The art of the nightmare

Art Director Deane Taylor joined us recently at ACMI for the first of our free Burton Sunday Talks series, The Art of the Nightmare Before Christmas. He enthralled the crowd with his experience of working on Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and his otherwise very ‘animated’ life.

Watch the video highlights from the talk below:

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We also pulled Deane aside and got him to answer a few quick questions:
Are there any films (animated or live-action) which you particularly love for the production design?
Films that have had an impact on me with regard to Production Design are rich and varied. Standouts are Pans Labyrinth, for tone and pace (with regard to time to enjoy the visuals). Amélie for mood, atmosphere and colourisation. The City of Lost Children for the same. Paul Berry’s Sandman, for design and staging that supports story point. This is skimming the surface…My passion for production design that works extends from Hitchcock to Lilo and Stitch.

What did you learn about filmmaking through your work on the stop-motion classic Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas?
By working in a key position on Nightmare it was my responsibility to visualize ideas in their most raw form, develop them, and learn new ones that I would have otherwise never dreamt of.  It was a rare and organic process which could have only occurred by like-minded artists being in the same space at the same time and I am eternally grateful for it. There were notable creative clashes on a regular basis which I now recognize as a critical part of the process. These things have formed the fabric of everything I have done since.
I don’t know if this is formal filmmaking, but its one shared by default. I think the lesson is, invite ideas – be practical and have a decision maker.
Can you describe the role of an art director/production designer on an animated film?
A production designer is responsible for the big picture, the overall look and feel. The Art Director executes the detail. Each is equally responsible to the other which is why the lines are often blurred.
In reality, The Production Designer acts for the Director in assuming responsibility for the look of the film and instructs the Art Director to deliver accordingly. On Nightmare, there was not a Production Design credit. To this day I am unsure why this is the case but I accept that most of the roles on the film were multi-tasked, or maybe an art director was cheaper than a production designer(?).
What advice would you give to emerging filmmakers who are beginning their careers in the Art Department or Animation Department?
Art Departments and Animation Studios attract specialised artists. Creative individuals who have chosen to zig, when the others zag. This is entirely appropriate and correct but it does generate a peculiar problem on the employment front.
On the one hand, there is a gifted artist whose style is strong but may often oppose direction, and on the other is an artist who shows talent and potential, willing to learn, but is not loud enough to be heard. My thoughts on this are: skip all egos (don’t have one), do more than is asked, take responsibility for menial tasks and make the next person look good.
In five adjectives, how would you describe Tim Burton’s style?
Generous, humble, brooding, mischievous and inspired.
Thanks to Deane for sharing his unique experience with us. Next cab off the rank in the Burton Sunday Talks series is film composer Dale Cornelius, who will talk about scoring a story.

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