Director, Writer, Art Director, Production Designer, Story Artist, Layout Supervisor, it would appear that Deane Taylor has covered most pre-production positions on countless animated productions over the last 30+ years. Although Deane has worked with classic animated shows such as Popeye, The Flintstones, Casper, and Scooby-Doo,the excellent Cow and Chicken as well as features like Happily N’Ever After, he is most well known for his superlative work on Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Still incredibly busy on a variety of projects, Deane has been kind enough to answer a few questions about his influences, his art and his work on that classic film.
GEORDIE: With the imminent release of ParaNorman and Hotel Transylvania it would appear that the influence of The Nightmare Before Christmas is stronger than ever, are you still surprised at how popular the film remains after all these years?
DEANE: I used to get really surprised but not so much anymore. I worked on the game in Japan and the President of Walt Disney in Tokyo told me that history has shown it gets a new audience every 3 years and can go as low as 4 years old. The film has been criticised for being too dark which I believe is rubbish. “Dark” is often confused with depth of detail and distinctive, original character.I think it has elements of a modern-day fairy tale told with strong humorous undertones . To me, those are the ingredients for classic. ParaNorman has the flavour too…brilliant. I actually did a bit of early concept work on Hotel Transylvania for my very good friends David Feiss and Tony Stacchi.
GEORDIE: Your design style is very distinctive, looking at your work and the work of Tim Burton, recently on show at the Gallery of Victoria, it would seem that you guys are a perfect fit to work together. Can you explain how you came to work on the project and how your working relationship developed?
DEANE: Henry Selick looked at a hundred or so art directors but in visiting animation studios across the States his eye was drawn to faxed cartoons that I’d done, that were on the pin-boards in a number of places. (yes…it was that long ago) This was pure dumb luck in my opinion…these sketches were just me having a laugh with mates I had worked with around the world at different times. Henry saw Tim’s style and thinking in this work and he contacted me for that reason. I was working out of Sydney at the time, but found myself on the job in San Francisco within weeks of that contact. I met with Tim on two occasions. Once for 3 minutes, and again for 4 minutes. Having said that, I believe it was enough. He is very clear in his thoughts, and his style very obviously unique. My brief was to make it look like Tim’s work, and we’d hear about it if it didn’t. Rick Heinrich’s was put on the project as visual consultant. They had worked together as early as Vincent and much more.He was Tim’s eyes and ears, and he is an amazing artist. As an art department we worked very closely with him. I have had a much more direct working relationship with Tim since that time (specifically on the game ) and have found him just as direct and clear as I had before.
GEORDIE: The art direction for The Nightmare Before Christmas is iconic, I can see an incredible blend of Gothic Noir, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Dr.Seuss and Edward Gorey. Can you describe some of your personal influences and where you drew some of your inspiration from?
DEANE: I really only looked hard at Tim’s work. In that, I saw heavy influences from Edward Gorey and another favourite of mine, Ronald Searle. As you’ve accurately mentioned… Caligari and Seuss are in the top ten also. The way I saw it was that Tim had really blended the flavours of all of these things and brought his own stamp to it, and that’s what I should do as well. We as an art department stayed true to this while allowing additional detail to develop. Kendal Chronkite in particular, brought some very tasty design work into the process, and Henry had the eye to allow it.
GEORDIE: The background work on this film is as much a ‘character’ as the actual characters. Do you have a favourite piece, and speaking of characters, is there a particular character that you identify with?
DEANE: It’s no accident that the environments play into the character so heavily. I believe they really have to, to be believable. I wanted to create illustrations that you could fly in and around. Kind of a pop-up book. The sets were realised with amazing accuracy to the sketches, and in the rendering of the surfaces we went in and painted the hatching as a guide, which really added to the expressionistic finish. We used fat water-colour brushes and black ink. The ink was crushed from hardened coal from the Altai Mountains. Just kidding…it wasn’t THAT long ago. As far as favourites…I am still very fond of Jack’s study, the Evil Scientist Laboratory, the treehouse and Oogies lair. Coincidentally, these were mostly the first sets produced and I believe have the strongest essence. The treehouse interiors especially: you should freeze frame through that sometime and look at the painted lighting and other detail. In characters, I have a very soft spot for Lock, Shock and Barrel.
GEORDIE: You’ve worked in traditional 2D, 3D and Stop-Motion animation; can you explain the difference in approach that was required to bring your designs to life?
DEANE: I think design principles remain largely the same despite the medium but I have to say that the years of having to cheat production value into the limitations of 2-D cartoons was the biggest influence in achieving the style of our sets. Fake perspectives, distorted architecture and scene planning were pivotal. Forcing the viewers eye to look at what you choose to reveal is my preferred way to work. More often than not it’s about what you don’t see rather than what you do. It’s like Keith Richards guitar playing. He knows when to shut up.
