Tim Burton is one of modern filmmaking’s best-known directors — largely because his films all look like Tim Burton films. It’s hard to find a recent director whose distinct visual aesthetic has become so universally, immediately recognizable. Even in his new live-action Disney film Dumbo, which is something of a departure from Burton’s previous work — it’s a remake that doubles as a careful critique of its predecessor — it can still easily be called “Burton-esque,” like all of his movies.
But what does it mean to be “Burton-esque?” Is there a way to catalog the visual ingredients of a Burton film? And how did Burton develop such a distinct visual style that continues to resonate so strongly with audiences?
The answers to these queries are more concrete than you might expect. Burton got his start in the industry working as an animator for Walt Disney Studios, where he began to develop his staple brand of quirkiness. Before that, he grew up absorbing a range of pop art styles and cinematic influences that later led to his becoming something of an alienated gothic hero — which still makes itself felt in his work today.