Kelly Asbury, a prolific animator and director whose credits included Shrek 2, Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimmaron, and more than a dozen other high-profile animated films, has died. Variety reports that the cause of death was abdominal cancer. Asbury was 60.
A CalArts graduate, Asbury got his start at Disney in the early ’90s, working as a storyboard artist on a number of projects, including The Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast, The Rescuers Down Under, and Toy Story, as well as serving as assistant art director for Tim Burton’s macabrely intricate The Nightmare Before Christmas. He then made the move over to DreamWorks, where he worked for the next several years, serving as an artist and occasional story contributor on Prince Of Egypt, Chicken Run, Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, and the second Madagascar film.
During that same period, Asbury also scored his first directorial credit, working alongside Lonra Cook on the ambitious 2D animated film Spirit. Centered on a young Mustang living in the American West in the 19th century, the film was praised for its gorgeous visuals and serious tone. Several of the animators who worked on the project then followed Asbury to Shrek 2, which was the first of several movies where he also served as a voice actor, lending his voice to a handful of minor roles. (He got a slightly more prominent role on Shrek 3, although he didn’t direct.)
Asbury continued to work steadily up through 2019; his directorial credits from this time include Gnomeo And Juliet, Smurfs: The Lost Village, and last year’s UglyDolls. In the meantime, he also popped in to help out his old bosses at Disney from time to time, with art credits on both Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph. And outside his work behind the drafting table/computer, he was apparently also something of an entertainment historian; in 2003, he published Dummy Days, a well-regarded history of the lives of five prominent 20th century ventriloquists.
Asbury’s career straddled a pivotal moment in the history of Western animation, as traditional 2D work consistently gave ground to the rise of CG films. He was there for several of those key moments—the occasional resurgence of stop-motion, the heights of the late-Disney era, the rise of Shrek and DreamWorks as a viable competitive force. Working from nothing but the films he Kelly Asbury lent his pen to, you could draw together a fairly comprehensive history of the changes that came over the industry in that era; all that, and he apparently wrote a pretty good ventriloquism history, too.