GEORDIE: On the audio commentary from the Nightmare DVD, Director Henry Selick talks about how the 1933 King Kong and Night of the Hunter (two of my all-time favourite films), were big touch stones for him throughout the duration of the project. Were there any particular films you could point to as major influences for prep or while you were working on the film?
DEANE: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari obviously, but also the early Universal Frankensteins and Dracula’s…the really early ones. Simple and direct, these films were about three course meals, not pizzas.
GEORDIE: Our influences and tastes change and develop as we age, what were you drawn to as a kid, and what are some of the constants you always return to, or one that simply had a lasting effect on you?
DEANE: The turning point in art for me was seeing huge prints of Ronald Searle’s’ designs for The Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines. They were probably huge because I was a runty eight year old but I can clearly remember thinking that an adult had done these, and that he was doing this for an actual job. I though they were beautiful to look at, and they were funny. After that I tracked down the St Trinians books and feverishly tried to copy them. Ronald Searle became my personal tutor, though he probably still doesn’t know that. After that…Wizard of Id, BC and Mad magazine, who I eventually did work for. I still keep a lot of Searle’s work handy, for inspiration.
GEORDIE: What advice would you give to any aspiring young animators, story artists or art directors?
DEANE: You have to keep your eyes and ears open to new influences as well as your heroes. Look for the strange, and understand what it is that makes it so. This can be remote tribes, cultures, weird architecture and of course the minute detail of nature. It’s all out there waiting to be interpreted with a fresh eye or a different wrist. Look for the backstory, the “why”
DEANE: I love visual storytelling and in recent years am more convinced that this should be done with a conscience. It’s easy to produce a well told story, but I believe it should matter. I’m in development of an animated property that I believe does this. It’s a mix of styles that draws heavily on the flavours that have shaped my own work for the last 30 plus years. I’m very excited about it, and look forward to bringing it to fruition with a crew of seasoned veterans and new generation artists. I look at new work all the time and am hugely inspired by the freshness and skills that are scattered around the world.
GEORDIE: Thanks to Deane for giving up some of his (VERY valuable) time to do the interview, and for sharing his thoughts and inspiration. For more of Deane’s sketches, pearls of wisdom, and often hilarious recollections, check out his blog: deanertaylor.blogspot.com.au
Elfman and Burton reunited for Mars Attacks! (1996). Based on a popular science fiction trading card series, the film was a hybrid of 1950s science fiction and 1970s all-star disaster films. The film boasted an all-star cast, and although great fun, was a relative failure at the box-office.
Sleepy Hollow, released in late 1999, had a supernatural setting and another offbeat performance by Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane, now a detective with an interest in forensic science rather than the schoolteacher of Washington Irving’s original tale. With Hollow, Burton paid homage to the horror films of the English company Hammer Films, Christopher Lee, was given a cameo role. Mostly well received by critics, and with a special mention to Elfman’s Gothic score, the film won an Academy Award for Best Art Direction, as well as two BAFTA’s for Best Costume Design and Best Production Design. A box office success, Sleepy Hollow was also a turning point for Burton, he changed radically in style for his next project, leaving the haunted forests and colorful outcasts behind to go on to directing Planet of the Apes which, as Burton had repeatedly noted, was “not a remake” of the earlier film.
Planet of the Apes was a commercial success, grossing $68 million in its opening weekend. The film has received mixed reviews and is widely considered inferior to the first adaptation of the novel. In 2003, Burton directed Big Fish, based on the novel by Daniel Wallace. The film is about a father telling the story of his life to his son using exaggeration and color.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) is an adaptation of the book of the same name by Roald Dahl. Starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka, the film generally took a more faithful approach to the source material than the 1971 adaptation, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, although some liberties were taken, such as adding Wonka’s issue with his father (played by Burton favourite Christopher Lee). The film made over $207 million domestically. Filming proved difficult as Burton and Danny Elfman had to work on this and Burton’s Corpse Bride at the same time.
Corpse Bride (2005) was Burton’s first full-length stop-motion film as a director, featuring the voices of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter (for whom the project was specifically created) as Emily in the lead roles. In this film, Burton was able again to use his familiar styles and trademarks, such as the complex interaction between light and darkness, and of being caught between two irreconcilable worlds.
The DreamWorks/Warner Bros. production was released on December 21, 2007. Burton’s work on Sweeney Todd won the National Board of Review Award for Best Director, received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Director and won an Academy Award for Best Art Direction. The film blends explicit gore and Broadway tunes, and was well received by critics.
In 2005, filmmaker Shane Acker released his short film 9, a story about a sentient rag doll living in a post-apocalyptic world who tries to stop machines from destroying the rest of his eight fellow rag dolls. After seeing the short film, Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov, director of Wanted, showed interest in producing a feature-length adaptation of the film.
