‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ exhibit haunts the McNay

This holiday season, the McNay Art Museum gives us all a chance to take a turn down memory lane with an immersive installation of original sets, character puppets and sculpture pieces used in the production of Tim Burton’s cult classic stop-motion animation film, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

In the 1993 film, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, Jack Skellington, tries to bring Christmas spirit to his gothic world only to mash up the holidays with comically evil consequences.

Voices for the main characters were lent by famous actors like Chris Sarandon, better known as Prince Humperdinck from “The Princess Bride,” and Catherine O’Hara from the “Home Alone” franchise. An iconic musical score was composed by Danny Elfman, the man behind the theme to “The Simpsons” and many more Tim Burton projects.

Every stop-motion film is a labor of love that often takes years to produce, with 24 film stills inside each second of animation and hundreds of puppets with removable heads for each character’s range of expressions. Even supporting characters like Sally, or the evil triplets Lock, Stock and Barrel, had up to 10 faces with 11 iterations of facial expressions.

The results are nothing short of breathtaking and Burton’s work epitomizes the tradition with nearly 110,000 painstakingly detailed film stills going into the beloved animation.

The sets themselves speak to artistic movements, as Halloween Town is based in German expressionism. Christmas Town pulls almost directly from the absurd, and Dr. Seuss-ian inspiration. The ‘real’ world is minimalist, orderly and simplified.

The detail in the art form is not lost on its viewers.

“I think the physical aspect of the animation type really adds a different feel and flow of creation for the artist, in terms of being able to touch and mold the clay as opposed to digital software or even traditional art,” said Rachel Lopez, sophomore biochemistry and molecular biology major. “It’s good stuff that’s hard to do well. Respectable, but dying out.”

Some see stop-motion as a more cutting-edge storytelling medium.

“I honestly l’ve and cherish stop motion as an art form,” said Ariel del Vecchio, a sophomore art and art history major. “Wes Anderson is about to drop “Isle of Dogs” and I am so excited. It’s good art. It’s pretty. It makes people happy.”

Stop-motion has long been lauded as an art form, but the film has just as many long-time fans that fell in love with the production at a young age.

“I first watched it in sixth grade, but got really into it in eighth grade. I adored the music that Danny Elfman composed for the film. I even handmade a Jack Skellington jacket,” said David Clark, a mathematics and French double major.

The McNay’s exhibition opened Sept. 28 and will run through the month of December in the Tobin Collection for Theatre Arts. Art and movie fans alike are invited to go behind the scenes and see the interworking of the stop-motion animation process, while getting up close and personal with an iconic children’s film.