Like Tim Burton, I grew up fascinated by the Claymation specials that came on television during Christmas time. According to The Making of The Nightmare Before Christmas, those classic Claymation stories were the inspiration behind The Nightmare Before Christmas. Burton’s film has taken that nostalgic approach to animation, and created an artistically mesmerizing masterpiece.
Burton decided to use clay animation versus any other technique, such as hand rendered art or computer generated imagery, because it gives the audience the ability to enter the film. Using a three dimensional art form is something the audience can grasp and connect to. There is an ability to create life into the characters, which would be extremely difficult to do to with only a two-dimensional character. The choice to use clay was a very successful one for Burton, because he was able to take a familiar technique and modernize it to stand against many of today’s CGI films. If Burton were to go the direction of using real actors in costume and make-up, instead of animation, he may have excluded his adolescent fan base. The Halloween town characters could have been too scary for younger kids if done any other way.
It might be just me, but I feel like Claymation films appeal towards a broader audience then other kinds of animation. An adult can appreciate the time and effort that it takes to make each pain-staking scene. Tim Burton’s films are an appeal to ethos, and also known by most as having a dark and eerie feel to them, which draws in an older crowd. However, the most typical audience that is drawn to The Nightmare Before Christmas is definitely the kids. The fact that this film is all Claymation may be an appeal to children’s pathos. Many children grow up playing with Play-Doh and may associate the characters they see to the ones they make at home with their brothers and sisters.
Along with the artistic choice to use Claymation, Burton has intentionally used various camera angles to enhance the story. In the photo above you see from the view point of the young trick-or-treaters at Santa’s door. This up-shot creates a dramatic size difference between the two types of characters, and gives the illusion as if you are one of the kids. The technique of changing the camera’s perspective is also carried out during the next scene, shown below, when Santa is brought back to Halloween Town. When Jack opens the sack that the trick-or-treaters placed Santa in, the audience gets a glimpse through Santa’s eyes. This effectively adds to the scene, and to the audience’s understanding of how scary it may feel for Santa to be crowded around by all of those Halloween townspeople (The Nightmare Before Christmas film).
Within the movie there are different towns that the audience will experience: Halloween, Christmas, and Real World. Each place has its own specific lighting and coloring to create an atmosphere. Halloween town tends to stand out against the other two, because of its dark and spooky backdrop. To create this drastic difference in the film, Halloween is filled with long shadows and silhouette backgrounds. Making Halloween town look this way appeals to logos, because we are used to dark colors and scary shadows when watching any other Halloween related story. When we go trick-or-treating it is always at evening, therefore, Halloween town always looks as though it’s nighttime. Light and color go hand in hand when creating this mood. Louis Giannetti of Understanding Movies states, “color tends to be a subconscious element in film. It’s strongly emotional in its appeal, expressive and atmospheric rather than intellectual” (22). Burton understands how to properly create a whole environment that helps to further develop a storyline.
The Nightmare Before Christmas gets 3 tickets from me. Tim Burton’s choice of using Claymation was spot on, and his unique camera angles and lighting enhance the drama of each scene. Using three-dimensional art forms avoids the problem of having flat, lifeless characters and makes a cartoon more realistic. Although scale can be an issue for Claymation films, Burton addresses it by using drastic camera angels to change a viewer’s perspective. He applies atmospheric elements to the scenery, like calculated lighting, to create an overall environment that draws the audience in.