Bizarre Things That Happened On The Set Of Tim Burton Movies

Tim Burton's a wonderfully skilled filmmaker, but he's also become a brand. To be a Tim Burton movie is (in the eyes of most film fans) to be dark, stylized, focused on the plight of misfits, and starring Helena Bonham Carter. Those are the rules. Society has spoken.

But that's exactly what makes his movies so charming. Even in movies where Tim Burton doesn't direct but instead takes on a production role — like The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach — they still contain some of his goth kid charm.

But even Burton isn't immune to weird Hollywood drama. You don't make incredible movies like Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and Mars Attacks! without a few weird things happening. Sadly, none of these involve people being eaten by bug-infested monsters or being hunted by headless people in the night. But there are still plenty of crazy things no one could have foreseen happening on the sets of Tim Burton's pictures. His vision demands way more of Hollywood than it ever expected to give. 

The real divas in Batman Returns were the penguins

The Penguin is the weird, menacing villain at the heart of Tim Burton's Batman Returns, but Danny DeVito doesn't seem like the diva type. At least, not compared to his character's evil avian fleet. Three dozen real penguins appear in the movie, and the Christian Science Monitor reported animal rights groups were (understandably) worried about the logistics of keeping the live penguins safe during filming. They wanted to make sure they weren't stressed out and liable to become supervillains themselves.

As a result, the penguins (who came from a British bird sanctuary) lived the high life. Not that the birds were demanding personal assistants and frozen coffees. WhatCulture lays it all out: The penguins had their own trailer, received half a ton of ice per day, and swam in their personal swimming pool. They never had to perform in any conditions over 35 degrees Fahrenheit. And they were constantly protected by a dedicated security team. They must have been happy, because there was plenty of mating going down on set.

For what it's worth, it wasn't all just live penguins out there doing the supervillain's dirty work. Tim Burton also used penguin-shaped puppets, computer-generated birds, and some poor actors in bird suits to round out the ensemble.

Tim Burton repainted a whole neighborhood for Edward Scissorhands

Tim Burton's  Edward Scissorhands takes on being an outcast in a world that forces people to conform to certain standards. The titular Edward is a goth kid Frankenstein who has scissors for hands but is ultimately harmless. The ultra-basic townies in disgustingly pastel houses are a lot more menacing.

The neighborhood where the movie is set is 100 percent real — it's right outside Tampa, Florida. Entertainment Weekly revealed that production designer Bo Welch took the Ultra Suburbia design of the film very seriously. He arranged for the homes to be painted in vivid pastel colors, saying, "The idea was to heighten [the look], but not beyond the realm of real suburban decoration." People were still living in these houses while they filmed, by the way. While "initially they didn't like it," apparently residents warmed up to their Easter egg homes. 

In 2015, an anonymous Reddit user wandered around the neighborhood and posted pictures on Imgur. Unfortunately, a lot of the houses have lost their pastel charm. But there were a lot more trees than there were in 1990, which is nice.

The set of Batman Returns was on crazy lockdown

It took a huge crew of people to reinvent Gotham City for 1992's Batman Returns. And according to Entertainment Weekly, a reinvention it definitely was. Tim Burton had directed the cartoony 1989 Batman film that preceded this movie. But he saw the sequel as a chance to go in a completely different direction. This Gotham would reflect how different the Penguin and Catwoman were from the Joker, and would also take place during a snowy winter.

All of this meant time, money, and above all, security. The movie was code named "Dictel," and in what the production designer called a "ridiculous gestapo measure," anyone working on Tim Burton's film had to have a badge for a fake movie with that name to get anywhere close to the set. The art directors had to keep their office blinds pulled down at all times. Hundreds of workers labored just to create Gotham's main plaza, and Tim Burton secured an enormous church model to sit within the oppressive city set. He refused to get rid of it even though it was expensive, and one wonders if that was partly because it threw people looking for the new Batman movie off the scent.

Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas required the puppeteers to be contortionists

Yes, yes, it's true that Tim Burton technically didn't direct The Nightmare Before Christmas. But the guy's fingerprints are all over the movie, since he came up with the story and produced it. He and the actual director, Henry Selick, would go on afterward to collaborate again on James and the Giant Peach.

Which is great, considering how much of a pain it was to shoot Nightmare. A big part of Nightmare's appeal is it's incredible detail, from the stitching on a Frankenstein monster's knee to the light at the back of a skeleton's eye sockets. Up to 15 animators were playing with (okay, animating) the models at any given time. One minute of the film's run time took a whole week to animate. Mental Floss explains just how diligent the filmmakers had to be to make it work — the movie took up 20 sound stages, covered in 230 puppet-sized sets.

All this detail means that the Nightmare crew had their work cut out for them. A making-of documentary showed off the trapdoors, breakaway sets, and mind-numbing small spaces the animators had to work with. The sets themselves were designed so that (preferably) the puppeteers didn't have to reach more than two and a half feet to rearrange something. They were too big to physically fit on a set for the movie, so they put themselves in weird positions to make sure the near 200 puppets they had in the cast would make it into their scenes.

