Siggraph Keynote: Henry Selick Warns That Box-Office Pressure Stifles Filmmakers' Creativity

Selick spoke on a keynote panel that also included Pixar's Pete Docter, DreamWorks Animation's Chris Sanders and 'The Simpsons' ' David Silverman.
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Henry Selick

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Saying that it is both an “incredible and the worst” time for animation, director Henry Selick -- whose credits include the Oscar-nominated stop-motion films Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas -- warned that high budgets and box-office pressures mean animation directors “can’t afford” to take risks.

“Having to make a blockbuster every time puts unhealthy pressure on creatives,” he said, speaking on a keynote panel Monday at CG conference Siggraph. “The pressure on the filmmakers is so intense I think it stifles the creativity.”

“I can’t imagine another Fantasia being made today,” he added. “I’m hopeful there will be a breakthrough and one big studio will force [the filmmakers] to try something new.”

He urged animators to also look at the opportunities offered by new platforms, including YouTube and Netflix.

Presented in collaboration with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, this year’s keynote was a part of the Marc Davis Lecture series, a forum to explore the challenges of creating animation for feature films. Speakers included Pixar's Pete Docter, who won an Oscar for Up; Oscar nominee Chris Sanders, who co-directed DreamWorks Animation’s The Croods; and Academy Award nominee David Silverman, who received a nomination earlier this year for the animated short Maggie Simpson in "The Longest Daycare."

The panel also included Oscar nominee Ron Clements, whose credits include Aladdin; director and animator Eric Goldberg, who was the supervising animator on the Genie in Aladdin; Kevin Lima, who is directing DWA's Monkeys of Mumbai; Mike Mitchell, who is directing DWA's Trolls; and Kirk Wise, who co-directed Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

The panelists’ work ranges from CG to hand-drawn to stop-motion animation. Goldberg was applauded when he pointed out that “no matter where we ended up, all of us did hand-drawn films at one point because we needed to know those principles. My advice is never ignore the technology, but don't forget what to took to get there.”

To that point, clips from each of the panelists' early work including student projects were screened during the session.

Noting that he has started to take banjo lessons, Pixar’s Docter said animators should constantly look for new inspirations. “The art is a reflection of the person inside; the way you think and interact with other people is key."

Several speakers echoed that message, urging animators to take the time to do “nonfilm” things such as reading and traveling.

AMPAS’ managing director of programming, education and preservation Randy Haberkamp moderated the discussion.

Twitter: @CGinLA