The classic “Nightmare Before Christmas” is 20 years old.


Dressing up to see ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ is a quirky Christmas tradition at the Loft Cinema.This year, Christmas comes early.

Bumping the Tim Burton classic up from its holiday season slot, the theater will show “The Nightmare Before Christmas” on Nov. 10 as part of its fourth annual film fest, which revels in the eclectic.

“It’s weird and taps into the fanboy and fangirl culture that we like to serve here at the Loft,” Loft program director Jeff Yanc said of the film, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this month. “I like to think of it as a mainstream ‘Rocky Horror’ for kids and adults.”

Pete Kozachik, the film’s director of photography and a University of Arizona grad, will be in town for the screening and will answer questions afterward. Kozachik — yes, brother of Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik (who is the festival’s honorary chairman this year) — received an Academy Award nomination after the film’s release in 1993 for best visual effects.

Since then, he has continued to work with other filmmakers using stop-motion animation: “you move it once and take a picture and move it again.” 

He has worked on nearly 40 features films, including “The Matrix” sequels, “Corpse Bride” and “Coraline.”

His next project is “Auntie Claus,” a stop-motion animated feature based on Elise Primavera’s book. We spoke with Kozachik, 62, by phone from his home near San Francisco.

Where did your interest in film come from? “I wasn’t really as interested in film as I was in a genre, and the genre was basically rubber monsters chasing space guys. It just so happened that at some point I realized that there was film involved and that it was a craft and that some of that craft you could do yourself in your garage. That was a revelation and a neat thing. A lot of the guys I work with have the same story, the same monsters, the same everything. We tried to emulate what we saw.”

When you made those first films in your garage, what were they like? “It wasn’t really a garage. It was a bedroom. It was just getting my little seventh-grade friends together and making them run around …”

How did “The Nightmare Before Christmas” set a precedent? How did you make the decision to join the project? “It was the first time we didn’t use the process to make monsters; it was to make a cartoon. I was kind on the fence at that point. … ‘Jurassic Park’ was going to be starting up, and so I had an offer for that, and at that time, they were going to do it with rubber puppets. I thought this would be great, and Henry Selick came along with this other thing that seemed dopey. It was kind of a difficult decision but I think the thing that worked was that it was a whole picture, which is really more satisfying than just doing a few shots. That happened … and I thought it would never happen again, but somehow people like that stuff …”

Why do you think this sort of film appeals to audiences? “Some people think the technique is really cool or clever, or you can study it if you don’t like the story. … People got into the subject matter. I was sitting in a theater back then just when it was coming out, and a couple of women were in front of me, and one leans to another and says, ‘This is really wicked,’ and they both cackled, and I think people liked that.”

Other stop-motion animation films since then have been similar, like“Corpse Bride” and “Coraline.” Is there some kind of connection between this genre of film and stop-motion animation? “They go hand in hand. A lot of the people I work with are little goths. They love it. They definitely like to get into that. There’s just a lot of guys from my era, and it’s about the only way we can do the craft anymore because CG kind of runs everything.”

How has technology changed since “The Nightmare Before Christmas?” “CG has pretty much established a new standard of what you might call quality or finesse. That’s one of the things I like about ‘Nightmare.’ It doesn’t have a lot of finesse. … It looks extremely handcrafted, and maybe that’s a good thing, but we have since then tried to make stop motion look more and more like CG, which is not necessarily a great thing to do, but most of the directors I work with want to get closer and closer and closer.”

So there is a kind of charm to the handcrafted look? “Yes. Anybody who played around with clay and wood as a kid, even if you don’t like the story, a lot of people just go to look at the screen to just watch.”

How has the general understanding of stop-motion animation changed since you started doing this? “When I was a kid, it was a complete black art. Nobody knew what was going on. It was some big secret. … Thanks to MTV and everything else that kind of displays the technique, people are a lot more savvy on stuff like that. You can appreciate it for what it is. “I was lucky enough to find out what these guys were doing, these monster makers, and I thought it wasn’t a black art anymore. I saw a picture of Ray Harryhausen standing beside one of his monsters. … I realized this is something a kid can do.”

You’re working on “Auntie Claus” right now. Will it have the same feel as the other films? “We’re thinking in terms of something that isn’t going to make little kids cry. Unfortunately, I know of at least one 9-year-old who had to be taken away from the screen. Some of the stuff we’ve been doing more recently has been a little bit much, like ‘Coraline.’ It’s fun stuff, but I don’t know, maybe it’s too much for kids. We’re looking to attract kids that aren’t just in their ‘tweens, but maybe a little bit younger.”

Pete Kozachik, who received an Academy Award nomination for best visual effects for the “Nightmare Before Christmas,” will attend its screening at the Loft Film Fest.

Writing about Tucson's heart and soul — its people, its kindness, its faith — for #ThisIsTucson.