Artist Spotlight: Michael Burnett
What do you do if you need to airbrush 700 zombies in one night? You call in the pros, specially Michael Burnett, Makeup Designer for Orlando’s Universal Studios, and Hollywood’s go-to Special F/X guy for the last 30 years. The two-time Emmy nominee is the genius behind Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights, a three-week haunted takeover of the theme park. There he leads a team of 70 TEMPTU-equipped artists to create hundreds of “scare actors” every night. We find out how a chance meeting in Santa Monica changed his life and how he gets his characters to look so real!
How did you get started as a makeup artist?
My interest in makeup started when I was very young. Growing up in the late 60’s and 70’s, I loved to watch the classic horror and science fiction films on late night TV. I would then try to recreate the characters from those films on myself or any of my friends that would let me stipple latex on their face.
When was your big break in the industry?
In the early 80’s, I was working at an effects shop in Santa Monica when I met Tim Lawrence. He had just finished working on Michael Jackson’s Thriller at Rick Baker’s shop. Tim invited me to Rick’s shop to go to lunch with the crew and I had the opportunity to show Rick my portfolio. He hired me and I worked there for several years on some very cool projects including “Harry and the Hendersons” and “Gorilla’s in the Mist”. That was an amazing learning experience!
I started airbrushing in the early 80’s on masks and prosthetics.
What do you love most about TEMPTU products?
The durability of the Dura palettes and liquids is great. I often have performers wearing the makeup for over 8 hours in hot humid conditions and the Dura holds up beautifully!
Any pro tips on airbrushing?
Most of the airbrush I do is character or creature makeup. I like to mottle the skin and give it a translucent textured appearance. I like to thin down my Dura colors and build up the makeup in layers, often spattering the color to give it a more realistic texture.
I don’t know if I can pick just one. I have been extremely lucky to have started in makeup effects in the 80’s when it really took off and work on a variety of Motion Picture, Television and live projects. My current position as Makeup Designer for Universal Studios Florida has been amazing giving me the opportunity to create makeup looks for the biggest Halloween event in the country, Halloween Horror Nights.
What is your favorite FX look?
My favorite FX looks are realistic old age and character makeups. Everyone knows what an older person should look like so that makes creating a believable makeup that much more challenging.
The Dura palettes and the liquids are my favorites.
What is your most important makeup tool?
I would have to say my airbrush. I don’t do a makeup without it!
Who are your most respected or influential makeup artists?
Dick Smith. He has been so generous and giving with information and techniques that he developed. His work is what has made it possible for me and anyone working in makeup effects to do what we do. He is the Godfather of FX makeup!
What is your first makeup-related memory?
Probably watching Planet of the Apes on television in the early 70′s. My dad explained that the apes were created with makeup and I have been hooked ever since!