Ever wondered why you might have gazed curiously at or admired a music video, film or television show because of a certain je ne sais quoi? If so, there’s a likelihood that you are looking at some art designed by Tim Barrett.
Tim Barrett has created numerous sets and props for film, video and commercial shoots, as well as permanent sets for international broadcasts and network television. The company has executed many backgrounds and special effects for over 30 years.
Tim, easy going and laid back like a surfer-dude from Malibu, is originally from Cleveland, Ohio and began his journey of art at an early age. “As a youth, I started making things when I was four years old. I would take a stack of white paper and a roll of cellophane tape.” Tim says with a boyish smile. In a cool, quirky way, Tim reminds you of a hip Albert Einstein crossed with Christopher Lloyd’s mad scientist character in the film Back To The Future.
“I don’t think I had any specific inspiration. I was just inspired to begin with. I just had a need to make things and build things. I was always working on things that were non-traditional. You know, where I had to build it from scratch. I believe I was in the 4th grade, I made a complete architectural model for a craft fair and I won first place. But I started from scratch cutting the parts out of balsa wood, then assembling and landscaping the whole environment.”
Tim explains how education is paramount to paving your way through a tough, competitive and unpredictable industry.
“I used to draw a lot in high school. Not doodling, it was more serious paintings, but I never considered it as a career. I took architectural drafting classes in the 10th Grade. I did some design and freelance work as a kid for local people in Cleveland area. From there it kinda grew into a more full time thought as a career.”
Tim went to Florida State University and got a BFA, then claims he tried a number of jobs after he graduated. “From working in the theater department and teaching at the University to owning a graphics company, I decided that it was a hard road to follow. Not that I was disillusioned, because one of my professors gave us statistics on the number of people that had the luxury of selling their art to a museum or a gallery level and that was only 10% of the US population. I enrolled in FAMU because Florida State didn’t have an architectural program, then got accepted at Georgia Tech. So, I moved to Atlanta to get my Masters.”
Tim packed up and moved to Atlanta in 1981, during the tender ages of Hip Hop and Punk rock’s infancy. “It was a town. It was under a million people here. There was not much of an art scene so we created our own art scene. We had a gallery called the Blue Rat Gallery. It showcased young emerging artists, because there were more established galleries here that catered more to people from New York or LA. As collectors, people would tend to gravitate towards those artists with a name or a larger market. They didn’t respect or think there was any talent in Atlanta. For a number of years we were well received from the Atlanta art community. The AJC (Atlanta Journal Constitution) tended to think that art criticism had to be negative. They didn’t always give us a fair review because they really didn’t understand us. We were young and different.”
Spinning down memory lane, Tim recalls other emerging art scenes at the time such as The Mattress Factory group and Castleberry Hill. “We used to find old abandoned buildings, clean up the space and exhibit our work whether it was a wall or floor space.”
You may remember Tim’s signature work in music videos such as Oukast’s “Bombs Over Baghdad,” Busta Rhymes “Gimmie Some More,” 2 Chainz’ “Crack” and several others. Working with legendary music directors Hype Williams, X, and Chris Robinson have given Tim invaluable street credibility in the hip hop community. Tim has no issue with most of his work coming from the urban market. To this day, one of Tim’s most memorable, arduous, expensive and rewarding production experiences is “Gimmie Some More.” “Twenty-three hours a day. Slept for an hour in my truck. Shot for eight days straight. The first day somebody ran over my foot with a forklift!”
For the past thirty-odd years, Tim has worked for a number of architectural firms, advertising agencies, as well as film, television and production companies. Companies like ESPN, CNN, The Food Network, DYI, BET, Delta Airlines, Coca-Cola and others keep Tim’s contact handy in their Rolodex, while record labels and music video producers have him on speed dial. From art direction and production design to special effects, chances are that Tim has worked on one of your favorite movies, TV programs or music videos.
Hard work coupled with word of mouth soon earned Tim an opportunity to get into the broadcast production world to show of his skills. Tim recalls one of his first major motion picture gigs, Free Jack starring Emilio Estevez, Mick Jagger and Anthony Hopkins in 1992. “I was a foreman in the construction department. It was a $58 Million dollar show. It was futuristic so it was a lot of challenging builds. We designed and built a lot of prototypes and did some of the animatronic props. I worked in the metal department, fabricated machine parts, walls and finishes.” Throughout Tim’s career, he has designed, conceptualized and fabricated more than 30 feature films and television shows including Scream 2, My Cousin Vinny, Kalifornia and Dead Poets Society.
Many of Tim’s productions are shot on location at his 22,000 square foot studio. It’s an enormous, raw and rustic space which resembles a mini Hollywood lot in scope to the EU and Screen Gems movie lots currently based in Atlanta. Nonetheless, the creative space is more than enough to handle the most incredible imaginations.
Despite a very competitive industry with several derailed career bumps and bruises, Tim is a survivor and continues to push the boundaries of visual art in every way imaginable. The next time you see a glamorous ghoul, a devastating torture chamber, exploding car or luxurious penthouse suite, don’t be surprised if you are witnessing a magical creation of Tim Barrett.