Burton turned his hand to Alice in Wonderland, in his version, the story is set 13 years after the original Lewis Carroll tales. The film won two Academy Awards for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.
Burton’s film Dark Shadows once again starred Johnny Depp, in the leading role. The film was based on the original Dark Shadows gothic soap opera, which aired on ABC from 1966 to 1971. It has received mixed to negative reviews from critics, some of whom think it is a tongue-in-cheek gothic comedy, visually appealing and fitting as an adaptation of the melodramatic soap opera, whereas others think the film has a very loose plot, is not particularly humorous, and that Burton and Depp’s collaborative efforts have worn thin.
In 2012, Shane Acker confirmed that Burton will be working with Valve to create his next animated feature film, Deep. Like 9, the film will be in a post-apocalyptic world, although it has no relation to the former film and is set in a different universe. Currently there is no set release date, although the film is rumoured to be released around 2014.
He also wrote and illustrated the poetry book The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories, published in 1997, and a compilation of his drawings, sketches and other artwork, entitled The Art of Tim Burton, was released in 2009. Numerous figurines, books and various memorabilia of his distinctive works are available.
Burton’s ability to produce hits with low budgets impressed studio executives, and he received his first big budget film, Batman. The production was plagued with problems and Burton repeatedly clashed with the film’s producers, Jon Peters and Peter Guber, but the most notable debacle involved casting. For the title role, Burton chose to cast Michael Keaton as Batman following their previous collaboration in Beetlejuice. Burton had considered it ridiculous to cast a “bulked-up” ultra-masculine man as Batman, insisting that the Caped Crusader should be an ordinary (albeit fabulously wealthy) man. Burton also cast Jack Nicholson as The Joker in a move that helped assuage fans’ fears, as well as attracting older audiences not as interested in a superhero film.
When the film opened in June 1989, and became one of the biggest box office hits of all time, grossing well over $400 million worldwide (numbers not adjusted for inflation) and earning critical acclaim for the performances of both Keaton and Nicholson. The success of the film helped establish Burton as a profitable director.
In 1990, Burton co-wrote (with Caroline Thompson) and directed Edward Scissorhands, re-uniting with Winona Ryder from Beetlejuice. His friend Johnny Depp was cast in the title role of Edward, who was the creation of an eccentric and old-fashioned inventor (played by Vincent Price in one of his last screen appearances). Edward looked human, but was left with scissors in the place of hands due to the untimely death of his creator. Set in suburbia, the film is largely seen as Burton’s autobiography of his childhood in Burbank. Price at one point is said to have remarked, “Tim is Edward.” Depp wrote a similar comment in the foreword to Mark Salisbury’s book, Burton on Burton, regarding his first meeting with Burton over the casting of the film. Edward is considered one of Burton’s best movies by some critics.
Burton agreed to direct the sequel for Warner Brothers on the condition that he would be granted total control. The result was Batman Returns which featured Michael Keaton returning as the Dark Knight, and a new triad of villains: Danny DeVito as The Penguin, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman and Christopher Walken as Max Shreck, an evil corporate tycoon and original character created for the film. Darker and considerably more personal than its predecessor, concerns were raised that the film was too scary for children. Audiences were even more uncomfortable at the film’s overt sexuality, personified by the sleek, fetish-inspired styling of Catwoman’s costume. Burton made many changes to the Penguin which would be applied to the Penguin in both comics and television. While in the comics, he was an ordinary man, Burton created a freak of nature resembling a penguin with webbed, flipper-like fingers, a hooked, beak-like nose, and a penguin-like body (resulting in a rotund, obese man). Released in 1992, Batman Returns grossed $282.8 million worldwide, making it another financial success, though not to the extent of its predecessor.
Next, Burton wrote and produced but did not direct, due to schedule constraints on Batman Returns, The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) for Disney, originally meant to be a children’s book in rhyme. The film was directed by Henry Selick, based on Burton’s original story, world and characters. The film received positive reviews for the film’s stop motion animation, musical score and original storyline and was a box office success, grossing $50 million. A deleted scene from The Nightmare Before Christmas features a group of vampires playing hockey on the frozen pond with the decapitated head of Burton. The head was replaced by a jack-o’-lantern in the final version.
In 1994, Burton and frequent co-producer Denise Di Novi produced the 1994 fantasy-comedy Cabin Boy. His next film, and I believe his best, Ed Wood (1994), was of a much smaller scale, depicting the life of Ed Wood, a filmmaker sometimes called “the worst director of all time”. Starring Johnny Depp in the title role, the film is an homage to the low-budget science fiction and horror films of Burton’s childhood, and handles its comical protagonist and his motley band of collaborators with surprising fondness and sensitivity. Owing to creative squabbles during the making of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Danny Elfman declined to score Ed Wood, and the assignment went to Howard Shore. While a commercial failure at the time of its release, Ed Wood was well received by critics. Martin Landau received an Academy Award in the Best Supporting Actor category for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi, as well as the Academy Award for Best make-up.
