How Long Did It Take to Make Tim Burton's Twisted Masterpiece 'The Nightmare Before Christmas'?

Tim Burton's 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' still manages to instill wonder and joy into viewers almost 20 years later. How long did it take to make?

Bianca Piazza - Author

Oct. 27 2022, Published 12:20 p.m. ET

'The Nightmare Before Christmas'
Source: Touchstone Pictures

Whether you watch it during October or December, Henry Selick and Tim Burton's twisted little 1993 film The Nightmare Before Christmas is a holiday staple. With eerie patchwork characters and memorable tunes like "This Is Halloween" and "Kidnap the Sandy Claws," the film is equally whimsical and grim — which is super on-brand for Tim Burton.

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Based on a Tim Burton's poem that parodied "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," the film follows the trials and tribulations of the curious Jack Skellington — aka Halloweentown's esteemed Pumpkin King. Fatigued from the Halloween antics, he no longer finds joy in scaring Earthlings, which makes his coincidental discovery of Christmastown that much more exciting. With little understanding of Christmas's morals, naive and misguided Jack kidnaps Santa Claus and sets out to dominate the holiday.

After years of planning, rejection, and a rocky road to production, the musical film's stop-motion animation and fully realized design managed to wow audiences across the world. So, how long did it take to make it?

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'The Nightmare Before Christmas'
Source: Touchstone Pictures

How long did it take to bring 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' to life?

It all started when Tim Burton and sculptor Rick Heinrichs pitched the movie's concept and core characters to Disney in 1983. Back then, Disney didn't really take on edgy projects, so the timing just wasn't right.

After Tim garnered acclaim with uber-successful films like 1988's Beetlejuice and 1989's Batman, Disney suddenly perked up at the idea.

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"We started production in 1990," director Henry Selick told The Daily Beast. "We had three songs by Danny Elfman but no real screenplay, and we had to start because we had a pretty tight budget [$18 million], and had to finish the movie in time."

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The Nightmare Before Christmas took just over three years to make.

"I was on the film for three-and-a-half years. The stop-motion animation took about 18 months, but with pre-production, where you storyboarded every single shot, it did add up," Henry explained. "At its peak, it was about 120 people working on it, and we had between 12-17 animators on the job. It’s an insane way to make a movie, but a lot of fun."

Finally released in 1993, The Nightmare Before Christmas is still as timeless as ever in 2022.

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