Legendary animator, writer, director, and voice actor Kelly Asbury (Film/Video 82) passed away on June 26, 2020. He was 60.
Born in Beaumont, Texas, Asbury was, as his sister Gwen Asbury Speed told the Beaumont Enterprise, a “creative child” who “literally excelled with art.” At the age of 17, he wrote then-Walt Disney Studios Production Manager Don A. Duckwall inquiring how one would become an artist on his staff. Duckwall in turn asked Asbury to submit drawing samples. With Duckwall’s subsequent encouragement, Asbury enrolled in the Character Animation Program at CalArts in 1980.
Asbury cut his teeth as an in-betweener at Walt Disney Feature Animation in 1983, where he later worked on films such as The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), and Toy Story (1995) in various roles. The three-time Annie Award nominee was mentored by revered Warner Bros. animator and Chouinard alum Chuck Jones.
Asbury went on to direct and co-direct five animated features: Shrek 2 (2004), for which he won a 2004 Hollywood Film Award; Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002), for which he won a 2003 Western Heritage Award; and Smurfs: The Lost Village (2017). Shrek 2 and Spirit, both by DreamWorks, also earned Academy Award nominations for Best Animated Feature.
“I can honestly state that one of the emotional hazards I’ve discovered about being an artist and/or director of any animated project is the inevitability of taking everything about it into my heart,” Asbury said in a July 2019 interview with Cartoon Brew. “I believe that, particularly for a director, such a connection to the project is an inescapable job requirement.”
Throughout his 38-year career, Asbury’s credits include more than two dozen animated features, including The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), James and the Giant Peach (1996), Chicken Run (2000), Shrek (2001), Wreck-It Ralph (2012), Frozen (2013), and Sherlock Gnomes (2019). Asbury was known for his ability to contribute to films in various creative capacities, ranging from storyboarding, character design, visual development, and even voice acting—he voiced a variety of characters in Gnomeo and Juliet and Shrek.
Animation writer and story artist Ronnie del Carmen, who worked with Asbury on DreamWorks’ The Prince of Egypt (1998), paid tribute to him on social: “So sorry to hear this today. Everyone loved Kelly, it’s impossible to not be charmed by him or feed off of his positive energy. We worked together on Prince of Egypt and when I joined Pixar stories of the great ‘Kell-god’ was already legend. I will miss him dearly. Rest In Peace dear friend.”