. this is also emphasised by his hands. If we imagine this film with Edward dressed in white or some shade of pastel it would not have the same effect.


The suburb is, as I have already mentioned, set in pastel colours; cars, houses and inhabitants. I associate pastel with things like My Little Pony and dresses with puffed sleeves and lace. These are very harmless colours making the suburb look like a utopia from the 60’s, in contrast to the dark nightmare image of the mansion lurking in the background. This use of pastel and black distances Edward from the others and shows that he is an outsider. This contrast between him and the residents of the suburb is used throughout the movie.


Toward the end of the film there is a slight change in the colours. Kim and Edward forms a unit because she is now dressed in white, which reflects both her innocence and that she is the only one that still believes that he is good and that he does not mean any harm. – Excerpt From Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands by Inger Fransson

Tim Burton’s Mad Hatter

The original Disney Alice  in Wonderland featured a bright Mad Hatter adorned mostly in green. Tim Burton’s Mad Hatter takes on a much darker quality, with sensual shades of black and maroon velvet. The face, surrounded by frizzy neon colored hair, is a ghostly pale save for dramatic pink cheeks and dark pink rings under the eyes. – Excerpt from Halloween: Tim Burton’s Mad Hatter Costume



More Info | Interactive Exhibit

November 22, 2009–April 26, 2010

Taking inspiration from popular culture, Tim Burton (American, b. 1958) has reinvented Hollywood genre filmmaking as an expression of personal vision, garnering for himself an international audience of fans and influencing a generation of young artists working in film, video, and graphics. This exhibition explores the full range of his creative work, tracing the current of his visual imagination from early childhood drawings through his mature work in film.


It brings together over seven hundred examples of rarely or never-before-seen drawings, paintings, photographs, moving image works, concept art, storyboards, puppets, maquettes, costumes, and cinematic ephemera from such films as Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Batman, Mars Attacks!, Ed Wood, and Beetlejuice, and from unrealized and little-known personal projects that reveal his talent as an artist, illustrator, photographer, and writer working in the spirit of Pop Surrealism. The gallery exhibition is accompanied by a complete retrospective of Burton’s theatrical features and shorts, as well as a lavishly illustrated publication.

From The CL Library

Tim_Burton_Interview tim_burton

tim_burtons_hallway Tim_Burton

tim_burton_rakes Tim_Burtons_Autumn

tim_burton_rocks tim_burton_was_here

Tim_Burton Tim_Burton´s_Phsyce

tim_burton Tim_Burton

Tim_Burton´s_Magic Tim_Burton_Rocks

Author: evad
David Sommers has been loving color as COLOURlovers' Blog Editor-in-Chief for the past two years. When he's not neck deep in a rainbow he's loving other things with The Post Family (, a Chicago-based art blog, artist collective & gallery.