How Tim Burton, Disney, and a Giant Warehouse Produced ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’

SFGate visits a San Francisco elementary school where there's absolutely no trace of warehouse that used to be there where Tim Burton kicked a hole in the wall during the arduous two-year filming of "The Nightmare Before Christmas". At least one animator remembers Burton at the time was directing Batman Returns, and only stopped by every month or so to check on the film's progress and "actually got to witness, proof positive, how the crew suffered to create his vision...." Slashdot reader destinyland shares SFGate's report: Disney initially had reservations about the film, releasing it under the Touchstone banner with a PG rating that was uncommon for an animated feature at the time. Nonetheless, "The Nightmare Before Christmas" became a sleeper hit — Disneyland's Haunted Mansion is annually remodeled with a seasonal overlay inspired by the film, and it clocks in at #7 on Rotten Tomatoes' list of the best Christmas movies of all time. It was immortalized in a Blink-182 song, and Roger Ebert went as far as to compare the originality of the worlds captured in "The Nightmare Before Christmas" to the planets in the "Star Wars" franchise.... [A] team of 120 animators, puppet fabricators, camera operators, and more moved into San Francisco Studios — later renamed Skellington Productions — in July of 1991, with production expected to begin later that October. The 35,000-square-foot warehouse on 375 7th Street was outfitted with 19 soundstages where 227 puppets — many of them duplicates of the main characters — were painstakingly assembled and animated. Passersby in SoMa likely had no idea the studio existed, and if they did, they were completely unaware of what was going on inside. Unlike studios such as Pixar and Dreamworks, where each animator is usually seated at a computer in a cubicle, these soundstages were massive and sectioned off with thick black curtains, said animator Justin Kohn, who lived in a Sausalito apartment next to Smitty's Bar during filming and still resides in Marin. "It was like visiting this crazy museum," he said. "You'd part the curtain, and it was like visiting a whole new world with clouds and stars everywhere." Set pieces were built no larger than two feet tall and wide so an animator could easily reach inside and move the puppets around. Each character had to be posed 24 times for every second of animated footage, while many of the scenes required 20-30 lighting instruments on top of that to create lifelike visual effects. "It was the most sophisticated stop motion ever done in the world up until that point," said Kohn... All the while, they wondered if the hours of tedious work would pay off. When the film was completed, most of the sets and puppets were thrown away, with animators taking home some of them as keepsakes — Kohn still has a Jack Skellington puppet and the sleigh displayed in an office.

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