Director Kelly Asbury, who recently brought Uglydolls to the big screen and is known for films like Shrek 2 and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, has passed away at the age of 60 after a battle with cancer. The news was shared by story artist David Trumble, who worked with Asbury on the film and took to Twitter to share a touching tribute to his friend and former boss. Trumble had nothing but sweet words to say about his experiences with Asbury, who never let the high-pressure situation of inheriting a film after the previous director left stop him from showing kindness and compassion for those he worked with. We've included the full tribute from Trumble below because frankly, he said it better than we ever could.
"MEMORIAL THREAD: Today I learned that Kelly Asbury, my director on 'Uglydolls', has passed away from cancer. I am shocked and quietened, but here are a few words about the man who made my first ever animated feature gig so much warmer and less stressful than it could have been. Kelly rose up in the Story department, working with my current boss Henry Selick on 'Nightmare Before Christmas' and 'James & The Giant Peach', as well as classic Disneys such as "Beauty & The Beast" and "Rescuers Down Under"
His turn as a director came during his tenure at Dreamworks. He helmed the (in my view) much unsung 'Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron', and introduced the world to Puss In Boots in "Shrek 2". His last few films were not as celebrated, but he was always a dependable pair of hands.
MEMORIAL THREAD: Today I learned that Kelly Asbury, my director on "Uglydolls", has passed away from cancer. I am shocked and quietened, but here are a few words about the man who made my first ever animated feature gig so much warmer and less stressful than it could have been... pic.twitter.com/GZA6TldKZp— David Trumble (@Drumble) June 26, 2020
I met Kelly when he took over "Uglydolls" from Robert Rodriguez, who left to pursue other projects. He was saddled with the thankless task of delivering a completely reworked film for an almost impossible deadline, and he brought that plane in to land on time. Working to keep such a pressurized pipeline on track was a trial-by-fire for the production, especially me as this was my first Hollywood job as a Story Artist. I mostly embraced the stress, because this was where I had been fighting to be for so many years, but it was tough and no-one had more pressure on him than Kelly, and in the final few weeks of Story we spent a lot of time together in Burbank, trying to wrestle the projects' many Story elements into a coherent shape in time for delivery, without losing our minds And whether we succeeded in that is, of course, debatable and up to the viewer. But that's not what this thread is about. So I'm going to take a few moments to run through a couple of the great things that Kelly did as a collaborator in the face of that arduous process.
Firstly...if he was stressed or driven to distraction with something he would always preface a launch or a check-in by letting you know 'I am stressed about this" or "I am tired", so you would know that his mood wasn't anything to do with you. A simple but very considerate act.
He was always open to collaboration, even if it came from unexpected sources. For example, he noticed a piece of artwork on my wall in a Skype one day, a portrait of my partner's son Zander as the Vetruvian Man, and made it the Perfection's Logo. AND he paid me for the idea. My partner's niece is called Maizy, and she adores Easter Eggs in animated films, so I put her name in the storyboards for the final scene with the little girl, and Kelly kept the name, so Maizy got to be a literal Easter Egg in a real animated movie in a real theatre.
During the premiere, we found out we were seated directly in the row in front of Kelly and his wife. And at points in the movie where my sequences or ideas popped up he would occasionally pat me on the shoulder like a proud dad. As one of the last board artists working on the production, I ended up contributing to a lot of sequences. When the credits rolled, I noticed my name was first in Story, and not alphabetically. I don't know if this was intentional, but it's the kind of sweet thing Kelly would do.
And there was plenty of aggravation and fierce debating on this job. We butted heads a few times, but he was never anything but kind and supportive to me. He was never mean, always checked in with me to make sure I was okay, and he recommended me for other jobs after we wrapped. And I think that's what makes me the most sad right now...the fact that, regardless of how these movies come out, Kelly was a KIND director. One thing you can never take for granted in this business is kindness. So much of our industry can be toxic and ruthless, but he was kind.
One final Kelly story: I've mentioned that I really rate "Spirit"; it's got some stunning visuals, a badass train crash, and some serious "Bambi" vibes. And, as with that film, Man, specifically the US Army, are the villains. It's brave, and James Cromwell is a great antagonist. But when my partner learned I would be working with Kelly, she confided in me that she'd always had a crush on the lead character. So one time in Burbank I mentioned this to Kelly as an aside. That same afternoon, he came to my cubicle and slipped a piece of paper across the desk towards me. I kept it safe on the plane home, and presented it to my partner reverently. After blinking at it for a few seconds, she looked and me and said "....I didn't mean THE HORSE!!!!!"
So, bashful tail between my legs, the next time I was down in Burbank I told Kelly what she'd said and he exploded with laughter. Shortly after, he came back with this sketch of Little Creek. Both now hang in our house, a reminder not simply of my having worked with Kelly, but also of how willing he was to laugh in the face of mistakes. He was gentle, warm-hearted and self-deprecating. He could get as frustrated as anyone, but he managed it well, considering.
On my last day of Story work on the film, part of a skeleton crew of board artists left in the Burbank office, Kelly poured us some shots of liquor and we had a toast. He was clearly exhausted, but grateful, affirming everyone's hard work. I must have been suffering even then. I will always be indebted to "Uglydolls". It was a hard job, with a mixed reception, but it taught me SO much about the film-making process, refined my skills as a Story Artist, and created the opportunities I have now. I owe it everything, even if it was, at times...ugly. But if there's one thing Kelly taught me directly, it was that, regardless of how rough it gets, being toxic or bullyish is always a choice. That you can be the head of a team AND take time to be kind to people who are in the trenches with you. That you don't have to be a d***.
For that, Kelly, I will always be beyond grateful. You were a diligent professional, a generous boss and collaborator, and you loved making movies, but more than any of that...you were a good guy. Rest in Peace, sir. Team Ugly forever."