Article by Rennie Cowan
The Superboy TV Series had a great special effects make-up/animatronics artist on the series, and his name is Rob Burman. Even if you have never heard of him before, more than likely you have seen his handy work either on TV or Film. He has done work on some classic horror movies such as "The Fly" and "The Thing". His special FX make-up department finally achieved an Academy award in 2009 for their work on the latest "Star Trek" incarnation, which was, according to Burman, the franchise's first Academy Award! Most of the monster work and make-up you see in the Superboy series (if not all of the best of it) was done by Burman. He did not work on season one, but jumped in for the ride on seasons 2, 3 and 4.
Rob Burman at Mono Lake doing FX make-up for a commercial of C3PO's cereal (1983).
The Bizarro white face six piece mask was done by the hands of Rob Burman on Superboy the TV Series. In fact, by season 3 Burman was doing some pretty incredible make-up FX and animatronics work. He did the werewolf animatronics FX and make-up for the third season episode "Werewolf" (which fit in nicely with the Film Noir feeling of the 3rd and 4th seasons), and it was very much in tune with the classic Universal Monsters that we would see in any Universal monster film. He even did a homage to the classic movie he had worked on years earlier: "The Fly".
In the episode "Special Effects", this began with conversations that Burman had with the writers. Burman stated: "Since my family is involved in monster-making and things of that nature, it gave them conceptual ideas. The next season was when they came to me with the script." And we all know this season is season 3; in "Special Effects" we see a female-like Fly character who is actually Stacy Haiduk's stunt double. And so it is no coincidence that the remaining three seasons of Superboy were shot on the Universal lot in Florida. The "Werewolf" episode was shot back to back with "Neila and the Beast". Concerning this, Rob Burman stated: "We managed to do both of the werewolves and the bigfoot alien in about 3 weeks. Small crews, long hours."
Bizzaro (left) and a photo of a flying Bizarro that Burman took with his camera during a Superboy shoot (by use of a fog-lens), which he stated made the wires look like they weren't there.
As if building the monsters weren't enough, Burman was able to get his SAG card when he played the character of the beast Ajax in the third season episode "Special Effects". The costume was of Burman's own design; a full body suit with an RC overhead (an animatronic head). No make-up necessary! But the only difference, he got to wear it and play the part because he designed it to fit only his body. He said, "One of the perks of having a monster suit that fits only you...". Rob also had a funny story to tell about the Ajax episode ("Special Effects"). I mentioned to him that Ajax was just as strong as Superboy and Superboy had a hard time getting him down. Rob thought otherwise as there were some delicate pieces inside of the Ajax costume. Gerard was advised to aim for the body rather than the head. Rob goes on to explain: "During the fight with Superboy, I told Gerard that the animatronic head was held in place with a fiberglass helmet that sat right over my nose. I told him, "Please don't hit the head in the fight - it is very delicate and it could break - especially my nose." So, "Take one: Action!" Gerard comes out and the first punch lands square on the chin of the animatronic. Pain instantly shoots through my face, my eyes tear up and I can't see. I stop and hold up my hands waving "time out!" We reset to do it again. Take two "Bam!" right in my face again - so I wasn't so invincible."
Rob Burman enjoys his cameo as Ajax on The Adventures of Superboy season 3 episode "Special Effects" (Gerard Christopher is on the left).
Rob Burman chatted on facebook about his monster-costume wearing experience on the Superboy TV series: "It isn't all that often that a guy gets to have a fight with Superboy." Indeed, Ajax got to fight Superboy. Sadly, he didn't win the fight. In fact, he died in that episode but Ajax was almost as strong as Superboy. The suit must have been hot but Burman didn't seem to care. He adds with: "Three days of sweating is nothing when you get a SAG card out of it."
You can watch the episode "Special Effects" on youtube (just click these links, Part 1 and 2). Only by watching this particular episode can you truly appreciate Burman's work on the Superboy TV Series. The costumes themselves look very expensive, especially Ajax. However, according to Rob Burman the Ajax costume was used in a different film entirely and only re-worked for the "Special Effects" episode: "If you ask the Producers, the work was expensive. If you ask us Artists, we say it was done on a shoestring budget. I was luckly enough to have made the suit (Ajax) initially for another film. I had to do was re-make it from the molds. Managed to get it done in a few weeks. At the same time, we had to make the other characters which turned out to be the Caliban make-up, the snake-man mask and "The Fly" homage mask."
Between scenes, Gerard Christopher takes a break with the Werewolf.
Burman also goes on to explain his work as a whole on the Superboy TV series: "I did quite a few episodes over the last three seasons. A sickly, diseased guy in an episode with Phillip Michael Thomas; a radiation mutant living in a swamp; a couple of werewolves, and a Bigfoot alien. There was the episode called "Special Effects" with several characters in it, including Barry (Meyers) as "Caliban" and myself as the creature "Ajax". The show kind of gave me carte blanc over designs and such. They'd call and say, "Well, what can we do for this epeisode?" and we'd figure something out. Next thing I knew, it was time to make something and head off to Florida for the shoot. I felt like a special guest star as any of the ACTUAL guest stars!" For a series that was not shot on film, this is some incredible work for a professional high-quality video-produced syndicated series as Burman expresses: "I do not believe we shot on film."
Aside from Superboy, Rob also worked on several episodes of "Lois and Clark". Initially he and his FX make-up comrades had approached the "Lois and Clark" team but they stated that it wasn't that kind of show because "Lois and Clark" was more of soap opera, not a science fiction show. However, a year later they called him back to do specialty stuff and he did a few prop molds and disguise prosthetics for an episode (Jimmy Olsen was even cast for an episode). As Rob Burman told me: "Apparently, the mail that came in about the show wanted them to ramp it up a bit and make it a little less boring and soap-opera-like."
Burman also states that he has been involved in quite a bit over the years, namely as a mold-maker on the Penguin suit in "Batman Returns" and then patching and repair work on the Batman and Catwoman costume for the same film.