Hunched over half a naked body, Barney Burman uses a hand rake to shave chunks of molten clay from the skull, while a co-worker scrapes air bubbles from a severed hand.
On a separate table, two men are working on the other half, sawing through the foam legs of a victim who has been cut in two for an upcoming episode of the NBC series “Grimm.”
Burman, an Oscar-winning, third-generation makeup effects artist, had just a few days to create the severed cadaver, which he personally delivered this week to Portland, Ore., where the supernatural series shoots.
“We get the best of both words,” said Burman, owner of B2FX in North Hollywood. “We get to make monsters and dead people on a weekly basis — it’s fantastic.”
Thanks to a plethora of crime dramas and supernatural shows such as “Grimm,” as well as a continued appetite for physical effects — as opposed to those created on a computer screen — makeup artists like Burman remain very much in demand in Hollywood. They use old-school techniques and materials to fashion monsters from clay, foam, paint and silicone.
Burman has designed and created all manner of dead bodies and creatures for “Grimm,” a popular series inspired by classic Grimm’s fairy tales that is now in its second season. “Grimm” stars David Giuntoli as a detective, descended from an elite line of criminal profilers, who faces off against various ancient evils and mythic monsters.
Although the drama uses some computer generated effects, it equally relies on Burman and his team to design and create as many as three dead bodies and four creatures per episode.
“He’s good, he’s fast ... and he makes these creatures look very real,” said David Greenwalt, creator and executive producer of “Grimm” with Jim Kouf.
The shelves of Burman’s studio are lined with heads of various human-monster hybrids — including a pigman and a wolfman — beside a stack of freshly painted eyeballs, along with an assortment of aliens. The company employs as many as a dozen mostly freelance artists, each of whom has specialties, such as sculpting hands or attaching hair.
Burman’s job is often a race against the clock. First, an actor sits for about an hour, as Burman and his crew create a cast of his head and body. From the cast, the crew sculpts a clay model of the body, which is used to form a mold that is filled with a silicone compound.
“I would like to do this in three weeks,” he said of his latest cadaver, a mold of actor Quinn Franzen. “Instead, I have just seven to eight days.”
A 46-year-old Los Angeles native, Burman comes from a family of makeup artists. His grandfather Ellis Burman worked with the renowned makeup effects artist Jack Pierce on classic monster films, including 1941’s “The Wolf Man” with Lon Chaney.
His father, Tom Burman, joined John Chambers — the makeup effects artist depicted in the Oscar-nominated movie “Argo” — in creating the groundbreaking makeup for “Planet of the Apes.”
Burman is self-taught, having learned the business as a child, visiting sets with his father, who often used him to test makeup or try out masks. He once modeled for a small alien in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
“I would test things on him. He was always game,” recalled Tom Burman. “He had a real propensity for it. I’m really proud of him.”
After flirting with a career as an actor, the younger Burman entered the family trade and opened his first studio in 2004, initially operating out of his garage in Van Nuys.
It was partly a practical decision. Acting jobs were scarce, but Burman could make decent money as a makeup effects artist once his father got him his first job, which allowed him to join the makeup artists union.
Eventually he got work on such movies as the Jack Black comedy “Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny” for which he provided an exploding head; “Mission Impossible: III"; “Tropic Thunder"; and the J.J. Abrams reboot of “Star Trek,” for which Burman shared a best achievement in makeup Oscar in 2010. Burman created Dr. Spock’s signature vulcan ears and Scotty’s alien sidekick Keenser, played by Deep Roy. He also worked on the upcoming “Star Trek Into Darkness.”
In addition to “Grimm,” Burman has worked on several other television shows, including “Medium,” “Chuck,” and “Teen Wolf.” He recently completed an indie horror film called “Apparitional,” about a group of ghost hunters exploring a haunted prison with a grisly past.
With his regular work on “Grimm,” Burman says his business is flourishing. Last year, his company generated about $1 million in revenue and recently moved to a larger, 5,000-square-foot studio in North Hollywood’s arts district to accommodate the additional workload.
“The more that people want to see something fantastic, the more it calls upon our skills,” Burman said. “I’m really fortunate.”
Where the cameras roll: Sample of neighborhoods with permitted TV, film and commercial shoots scheduled this week. Permits are subject to last-minute changes. Sources: FilmL.A. Inc., cities of Beverly Hills, Pasadena and Santa Clarita. Thomas Suh Lauder / Los Angeles Times