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As a very young boy, Henry Selick used to sit in his New Jersey kitchen and tell his mother, Melanie, about his Other Life with his Other Family in Africa while drawing pictures of animals. She claims that the tales were so richly detailed she sometimes believed they were true.
He drew all the time – pictures of eagles, horses, lions, dragons and, later, Jaguar XKE sports cars. He loved unusual and scary animation, like the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence from Fantasia, or The Legend of Sleepy Hollow;and he especially loved the Ray Harryhausen stop-motion features such as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts. He dreamed of the Cyclops from Sinbad growing in his family’s huge fish tank.
Sometimes, he was able to pry the 16mm Kodak from his father’s hands. He took piano lessons. He tootled his father’s old clarinet in the school band, and when his sister Linda tired of her Kay electric guitar, he used it to join rock bands (with such names as Cloudy Daze and The Reviled). In high school, he made weight on the wrestling team and excelled in physics.
By the age of 20, Mr. Selick was studying painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, and printmaking at Syracuse University while working at Little Silver Lumber and playing lead guitar for his band Shark River – an outfit that sounded like Frank Zappa meets The Grateful Dead. After seeing an experimental animated film, he realized that everything he’d ever been interested in could be combined in one medium.
To study animation, he attended CalArts in Valencia, California; his classmates there included Brad Bird, John Lasseter, John Musker, Tim Burton, Rick Heinrichs, and Joe Ranft. He completed CalArts with two Student Academy Award-nominated short films, Phases and Tube Tales.
Soon he was a full-fledged animator at Disney, first working under Eric Larson – one of the original “Nine Old Men” – and later under the brilliant draughtsman Glen Keane, on The Fox and the Hound. In drawing legions of cute foxes and badgers, he developed an uncanny ability to communicate with woodland creatures. (This skill came in handy when he impressed his future wife Heather Ryan by summoning a red dragonfly to alight on his finger.)
While at Disney, Mr. Selick received an American Film Institute grant to make his animated short film Seepage, an experimental study that combined drawn animation with life-size stop-motion puppets.
He and his wife both worked with director John Korty on the cut-out animation feature film, Twice Upon a Time, as sequence director and background artist, respectively. Subsequently, Mr. Selick drew storyboards and did design work for Walter Murch’s Return to Oz; helped Tim Burton and Rick Heinrichs on their rarely seen Kung Fu Hansel and Gretel for Disney Cable; and won a nationwide AFI contest to make a music video of Party at Ground Zero for the band Fishbone. The resulting video won Billboard magazine awards for Best Art Direction and Set Decoration.
He storyboarded, shot second unit on, and helped create fantasy sequences for director Carroll Ballard’s Maurice Sendak-designed Nutcracker, The Motion Picture.
Through his own production company, Mr. Selick created a series of defining and award-winning MTV station IDs; breathed new life into the Pillsbury Doughboy, creating nine commercials in one year; and helmed the award-winning Ritz Bits commercials in which hundreds of the crackers ski down mountains of peanut butter and fly to the moon in search of cheese.
In 1990, his original series for MTV, Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions, combining a live-action central character with stop-motion and cut-out animation, won First Prize at the Ottawa Animation Festival and a Silver Hugo at the Chicago Film Festival.
At about the same time, The Nightmare Before Christmas, originally planned as a TV special, was evolving into a film and Tim Burton asked him to direct it. The movie was the first full-length stop-motion animated feature from a major studio, and was released in 1993 to rave reviews. An instant holiday classic and boxoffice hit, Nightmare was nominated for the Best Visual Effects Academy Award, and Mr. Selick received the Annie Award (the animation world’s Oscar equivalent) for Creative Supervision. In 2006, Nightmare was remastered and re-released in digital 3-D, bringing the feature a new generation of fans.
His next project, James and the Giant Peach, based on Roald Dahl’s much-loved book, found Mr. Selick merging the worlds of stop-motion and CG (computer-generated) imagery with stylized live-action sequences. Released in 1996, the film won the top prize for an animated feature at the Annecy Film Festival. Monkeybone, his third feature, released in 2001, was loosely based on Kaja Blackley’s graphic novel Dark Town and also combined live-action and animation.
In mid-2004, after completing animation for Wes Anderson’s feature The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Mr. Selick joined LAIKA as supervising director for feature film development. While gearing up LAIKA’s story and CG departments for feature production on Coraline, he helmed the 2005 CG short Moongirl.
When he’s not creating other worlds, Mr. Selick spends time in the real world with his wife Heather and his sons Harry and George. His interests also include surfbiking on Northwest lakes and rivers, enjoying artisan beer, “spanking the plank” (playing Telecaster guitars), and refurbishing vintage amps.