Director Henry Selick at CalArts Last Week to Talk Animation

Writer-director-producer and CalArts alum Henry Selick (Film/Video MFA 77) returned to campus on Thursday morning for a visiting artist lecture before a crowd of rapt animation staff, faculty and students in the Bijou Theater.

While Selick gained notoriety for directing such animated feature films as The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach, this past year, his work was finally recognized by his peers, earning an Academy Award nomination for Coraline. (He lost the Oscar, however, to fellow CalArtian Pete Docter for Up. )

During his introduction of Selick, Paul Vester, co-director of the Experimental Animation Program at CalArts, noted that while Selick was best known for his highly stylized, experimental stop-motion techniques, he was a student of varied animation interests. “Henry studied both character and experimental animation here. He held dual citizenship.”

The Bijou attendees were then treated to a reel of Selick’s work, which not only included film clips from Coraline, James and the Giant Peach, Monkey Bone, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Nightmare Before Christmas, but also lesser-known commercial work. Many were surprised to see Selick’s stop-motion work in Ritz Bits commercials, Pillsbury Doughboy spots and numerous MTV station IDs ads from the late 80s and early 90s.

For the next hour, Selick spoke to students about how animation has changed throughout the years and how handmade movies fit into today’s digital age. He credited a film by another CalArtian as singularly changing the animation industry.

“The world changed when Toy Story came out,” he said of John Lasseter’s (Film/Video BFA 79) work at Pixar. “It changed the culture of cinema.” (Toy Story was the first feature-length, computer-animated film.)

Selick explained that for awhile, the introduction of CG (computer graphics) became the standard in animation. “2D and stop-motion animation wasn’t viable,” he said. “But now there are more stop-motion films being made than in any other time in history,” Selick added. “A film now doesn’t have to be one technique or another.”

He cited Coraline as an example of how a film could bridge both worlds. “We wanted to do as many hand-made effects as we could in Coraline. We used CG only to marry images and to clean up,” said Selick. “So it’s a more pure handmade film.”

He also urged the young filmmakers in the audience to get their work out there on social media sites like Facebook and YouTube. “Film festivals were the only way to show our work in my day,” he said. “But now you can get your stuff out there…where you have an opportunity now to get recognized for the work you do and what you love.

“I think this is the best time in animation’s history…it’s fantastic.”

After a lengthy Q&A session with students, Selick ended his lecture by screening the pilot episode of Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions from 1991, a proposed MTV series. We found the 6-minute pilot and posted it above.

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