The Batman suit was super claustrophobic

Michael Keaton definitely fits the definition of an underrated Batman. He only played the caped crusader twice, both in Tim Burton flicks. And he had to play opposite Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito, which should earn him some kind of acting medal. But Keaton's time in the black winged suit almost didn't happen. Specifically, the suit was to blame.

Cinemablend tells the story of Keaton's first time getting into the Batman suit, when he freaked out because the suit "locked" him in. He hadn't had a chance to try on the suit until just hours before shooting actually started. Now, he was stuck with this beyond-skintight setup that wouldn't even let him turn his head without risking destruction. He says his thoughts when he put the costume on were, "This is never going to happen, I'm never gonna do it." He did do it, obviously, but he had to be wheeled around on set due to how much the suit restricted his movement.

Like a true professional, Keaton worked through his discomfort to shoot the movie. He even incorporated the suit's limitations into his portrayal of Batman. He claimed the locked-in feeling helped him get into the mindset of a hero feeling cut off from everyone around him. Ever wonder why Batman stepped around fully to face people? Cue Keaton making the best of things.

The horses on Sleepy Hollow were giant pains

Sleepy Hollow is definitely one of Tim Burton's gorier films, partly because it paid tribute to classic horror films made by the famous Hammer studio. Mostly it's because it tells the story of a headless monster played by Christoper Walken, who goes around on a horse chopping people's heads off. But Walken wasn't the real monster in the filming of Sleepy Hollow. It was his (and generally all) the horses.

Where do you even begin with the Sleepy Hollow horses? First off, Yahoo reports that Walken couldn't even ride a horse when he was cast as the Headless Horseman, a character who is rarely seen not astride a steed. In fact, the cityboy Walken was still so freaked out about the prospect of riding one that, according to Entertainment Weekly, the crew "radio controlled mechanical" horse for him, based off one used in National Velvet for the then 12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor.

The awkward luck continued when Johnny Depp (playing investigator Ichabod Crane) was dragged behind two horses who couldn't stop passing gas, according to MTV. He was allegedly paranoid that the horses would relieve themselves while he was being dragged behind them in one scene. But there were no hard feelings once the movie wrapped — Bustle reported that Depp adopted the one-eyed horse he rode throughout the film upon learning it would be put down.

Danny DeVito was attacked by a monkey as the Penguin

It's basically agreed upon the best part of Tim Burton's Batman Returns is the Penguin. The villain's got panache, a great motivation, and plenty of minions. He's villain gold. It also helps that he was played by superstar Danny DeVito.

Philly Voice reported that DeVito definitely suffered for the role, and not just in the makeup chair. He had one scene with a trained monkey, an experience he called "horrifying." The monkey was supposed to deliver a note to his character from Batman. But the animal didn't recognize DeVito after the actor swished around special mouth-dying mouthwash to give him that extra Penguin gross factor. The monkey charged DeVito and bit him squarely in the crotch.

Thankfully, DeVito didn't feel anything in his padded Penguin costume. The scene between him and the monkey made it into the movie and was made iconic with its crazy Penguin scream. Don't worry, it's not from the monkey trying the same nonsense twice.

An actress from Mars Attacks! still has a scar from her giant wig

People forget about Mars Attacks!, but it's definitely one of the more interesting entries in Tim Burton's filmography. Portraying an alien invasion in the style of 1960s B-movies, the costumes and production design are detailed and colorful. It's Tim Burton going against type in a great way.

But the incredible details came with a cost. Actress Lisa Marie played the iconic Martian Girl, immediately identifiable by her tall blonde hair. Marie loved the character, but utterly hated the steps necessary to play her. Her costume was so tight she had to be sewn in, which also left her incapable of sitting or using the restroom. But worst of all was the tall blonde wig. It was really two wigs stacked onto Marie's natural hair, the weight of which caused friction that scarred Marie permanently. As she told toofab, "I got a hole in my head from that damn wig."

Still, Lisa Marie's smile didn't falter during the shooting, and she says she considers the sacrifice worth it to make the movie.

A Catwoman wannabe had an accident on set

You'll remember Sean Young as the model-turned-actress who played the sexy android love interest from Blade Runner. According to Entertainment Weekly, Young suffered a fall while riding a horse (Tim Burton and his horses!) on the set of the director's original Batman movie. She was set to play Vicky Vale, Batman's main squeeze. In an instant, it was over.

That would have been devastating for anyone. But Young took it especially hard, especially when (allegedly) Tim Burton didn't follow up with her when it came to casting Batman Returns. So Young took it to the next level — and showed up to the studio lot where Burton was filming dressed as Catwoman, according to International Business Times. Then she went on The Joan Rivers Show dressed as Catwoman. Yeah. That happened. And did not convince Tim Burton to get in touch.

This also coincided with her being sued by former costar James Woods, which is enough to put anyone's career into question. A 1992 Los Angeles Times interview with Young portrayed a woman not sure what her relationship would be with Hollywood. But one thing was certain: She still felt she was the best choice for Catwoman, and Tim Burton just didn't understand.