Kelly Asbury, the animator and Oscar-nominated director, has died at the age of 60 after a battle with cancer. Asbury worked for Disney and DreamWorks during his career.
According to Asbury’s IMDb page, he directed five animated feature films during his career. His first, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, was released in 2002. That was followed by Shrek 2 in 2004, Asbury co-directed the film with Conrad Vernon. Asbury’s next release was 2011’s Gnomeo & Juliet. In 2017, Asbury directed Smurfs: The Lost Village. His final directorial effort was 2019’s Ugly Dolls. In addition to directing, Asbury also contributed voices to Shrek 2 and Gnomeo and Juliet.
Asbury worked on some of the most famous animated films of all time. In 1991, Asbury was credited as the writer of Beauty & the Beast. In 2013, Asbury worked as the story artist on Frozen. A year earlier, Asbury worked on Wreck-it Ralph in the same role. Asbury was also the story artist on Toy Story in 1995, Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, both in 2008.
Asbury was a native of Beaumont, Texas, but was living in Encino, California at the time of his death.
One Social Media Tribute Said That Asbury Was Known as ‘Kell-go’ in the Animation Industry
Asbury’s death was confirmed in Facebook post by Inside Out writer Ronnie del Carmen. Del Carmen wrote, “Kelly Asbury has passed away. 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.”
The Secret Life of Pets writer Brian Lynch paid tribute to Asbury on Twitter saying, “Rest in Peace, Kelly Asbury. A legend in animation, his name is on so many beloved movies. Co-directed the underrated Spirit, and directed one of the funniest animated movies ever made, Shrek 2. His work will be discovered and adored by audiences for generations to come.”
Fellow animator Tom Sito wrote in a Facebook post that Asbury “was dealing with cancer for a number of years.” Sito added, “He fought it bravely, and wanted no one to feel pity for him. He met every challenge, including this final one, with a smile.”
Elton John Asked Asbury to Direct Gnomeo & Juliet
Asbury said in an interview with Cinema Blend in 2011 that his producer Baker Bloodworth got him involved with directing Gnomeo & Juliet in 2006. Asbury said that he was a huge Elton John growing up and loved the idea of the singer writing the music for animated musical about garden gnomes.
Asbury said, “I met with Elton John, Elton John really wanted me to direct the project, asked me to direct it.” Asbury compared the use of the music of John and Bernie Taupin as being similar to the use of Simon & Garfunkel’s music in The Graduate. Asbury said, “The emotion that’s on screen is supported by the music that’s playing and sort of an emotional queue.” He went on to describe the movie as being “sort of this dream project.”
Asbury Wrote an Essay in 2019 About Dealing With the Emotional Backlash of Directing a Box Office Failure
Following the lack of box office success for his final two directorial efforts, Asbury wrote an essay on Cartoon Brew’s website about dealing with the emotions involved with creating a box-office bomb. In the essay, Asbury said that he had been “spoiled” by the financial successes of his first three films, especially Shrek 2. Asbury referred to The Smurfs as being a “tired franchise.” Asbury said that needing a job was the reason he signed on to direct. Asbury said that production on the film took four years but there were positives along the way, including making “life-long friends.
In writing about the financial failure of Asbury’s final feature Ugly Dolls, he said, “This time around, I didn’t waste time playing the blame game. Hard fact: We built it and they did not come.” Asbury said that he felt the film would have a “fighting chance” of “engaging families.” Asbury finished the essay writing:
Maybe next time, if I get another shot at directing, I will have artistically evolved to a place of not caring at all – or at least less – whether the movie makes money. After all, the real joy of working in my beloved animation industry is more about the funny anecdotes I can share from all the truly wacky experiences of past productions – and every movie has them.
Whomever first said, “The joy is in the journey” (I first heard it from the late, great story artist, Joe Ranft), was right. Next time around, come opening weekend, I will hold tighter to that wisdom.