With Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland approaching theaters, it’s good to remember where it all started for Burton – right at the Disney Studios in the early 1980s, alongside a number of talented but underutilized young animators.
The above picture, which shows a 24-year-old (!) Burton alongside artist Rick Heinrichs, comes from a 1982 issue of Disney Newsreel, the cast newsletter for the Disney Studios. The accompanying article promotes Vincent, a short film that the two had made together. The stop-motion short, as you might be able to tell, had more than a tinge of autobiography to it.
“Vincent,” the Studio’s newest stop-motion animation short film, was released with “Tex” at the Westwood Bruin last week. The film was designed as an experiment to test new stop-motion techniques for their possible use in feature films. It was so accomplished that Production Vice-President, Tom Wilhite, decided it should be released theatrically.
“Vincent” is a six-minute story of a little boy who thinks he’s Vincent Price. Tim Burton wrote, directed, and designed the characters for the film, and Rick Heinrichs was Producer and Sculptor for the show. Vincent Price narrated the story.
“Vincent” was entered in the experimental short film category at the prestigious Chicago Film Festival and won first prize, and it will qualify for Academy Award consideration. It will show at the Westwood Bruin for the duration of “Tex’s” engagement.
The studio, of course, didn’t really know what to do with Burton, and he would soon depart along with other young animators like John Lasseter. Burton, who also did conceptual work for The Black Cauldron, would make another short for Disney in 1984; Frankenweenie can be seen on the DVD release of The Nightmare Before Christmas alongside Vincent. Burton is also remaking it as a feature film for his next Disney project.
You can see, though, in the picture from the article that the oh-so-young Burton was already working on several of the key design styles that would emerge in his later work. Rick Heinrichs would make good for himself too, filling various artistic roles on a number of Burton projects and emerging as an art director on major projects like the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean films, the current release The Wolfman, and the upcoming Captain America.