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A Stocking Stuffer That Gives More

This holiday season brings three new animation masterpieces to DVD. Jacquie Kubin discusses the DVD format's benefits and the new releases with a special focus on The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas DVD Special Edition Set contains bonus materials including two of Burton's earlier films, Vincent and Frankenweenie. © Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved.

Something special for the film and animation holiday stocking can be found on the DVD movie shelves. Enhanced with bonus footage that provides sneak peeks behind the scenes of favorite movies, DVD's are no longer just entertainment. They also provide how-to tutorials featuring the directors, artists and creative talents behind the movies. "Viewing a DVD has become more than the passive experience of watching a 2D movie," said Martin Blythe, VP Publicity, Paramount Home Entertainment. "It becomes a way for consumers to build their own narrative experience in and around a movie." Since it first launched in 1997 to today, the DVD format represents the fastest growing entertainment segment in history with more than nine million players already in consumer homes.

The Mission Impossible: 2 DVD offers film fans, filmmakers, animators and animation fans a virtual classroom on how some of the greatest films to hit the silver screen have been made. © 2000 by Paramount Pictures Corp.

Meeting the demand for DVD enabled movies, studios have released more than 8,000 DVD video titles. While most movies run from approximately 75 to 100 minutes, DVD capacity allows for up to, and sometimes exceeds, two hours, or 120 minutes, of run time. Adding a new budget line item to film production, studios are filling the DVD's enhanced capacity with "behind-the-scenes" information explaining some of the how and why of filmmaking. These features normally include a documentary type short film introducing the key people that took part in the film's creation, "behind-the-scenes" information on the production of the film, interviews with starring cast members, movie trailers, sound track videos and even technical information about the film's pre-production stages.

"We have just released MI:2 (Mission Impossible:2) on DVD and it is a film that demands these bonus materials because it's so full of 'how in the world did they do that' stunts," Blythe says. "We have included almost 50 minutes of material on how Tom Cruise did the most dangerous stunt work himself and how the stunts were actually done. None of this material was released during the film's theatrical release and the DVD is full of surprises!" For film fans, filmmakers, animators and animation fans, bonus materials mean more than added entertainment value. They can also provide a virtual classroom on how some of the greatest films to hit the silver screen have been made.

Get Up Close to Burton's Nightmare

DVD's released for this holiday are the animation tours de' force of Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas Special Edition, James and the Giant Peach Special Edition and Toy Story Collector's Edition The Ultimate Toy Box. Each of these films' DVD releases contain bonus features that explain the groundbreaking animation techniques and skills used in creating these films. Lauded with accolades such as "breathtaking" and "never before seen," Tim Burton's stop-action Nightmare Before Christmas (Touchstone, 1993) is highly regarded as the first modern, and in many viewers' opinion, best full-length stop-action feature film. (However, this is a much more hotly contested subject since Chicken Run hit the screens this past summer.) The story is of the Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington, who resides and lords over Halloween town. One day, following the annual Halloween celebration, he becomes disenfranchised and seeking something else, finds Christmas Town. Enamored of its colorful lights and buoyant spirit, The Pumpkin King plots to kidnap Santa Claus, or Sandy Claws as Jack refers to him, in order to become the red coated emissary of good will. Only Jack doesn't really get the concept, hence the nightmare begins.


Lock, Shock and Barrel, a trio of troublemakers, help Jack Skellington play Santa for a stint. © Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved. Jack Skellington performs an unfamiliar role as Santa in Nightmare Before Christmas. © Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved.

Standing the test of time, this stop-motion masterpiece has been released on DVD within a special edition set that includes plenty of bonus materials including two of Mr. Burton's earlier films, Vincent and Frankenweenie. "The DVD medium allows for not just the inclusion of additional materials, but the ability through well integrated menus and navigation to make the experience more involving for the viewer," Chris Carey, Senior VP for Technical Operations, Walt Disney Studios explains. "DVD is creating a more educated viewing audience that has a greater appetite for more information about the films, how they were made and the story behind the scenes." Filled with feelings of German expressionism, Burton's professional directorial debut, Vincent is narrated by film legend Vincent Price. It is impossible not to see a foreshadowing of things to come, particularly The Nightmare Before Christmas, in both story and style. The other film, Frankenweenie is an uncut version of his original film that has never before been made available to consumers. "Vincent and Frankenweenie are two films produced by Tim in his early days at the Disney Studios," Carey says. "They clearly demonstrate Tim's predilection for a style of filmmaking." Taking viewers deep behind the scenes of the creation and filming of this groundbreaking film are looks at some of the deleted scenes and animated sequences and a storyboard to film comparison that takes a few dozen scenes, comparing them to the actual storyboard drawings.


