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HARRY Selick was hand-picked by Tim Burton to direct his feature film debut, Nightmare Before Christmas, which took about three years of labour-intensive work by almost 200 people to complete.
Today the film has crept into popular culture, with children dressing up as Jack Skellington for Halloween, or adorning belts and buttons with his image.
Still, when they made the film more than 20 years ago, it was nothing like the movies Disney was making at the time. It was originally pitched to Disney as a TV special, but rejected.
Selick had worked with Nightmare Before Christmas creator Burton at Disney in the early 1980s when the latter first conceived the poem and idea of Jack Skellington taking over Christmas.
Sculptor Rick Heinrichs took the original characters designed by Burton – Jack, Zero and Sandy Claws – and created the maquettes (small scale models) that showed what they would be like as stop motion characters.
But, it was not to be and Selick went on to work as a freelance stop motion animation director.
It was his work on the award-winning six-minute pilot for an animated series called Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions that brought him back to Burton’s attention.
Burton got the project up and running in between working on Edward Scissorshands and Batman, but it was Selick who dealt with the day-to-day directing.
The film was originally made under the Touchstone Pictures banner because Disney thought it was much too dark and scary for children.
Though Selick had worked on 2d animation and computer graphics work at Disney, at heart he remained a stop motion animator. As a child he was greatly inspired by the work of Ray Harry Hausen (the special effects creator who was extensively referenced in Pixar’s Monster’s universe) because the monsters appear so real.
Stop motion has a grittyness to it because it’s filled with imperfection, but the undeniable truth is that what you see really exists, even if it is posed by hand, 24 times a second. That truth is probably what attracts people to it.
Ironic then that Disney has brought the film into its stable, but maybe not since some sequences in Fantasia, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the monsters in Sleeping Beauty are grotesque and scary, so Nightmare is merely continuing the tradition, even if it was way ahead of its time back in the early 1990s.
The film met with critical and financial success when it was released in 1993 and Disney has re-issued it annually under its Disney Digital 3d format since 2006, the first stop motion animated feature film to be entirely converted to 3d.
Today, it is deemed a Disney picture, without the banner of Touchstone hiding its origins.
And when trick or treaters dressed up in Nightmare Before Christmas attire knock on Sellick’s door he shows them the original Jack Skellington as Santa with his Skeleton Reindeer in his sledge led by Zero.