Incident at Skellington Productions
August/25/2011 Filed in: Special FX
THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS was created at a non-descript warehouse building in San Francisco known as Skellington Productions. It was a complete stop-motion movie production facility - a joint venture between Tim Burton and the Walt Disney Company. The studio was a “secret” since the building was unmarked with no sign to indicate the magic being created within its walls. There were several departments housed there. In front was the nerve center consisting of executive offices, art and editorial departments, and a screening room. The middle was the heart of the production and contained the stop-motion stages which were generally very quiet so the animators could concentrate. The back of the studio contained the model shop and set department - much noisier by comparison due to the use of power tools. Upstairs was the creature department where all the wonderful puppets were fabricated. The crew labored away like Santa’s elves with the goal of bringing Tim Burton’s ideas to life. Despite the film being a Tim Burton Production, Tim’s actual involvement was minimal as he entrusted it to both the crew and the director, Henry Selick. Tim only made rare appearances at Skellington’s front offices, so I never saw him when I was animating on the back stages; however, I did finally meet the famous Mr. Burton by accident, as the story continues.
THE SHOT FROM HELL
Progress on the shot went far slower than expected due to all the problems; however, management wanted the shot finished quickly to help meet their weekly quota. I felt trapped and pressured in my curtained-off personal hell and used every trick I could think of to keep moving forward. I worked late into the night and grew increasingly frustrated. Thinking I was the only one in the building at that point, I dropped all constraints and swore away with abandon at every provocation. Deciding to take a break, I pulled the curtain aside to step out of my space and there was Tim Burton, with girlfriend Lisa Marie, no doubt wondering who was this madman swearing away behind the curtain! “You okay man?” he said with concern. That was the embarrassing, yet cool way that I met him, and it gave me the opportunity to show both Tim and Lisa exactly what I was going through and struggling to accomplish. Tim Burton actually got to witness, proof positive, how the crew suffered to create his vision! My “shot from hell” was ultimately successful and good enough to be included in the movie.
Here is a collection of photos I took of some of the amazing artists at Skellington Productions in 1993...
Norm DeCarlo sculpts Oogie Boogie
Animator Richard Zimmerman looking cool with Zero
Set builder Fon Davis
Justin Kohn animates the flying sleigh
Model maker Joel Friesch touches up the mini sleigh rig
Character fabrication supervisor Bonita DeCarlo applies bugs to Oogie Boogie
Joel Fletcher animates the sleigh taking off
Michael Wick works on the Santa puppet
Skeleton reindeer puppets in the model shop
Joel Fletcher ©2011