The maker of the ‘Pumpkin King’

Nightmare Before Christmas Special Screening

Sarah Smith, Arts & Rec Assistant Editor

Owen Klatte, an animator for the original motion picture “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” visited Young Auditorium on Wednesday, Nov. 2. Hosting a Q&A following a screening of the film, Klatte responded to questions about his time as an animator for the film, as well as sharing some experiences he has had throughout his career.

“I got into stop motion because I can’t draw,” Klatte said. “I wanted to be an animator, so I got into animation after going to the Oriental Theatre in Milwaukee every year and seeing these collections of independent films. Every year I would go see these amazing films that were showing what could be done with animation that was way beyond the commercial stuff and the kid stuff, just this incredible variety of styles and media.”

In his career, Klatte has worked on many films including Anomalisa (2015), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2010), Charlotte’s Web (2006), James and the Giant Peach (1996) and more. He has worked in the animation department, in visual effects, as director and as producer for different movies throughout his career.

“I moved to California and ended up running into the right people and grabbing the right opportunities and being in the right places at the right time and got to be on The Nightmare Before Christmas,” Klatte said. “It was an amazing group of people, most of us had not worked on a feature film before. There were enough people who knew what they were doing to be able to run the thing, and then there were a bunch of us who were just excited new artists jumping in.”

As a former professor at UW-Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts, Klatte’s work as an animator has inspired many, including his former student and UW-Whitewater’s own lecturer in the Department of Art & Design Michael Howen.

“It was so amazing to me,” Howen said. “He worked on the coolest animated film I had ever seen and he did it in a route that was kind of unheard of to me. He changed literally the whole course of my life, and I wasn’t the only one. There were so many other students who were inspired to actually pursue what they wanted to do.”

Klatte shared strategies and tricks that are used in animation including using dozens, if not hundreds of separate pieces of a puppet to depict different emotions and poses. Using wire to manipulate a puppet or prop. The animators disguised themselves in black to physically and strategically alter a scene while it is being recorded so as to not be seen on camera and more behind the scenes things that a viewer may not consider is happening while watching a motion picture.

He explained that the profession is more physically and mentally demanding than it may appear, opening the eyes of many audience members. Animation for motion pictures is a skill that incorporates much more than a person may think, and the growth of his work from commercials to feature films shows the amount of strength, time, skill and commitment that goes into it.

“You can come from anywhere and make it in the world of art or entertainment,” Howen said.