Exclusive: Academy Award-Nominee Barney Burman Talks Star Trek Makeup, Oscars & Sequel Klingons

As noted yesterday’s Academy Award analysis, the Makeup category appears to be Star Trek’s best chance to take home an Oscar, which would be a first for the franchise. So TrekMovie thought it would be good to check in with nominee Barney Burman to see how he is dealing with the Oscar nomination, and to talk about his work on the first Star Trek, and what he would like to do in the next one.  


Barney Burman is a third generation makeup effects artist from an extended family that has been doing movie makeup for decades. He has worked on over 80 different film and television projects since starting off as a teenager. His first job was actually working in the makeup lab on Star Trek III: The Search for Spock in 1984 and he also did makeup work on Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. In 2004 he co-founded the Proteus Make-up FX with fellow make-up artist Steve Prouty. Burman first worked with JJ Abrams when Proteus was hired for Mission: Impossible III. JJ brought him back for Star Trek, which has now culminated in his first Academy Award nomination.

Barney Burman with his "Star Trek" creations


How has being nominated for an Oscar changed your life, if at all?

Well it has got me a lot of publicity and I have got a real wonderful outpouring of support and kindness from a great many people. It has been a really good few weeks about feeling good.

You share your nomination with Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow, can you explain how you worked together on Star Trek?

I initially brought Joel on to be my key artist and to work as the supervisor on set for prosthetics, while I was designing and creating stuff back in the shop. Once we started shooting I became so overwhelmed with stuff to do in the shop that I decided to have Joel take over the Romulans, close to where JJ could see them every day, so we broke into two different camps. And Mindy was always handling the straight makeup, so that were three different camps but we stayed in communication with each other and supported each other. We worked as close together as one unit, while being three units.

Joel Harlow working on Eric Bana — he focused on the Romulans while Burman created other "Star Trek" aliens

For such a big popcorn movie, were you surprised at how little CGI JJ was using for the alien characters?

Initially we talked about doing some more blends of prosthetics and CG so we can change the shape of people a little bit, but time and money prohibited that. So that went away pretty quickly, but I was never surprised that JJ wanted to do a good amount of practical effects because he loved that stuff. And he believes in always having as much in camera as possible, and I love that about him. I love filmmakers that want to create a world that people can live in and react to, in the moment.

Do you think in the post-Avatar world, that filmmakers like JJ who like the practical will still stick with it? Or is there pressure to go more CG?

I don’t know if it is pressure, but there will be those directors that what to control everything in post. And there will be those guys like JJ who want to see as much in front of them as possible, and then enhance things in post. Avatar was obviously a landmark and a wonderful movie, but I think it is still the kind of the exception, rather than the rule, or at least I hope.

I remember after the first time I saw footage from the film back in 2008 I made a comment to one of the producers about how good the CG looked on the long-face guy, and I was surprised to learn it was all done with makeup. Have you had that kind of reaction from people in the industry who didn’t realize how much of what we see in Star Trek is your team’s work?

I have talked to quite a few people who did not know, like when I show pictures from my portfolio people will say "wow I didn’t know that guy was really there" which is a weird sort of compliment. Even one of our own makeup artists made that mistake, telling me how well she thought the movement on the characters came out after post.

There were a few CG additions to some of the characters, like Keenser’s eyes right?

Keenser was always planned to do some kind of CG element on the eyes, and there was a blink added to the alien you see on the Kelvin. But she also had some facial movements that the actress came up with to make the mouth flutter, which was really interesting.

Barney Burman with Kelvin alien (aka Alnschloss K’Bentayr)

Which Alien was the most challenging for you?

That is hard to say, but that first one at the bar, because he was one of our first aliens. I did it in silicone and so I had to learn how gravity was going to effect where the silicon came to rest on the actor. There was one alien that was a butterfly-fish alien type of character and I don’t think we ever got it right to my liking, but in the end the scene got cut so it didn’t matter.

Some people have wondered if the long-faced Alien in the bar was a call back to the Deep Space Nine character Morn. I know your uncle Ellis worked on DS9, so was there a connection or just a coincidence?

I never saw Deep Space Nine, so I wasn’t familiar with the character. Ellis ran the lab, but I don’t know if he designed any aliens. If there is any similarity, it was unintentional. That is a character where I sat down with a bust and some clay and just put it together and that is how it came to life.

Barney Burman working on the ‘Long-face Bar Alien’ — no relation to Morn

A lot of alien characters got cut, that were in the Rura Penthe scene. Who was the hardest for you to see go?

Several of them in that scene actually. One of them was a character we called four square, because he had four eyes. He is in the deleted scenes, being tortured by the Klingons. The CG guys just added the additional eyes, and I was really excited about that character. There was a Gorn and a Salt Vampire, and I was sorry to see them go. They were more pull-on overhead masks, with body suits and gloves, but they were nicely fleshed out characters. 

If you end up coming back for the sequel, what kind of Star Trek challenges would you like to take on?

Prefacing this with I don’t know what the script is and I don’t know what they are going to do, but it seems that it is crying out to bring Klingons into it. And I would really love to revisit the Klingon race and develop them some more. In the original series they were just a color and hair treatment. And then in The Motion Picture, the Klingons had sort of a vertebrae going along their head. Then my dad rethought them for Star Trek III and gave them more of that bizarre demonic forehead treatment and brought the hairline back. So I would love to bring my take into it.

I also think it would be fun to add different kinds of Klingons, or some characters…whoever the aliens are. It would be nice to create a more fully fleshed out race of those characters, so there is not a single look for an entire planet. With the variance in the human race that we have, I would love to see those kinds of variances in an alien or race. Whether it is Klingons, or whatever.

Even though they were cut, you did create Klingons for Star Trek, although you punted on their whole look with the helmets and masks. So you would like to unmask them for the sequel?

Yeah! I would love to see the Klingons unmasked. To me it is kind of like with Batman Begins, and they made it anew. And in the sequel the knew they had to bring the Joker into it, because he is the most iconic Batman villain. So to me it is the same thing, if you are going to do the second Star Trek, hopefully we get to see the Klingons in the sequel.

Klingon created for "Star Trek" — Burman wants to unmask the Klingons for the sequel

You mentioned your dad. I know there has been a lot of Emmys and other awards in the family, but he is the only one with an Oscar nomination. Any advice from dad on dealing with the pressure?

Well I haven’t really felt pressure, I have just been enjoying, which is exactly what he said when I talked to him, he said "just enjoy yourself". That is all I can control is how I feel, and I feel pretty good. I am having a really good time sort of riding this period out, and we will see how it plays out.

So you have your tux picked out and your wife has her gown?

Yes that is all done, but there is a funny story. 20 years ago I had this really dear friend in a theater company and she and I always joked, whichever one of us makes it to the Oscars first we have to take the other one. Much time has gone by, but we have recently reconnected on Facebook and she has a family out in New Jersey, and called her and asked her "so you still want to go to the Oscars?" I am taking my wife of course, but I got two extra tickets so my dear friend from 20 years ago can come and she is escorting my son. Apparently this has become big news in her small town, even the Mayor knows.


Here is a Flickr slideshow of some of the work from Star Trek done by Barney Burman and Proteus FX Team.


Burman has remained busy after Star Trek, saying that he has been recently focusing on more independent films, as he didn’t want to just be doing big blockbuster films. In 2010 his work will be scene the films Shuffle, Grey Skies and One on One: Death’s Door.

Aging makeup for T.J. Thyne (Lovell) in "Shuffle"

A ‘Reaper’ in "One on One: Death’s Door"

A ‘Drone’ in "Grey Skies"

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