How Burton’s Fever Dream Spawned ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ …

... and why he wanted to keep the film's imperfections intact for the new 3-D edition.

SANTA MONICA, California — Most of us would do anything to forget our nightmares.

But most of us aren’t Tim Burton, whose macabre mind has envisioned everything from a man with scissors for hands to a thousand singing, dancing Deep Roys. The writer/director doesn’t just remember his nightmares — he’s revisiting and revamping his most famous one, the 1993 classic “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” for a holiday release in 3-D.

“Well, I was hallucinating. I had a 108-temperature fever that night,” Burton recalled of the evening he created the characters for “Nightmare.” “I think that’s where you get your best ideas, the ones that kind of come out of your subconscious. They always have more power that way.”

The story of pumpkin king Jack Skellington’s harebrained attempt at sabotaging Christmas, “Nightmare” lends itself particularly well to a 3-D update, Burton believes, because of the animation techniques used in crafting the original.

“The stop-motion process really lends itself [to 3-D] because, well, if you went on the set of a stop-motion film you are on a dimensional set and you are with the character — you are kind of halfway there,” Burton described.

Unlike modern animation, which tends to be computer-aided if not entirely CGI, stop-motion animation of the type used on “Nightmare” is based on the quaint notion of imperfection. While digitizing the film for transfer to 3-D, specialists at Industrial Light & Magic had the opportunity to remove these minor imperfections but chose not to. That sits right with Burton.

“By this process you get to see the artists’ work more clearly. [For instance,] when I saw it I saw details that I don’t remember seeing as clearly before — the texture of the puppets and all,” Burton said. “You get to see the artists’ work much more in the way that it was originally intended.”

In recent years, Disney has made a mint by creating sequels to their film classics for the DVD market. For Burton, who said of such updates that they “eat away at why people like [the film] to begin with,” revisiting “Nightmare” made sense because he was given oversight in the film-to-digital transfer.

“I was always very protective of ['Nightmare'], not to do sequels or things of that kind. You know, ‘Jack visits Thanksgiving world’ or other kinds of things, just because I felt the movie had a purity to it and the people that like it,” Burton said. “Because it’s not a mass-market kind of thing, it was important to kind of keep that purity of it. I try to respect people and keep the purity of the project as much as possible.”

For the past several years “Nightmare” has had screenings in Hollywood on Halloween night. It’s a new holiday tradition, and one that Burton thinks perfectly meshes with his film.

“Well I really thought it was more of a Christmas thing … but Christmas, Halloween — it kind of all blends together anyway, you know,” Burton smiled. “They are my two favorite holidays so I thought it would be nice to kind of combine the two and make one great holiday. It kind of lasts that long anyway … so, you know, take your time.”

Check out everything we’ve got on “Nightmare Before Christmas.”

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