Jack's version of Santa leaves a young boy astonished when the gift he delivers decides to devour the family Christmas tree. © Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved. Lock, Shock and Barrel kidnap the real Santa Claus allowing Jack Skellington to take his place. © Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved.

Extremely interesting to view is the still frame gallery of more than 450 conceptual art images, including some of Burton's original character and scenery sketches. For animation fans and animators, the most intriguing and fascinating aspect of this DVD's bonus material is The Making of Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas documentary. During this film short, viewers will see and hear Tim talking about his original ideas before being taken through the step-by-step process of creating this breathtaking film from concept to final lighting and camera operation. Viewers will meet composer and lyricist Danny Elfman and legendary director Henry Selick who took Burton's concepts and turned them into a film. The documentary also shows some of the more than 100 artists and technicians, including 13 animators, who spent more than three years working to bring this film together. This filmmaking "how-to" explains how the film required the creation of hundreds of puppet characters that animators moved 24 times per each second of film, against a backdrop of 230 sets housed on 19 different stages. Watchers will see how Joseph Ranft, the storyboard supervisor, worked to visualize the film frame by frame, literally pre-making the movie in static form before any other process could begin.

Other Holiday Releases

Other releases to stuff an animator's stocking with are Toy Story I and II Collector's Edition and James and the Giant Peach. So voluminous that it required its own CD, making this special edition a three volume set, is the bonus features of Toy Story I and II Collector's Edition. Both the Toy Story I and II DVDs contain some bonus material including the Academy Award winning short Tin Toy found on Toy Story I and the Academy Award nominated short Luxo Jr. found on Toy Story II. Viewers will also enjoy on the set interviews with both Buzz and Woody. However, the third DVD features the documentary history of the making of Toy Story I and II. Other features include the process of character and location design and fans of this film will learn some of the moviemaking secrets behind this Walt Disney/Pixar release. The Toy Story Collector's Edition also includes storyboard to film comparisons, original treatment ideas, music videos and a guide to some of the films' hidden jokes.

Promising to be another holiday favorite, the DVD release of James and the Giant Peach Special Edition celebrates the 40th anniversary of Roald Dahl's popular children's story. © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

Another Disney animated modern classic is James and the Giant Peach, a film that mixes live-action, stop-motion animation and computer generated special effects into one film. The holiday DVD release celebrates the 40th anniversary of the children's story by Roald Dahl and viewers of this DVD will get to revisit the skills of some of the same creative team that worked on Nightmare Before Christmas.

A Learning Tool

DVD is definitely here to stay -- at least until it is replaced by the next big thing. The high-density format allows movies to be transferred from the big screen to the home screen maintaining a movie original widescreen format on standard or widescreen TVs with their respective 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios giving a true to theater like experience in the home. Depending on the wants of the consumer a DVD player can be priced from under $200 for a system that will meet most families' needs to more than $900 for a player with enhanced storage and format compatibility features. As prices for DVD players and movies become competitive to the VHS format, for the consumer, the DVD movie's biggest draw may be its increased entertainment value. Depending on the DVD player, movie watchers are able to single step frames in both forward and reverse or digital zoom into a scene to take in details. And, though it is not a heavily supported feature now, those watchers will be able to take a seat in a virtual director's chair, changing the movie's viewing angles while learning about filmmaking from the upcoming and reigning kings and queens of the cinema.

Jacquie Kubin wishes everyone everywhere a joyous holiday season and prays that this year we can become just a little closer to peace and tolerance for all people.

Jacquie Kubin, a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist, enjoys writing about the electronic entertainment and edutainment mediums, including the Internet. She is a frequent contributor to the Washington Times and Krause Publication magazines. She has won the 1998 Certificate of Award granted by the Metropolitan Area Mass Media Committee of the American Association of University Women.