Kelly Asbury, the respected animator who directed such films as Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Shrek 2 and Gnomeo & Juliet, has died. He was 60.
Asbury died Friday at his home in Encino after a long battle with cancer, rep Nancy Newhouse Porter confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter. “This was one of the most admired and beloved people in the industry,” she said.
Most recently, Asbury helmed the STX animated film Uglydolls (2019), a musical starring Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monáe, Blake Shelton and Pitbull.
A CalArts alum and three-time Annie Awards nominee who started his career at Walt Disney Feature Animation in 1983, Asbury was mentored by legendary Warner Bros. animator Chuck Jones — he was a “beacon of reassurance at all times,” he told THR‘s Carolyn Giardina last year — and worked as a story artist alongside John Lasseter on Toy Story (1995).
In his nearly four decades in the business, the Beaumont, Texas native also contributed to such other noteworthy animated features as The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Tim Burton‘s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), James and the Giant Peach (1996), The Prince of Egypt (1998), Chicken Run (2000), Shrek (2001), Wreck-It Ralph (2012), Frozen (2013) and Sherlock Gnomes (2019).
In addition to the Oscar-nominated Stallion of the Cimarron (2002) and Shrek 2 (2004), both for DreamWorks Animation, Asbury directed or co-directed Gnomeo & Juliet (2011) and Smurfs: The Lost Village (2017).
“Contrary to what outsiders may think, making animation can be, well, grueling, and always is at some phase of production,” he said in a July interview with Cartoon Brew. “Still, 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. I believe that, particularly for a director, such a connection to the project is an inescapable job requirement.”
Survivors include his wife, Jacquie; stepsons Andrew and Connor; sister Gwen; and niece Leslie.