Having been overlooked for Batman Forever by the Warner Bros. heirachy, Burton reunited with Henry Selick for the musical fantasy James and the Giant Peach, based on the book by Roald Dahl. The film, a combination of live action and stop motion footage was mostly praised by critics, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score (by Disney regular Randy Newman).
Timothy Walter “Tim” Burton (born August 25, 1958) is an American film director, producer, writer and artist. He is famous for his dark, quirky-themed movies such as Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Ed Wood, Dark Shadows, and blockbusters such as Batman, Batman Returns, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland.
Burton was born in 1958, in the city of Burbank, California, to Jean and Bill Burton. As a child, Burton would make short films in his backyard using crude stop motion animation techniques or shoot them on 8 mm film without sound. His future work would be heavily influenced by the works of such childhood heroes as Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl, as well as Edgar Allan Poe and horror and science fiction, such as Godzilla, and films made by Hammer Productions, the works of Ray Harryhausen and Vincent Price.
After graduating from Burbank High School, Burton attended the California Institute of the Arts to study character animation. Some of his now-famous classmates were John Lasseter, Brad Bird, John Musker and Henry Selick. As a student in CalArts, Burton made the shorts Stalk of the Celery Monster and King and Octopus. They remain only in fragments today.
Burton graduated from CalArts in 1979. The success of his short film Stalk of the Celery Monster attracted the attention of Walt Disney Productions animation studio, who offered young Burton an animator’s apprenticeship. He worked as an animator, storyboard artist and concept artist on films such as The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron and Tron.
While at Disney in 1982, Burton made his first short, Vincent, a six-minute black-and-white stop-motion film based on a poem written by the filmmaker, and depicting a young boy who fantasizes that he is his (and Burton’s) hero Vincent Price, with Price himself providing narration. This was followed by Burton’s first live-action production Hansel and Gretel, a Japanese-themed adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, which climaxes in a kung fu fight between Hansel and Gretel and the witch. Having aired once at 10:30 pm on Halloween 1983 and promptly shelved, prints of the film are extremely difficult to locate, which contributes to the rumor that this project does not exist. (In 2009, the short went on display in the Museum of Modern Art, and in 2011 the short also played at the Tim Burton art exhibit at the LACMA).
Burton’s next live-action short, Frankenweenie, was released in 1984. It tells the story of a young boy who tries to revive his dog after it is run over by a car. Filmed in black-and-white, it stars Barret Oliver, Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern. After Frankenweenie was completed, Disney fired Burton, under the pretext of him spending the company’s resources on doing a film that would be too dark and scary for children to see.
Pursuing then an opportunity to make a full-length film, he was approached by Griffin Dunne to direct the black comedy film After Hours, however, after Martin Scorsese’s project The Last Temptation of Christ was cancelled (although it would later be completed and released in 1988), he stepped in to direct it. Not long after, actor Paul Reubens saw Frankenweenie and chose Burton to direct the cinematic spin-off of his popular character Pee-Wee Herman. The film, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985), was made on a budget of $8 million and grossed more than $40 million at the box office. Burton, a fan of the eccentric musical group Oingo Boingo, asked songwriter Danny Elfman to provide the music for the film. Since then, Elfman has provided the score for all but five of the films Burton has directed and/or produced.
After directing episodes for the revitalised version of TV series of ’50s/’60s anthology horror series Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre, Burton received his next big project: Beetlejuice (1988), a supernatural comedy horror about a young couple forced to cope with life after death, as well as a family of pretentious yuppies invading their treasured New England home including their teenage daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) whose obsession with death allows her to see them. Featuring Michael Keaton as the obnoxious bio-exorcist Beetlejuice, the film grossed $80 million on a relatively low budget and won an Academy Award for Best Make-up. It would be converted into a cartoon of the same name, with Burton playing a role as executive producer, that ran on ABC and later Fox.
From creative genius Tim Burton (“Alice in Wonderland,” The Nightmare Before Christmas”) comes “Frankenweenie,” a heartwarming tale about a boy and his dog. After unexpectedly losing his beloved dog Sparky, young Victor harnesses the power of science to bring his best friend back to life–with just a few minor adjustments. He tries to hide his home-sewn creation, but when Sparky gets out, Victor’s fellow students, teachers and the entire town all learn that getting a new “leash on life” can be monstrous.
Adapted from his own, early live action short this has been a passion project of Burton’s for years and it shows in the attention to detail. The project reunites the director with many talents he’s worked with in the past, including actors Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, and Winona Ryder, as well as writer John August. The animation work looks fantastic and the cast of characters very fun indeed.