By Anthony Breznican
Updated September 27, 2012 at 03:01 PM EDT

Let’s just say you’ve seen this fair-haired boy before, but never looking so … “clean cut.”

(That’s your first clue.)

Think of this as the “before” photo. Things got a lot darker later — both inside his head and on top of it.

In our new issue, Entertainment Weekly convinced this world-famous director to give us some old family photos and talk about a childhood that has shaped nearly three decades of unique moviemaking.

Check out the full version of the photo, along with a few more hints …

Westerns aren’t really his thing, although a close friend is making one at the moment.

This filmmaker is known for a sinister sense of humor, so naturally an image like this — grinning innocently on the back of a pony while dressed as a cowboy — doesn’t really show his true stripes.

Dress up is a particular fascination of his. He loves heroes in costume. The stranger the better.

After all, Halloween is one of his favorite holidays, and many of his movies are classics of the season. He has got one coming up soon, frankly.

All right, guessing game is over. If you haven’t figured it out, the answer — and an explanation — is on the next page.

The boy on the horse is none other than Tim Burton, director of Edward Scissorhands (“clean cut,” get it?), Beetlejuice, Batman, and Big Fish, among many others.

So why does EW have that photo?

Frankenweenie, Burton’s latest stop-motion animated movie, opens Oct. 5, and its story of a little boy who brings his dog back to life using mad-science takes place in a very familiar-looking town.

Everyone knows Burton grew up in Burbank, Calif. — a.k.a. Squaresville, U.S.A. — and we’ve seen its influence turn up throughout his films whenever some eccentric loner struggles to fit in somewhere that seems suspiciously tidy.

As it turns out, Squaresville, U.S.A., is also my adopted hometown now, so it’s easy to recognize on the big screen. At Comic-Con this year, Burton and I figured out that I live just a few blocks from where he spent his formative years. That intrigued me. I wanted to know more about The Strange Story of Tim Burton’s Normal Hometown.

Burton agreed to share some family photos with us for a feature in this week’s issue titled “Tiny Tim.” In it, you’ll find a particularly curious image of a Halloween costume made by his mother, which is clearly the inspiration for Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas.

I also spoke with Doris Adams, his 91-year-old former art teacher, who vividly recalls Burton from her mid-’70s high school art classes but describes a surprisingly different image of the filmmaker than fans might expect. Although he felt isolated and unsure during those days, Burton credits Adams with inspiring him to pursue art and storytelling as a career.

Without her, think of the movies we’d have lost. And without the bright, sunny life of Burbank, where would Burton have found such deep shadows to explore?

Here’s a sample:

For the rest of the story, check out this week’s issue — on stands Friday, and available in digital tablet edition now. (Click here to buy it online.)

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