The auteur is set to direct ''Big Eyes,'' about the artists who painted those creepy, bug-eyed kids.

By Josh Rottenberg
Updated April 12, 2013 at 04:00 AM EDT

In the 1960s and ’70s, they were everywhere: paintings of moonfaced children with large, saucerlike eyes. Though widely dismissed as kitsch (and lampooned in Woody Allen’s 1973 comedy Sleeper as the sort of bad dime-store art that would be celebrated as genius in the year 2173), the ubiquitous waifs made artist couple Walter and Margaret Keane famous. But behind the giant eyes lay a secret. ”What the world didn’t know,” says Robert Brown, owner of the Keane Eyes Gallery in San Francisco, ”was that Margaret painted everything.”

Now director Tim Burton, a longtime Keane fan and collector, is bringing the story of the Keanes to the big screen, with Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams on board to play the spouses. Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski — who scripted Burton’s 1994 Ed Wood — the Weinstein Co. film, titled Big Eyes, has been in development for years. (In one earlier incarnation, Ryan Reynolds and Reese Witherspoon were attached to star, with Alexander and Karaszewski codirecting and Burton producing.) Due to start filming this summer, Big Eyes will trace the couple’s rocky relationship, which ended in divorce and an eventual court battle to determine who was responsible for the paintings, complete with a judge-ordered ”paint-off.” (Walter Keane, who died in 2000, declined to participate, claiming he had a sore shoulder.) Brown says Margaret Keane, who is still painting at age 85, is at peace with this tumultuous saga being made into a film: ”She’s comfortable with it now. It’s been going on so long, it’s just become a part of her.”