Case Study – The Nightmare Before Christmas

By November 20, 2015 May 11th, 2016 Honours Project

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a 1993 stop motion film directed by Henry Selick and based on the story and characters by Tim Burton.

How Stop Motion is Used in the Film

The film is a well known stop motion animated film. The characters and sets feel real and the quality of motion comes across as a traditional stop motion film, featuring the odd jerky movement that we associate with the medium. Overall the animation in the film is very convincing and there is a real sense of physicality to the look of the movie. In scenes such as the Christmas town and the forest, the depth of the closed sets give the illusion these worlds are enclosed, and separated from reality.


The Nightmare Before Christmas features a lot of texture in its sets and characters. The film takes place mostly in outdoor locations in a fictional universe. Textures are used effectively to separate the different locations of the Halloween town, the Christmas town and the “real” world. Halloween town use a lot of unnatural textures that make up their characters such as Sally who is threaded together.

The film has a distinct Halloween or gothic look to it, featuring a lot of well known fictional characters based around Halloween. I remember as a kid finding some scenes and characters pretty creepy but not too creepy where it became unwatchable. Maintaining a visual style and not straying into uncanny territory helped the film to achieve this. I think this was important as it allowed the story to be told while also including story elements that involve scaring children.

Compared to Corpse Bride, the colour palette is a lot duller, which helps to convey the grim atmosphere that the Halloween town has. This contrasts with the Christmas town and the positive atmosphere it has. As the movie progresses the Halloween town brightens up over time.

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