Well, since I just made a post of one of Tim Burton's biggest inspirations, I thought I might as well do one of Mr. Burton himself, seeing as how he was a huge High School inspiration of my own.
When most people think of Tim Burton they think of a pudgy-faced filmmaker with crazy hair who directs films about quirky, misunderstood characters in a dark, Gothic style, usually with Johnny Depp as his lead, and often with his partner, Helena Bonham-Carter playing primary roles. Some of his most famous blockbusters are, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Batman, Batman Returns, Planet of the Apes, Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and most recently, Alice in Wonderland.
What most people don't know about Tim is that before he was a filmmaker he was an artist and animator. Born in Burbank, California, Tim grew up in a classically suburban neighborhood (as seen in Edward Scissorhands) and soon realized he didn't quite fit the mold of normality. From an early age he was a recluse and enjoyed drawing and watching classic horror films, especially those featuring Vincent Price.
In the ninth grade his artistic skills were recognized when a garbage company placed his poster on all their trucks for a year. Boy, would I pay to see that. After high school Tim received a scholarship to attend the California Institute of the Arts, but once he lost the scholarship he decided to make a "proper" pencil sketched animation titled "Stalk of the Celery Monster" (1979). The film shocked many of his school mates and caught the attention of Disney execs, so Tim was offered a job in the animation department.
During this time Burton animated for The Fox and the Hound (1981), but found animating in the Disney mold unfulfilling. He often described his attempts at animating Disney characters as looking like "road kill". Even when he was set to create concept art for the The Black Cauldron (1985), a relatively "dark" fantasy film by Disney standards, his sketches were considered too deviant and never used.
Despite having a unique set of aesthetics compared to the light and cheery Disney cartoons, Disney recognized Burton's talent and gave him the freedom to develop his own personal projects. Burton indulged in directing cheap, odd-ball films such as Doctor of Doom (1980), and the infamously bizarre Luau (1982). He did some designs for the cartoon Family Dog which was later turned into an episode of the Steven Spielberg TV series Amazing Stories. He did some uncredited work on the computer animation Tron (1982), and came up with a poem and several sketches that would later become inspiration for The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), what I consider to be the greatest animated film of all time.
It was also during this time that Tim wrote and directed the strange and beautiful, German Expressionist-inspired, black and white stop-motion animation, Vincent (1982), a semi-autobiographical film narrated by Tim's childhood idol, Vincent Price.
It's captivating. It's genius. I kind of wish Tim would return to this style rather than the highly commercialized feel of his recent films. Oh well, that seems to be the curse of all successful Blockbuster directors. Anyway, the pet dog and mad scientist themes would continue to inspire many of Tim's other films (Frankenweenie, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, etc.). We can only hope that in the future Tim will stick with producing films that are personal, in order that his talent and originality might continue to flourish.