Biography * Animating Jafar (1992) * 1995 Interview * 2003 Interview * Making Mr. Bad Guy
Andreas Deja is considered today as one of the two best animators of
the Disney Studio, the other one being Glen Keane.
Having joined the Walt Disney Studio in 1980, he has animated among other
characters: King Triton, Gaston, Jafar, Scar, Hercules, Yzma and Lilo.
He was also responsible for supervising the animation of Mickey Mouse in
his two latest shorts: The Prince and The Pauper and Runaway
Brain. In 1995, he was still living in Paris, working on Runaway
Brain, in the Montreuil Studio.
Biography * Animating Jafar (1992) * 1995 Interview * 2003 Interview * Making Mr. Bad Guy
November 20, 1992 Interview by Chris Roberge:
Aladdin animator used subtlety to design strong villain
With the 1992 crop of movies finally drawing to a close, it is fair to say that Aladdin was one of the year's most entertaining films. As with most of Disney's animated successes, one of the strengths of Aladdin lies in its villain, the only character with both the greedy ambition and the power to set the workings of the plot in motion. Jafar, the sly and scheming vizier to the Sultan of Agrabah, is a wonderfully depraved character, and a worthy peer of Disney villains of the past. Jafar's angular design and understated movements were created by supervising animator Andreas Deja, who has previously overseen Gaston from Beauty and the Beast and King Triton from The Little Mermaid. I spoke to Dejas about his work in Aladdin when the film opened nationally in late November.
More than a few of Disney's many memorable characters share physical qualities with the actors who provide their vocal talents. Dejas, though, created the look of Jafar long before seeing Jonathan Freeman, the voice behind the vizier. "I came onto the movie and was supposed to design the character but they only had voice recordings of Jonathan Freeman. I kind of liked his voice -- there was a sort of an arrogant attitude in it. Then, through the drawing, I tried to come up with something that would fit the style of the movie but also that I could have some fun with. So he's got this eerie mask and he's very skinny and has a cape and so forth. Once I had this design set and started the animation, word was getting around that Jonathan was coming by. I remember when he came into my room I was saying, `Oh my God, I can't believe you're Jafar,' because he's a little chubby. I almost couldn't imagine that voice coming out of that man. But we had lunch and we talked and I watched how he moved. Jonathan's been on Broadway, so when he moves there's a little bit of a theatrical quality to it -- the way he gestures and rolls his eyes. I thought, `I can make that work. That's something I can really push.' And therefore Jafar turned out a little theatrical and over the top."
If the strikingly gaunt appearance of Jafar is far removed from that of Freeman, it is certainly even farther removed from that of the other characters who inhabit the fictional Arabian kingdom of Agrabah. Dejas explained that the differentiation was quite intentional. "Eric Goldberg, who designed the Genie, was the first one on the show and he turned us all on to drawings and caricatures by Al Hirschfeld. Eric found that his style worked very well for the Genie and soon the other guys tried to do that as well -- making everything a bit curvy and pleasing to look at. With Jafar I thought I wanted to be simple and direct too, but I wanted a contrast to the other characters, because they are all very animated and very bouncy and I thought that Jafar just can't be that way. He's a villain who doesn't move very much. He can show a lot by moving his eyebrow and other really subtle things. So not only in the animation, but in the design, I tried to come up with contrasting shapes -- a lot of vertical lines."
When asked to compare Jafar with past Disney villains, Dejas observed, "The closest one that I can think of is probably Maleficent because she was a villain who was strong by not doing very much. It was all in her poses and her subtleties, versus people like Cruelle De Vil and Captain Hook, who are very physical. Starting out, I didn't know which way to go, because in the storyboards he was digging for the lamp in the sand and screaming in one scene, and in others he was holding still. The more I animated, the more I found out that this is a guy you really want to underplay. He becomes much more powerful if you keep him subtle."
The work of caricaturist Al Hirschfeld has been cited by many people associated with Aladdin as a strong graphic influence, but in the early days of Disney's feature animation, he was one of Disney's strongest critics. After the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the first animated feature-length film, Hirschfeld complained, "The illusion of a well directed pen line is not to be confused with the gingerbread realities of a Snow White. Disney's treatment of these characters belongs in the oopsy-woopsy school of art practiced mostly by etchers who portray dogs with cute sayings. To imitate an animated photograph except as satire is in poor taste."
When I brought this up, Dejas responded, "He came to our studio about three weeks ago and we talked about this. What he was objecting to were characters like Snow White who were drawn really close to life and seemed to be copies of live action. He loved the dwarves and said that they were great but he didn't like the straight characters. We also showed him Aladdin and he just loved it. I don't think that any of the characters are realistically portrayed like Snow White or something like Cinderella. Actually when he saw the screening, he said that he was jealous of us because while his lines were just on paper, our lines moved."
The narrative structure of Aladdin was adjusted and reworked fairly often during its production. Some scenes were added, while others, such as a conclusion which revealed the street merchant narrator to be the Genie in disguise, were excised in an attempt to streamline the film. The sequence which contained Jafar's only song was revised several times.
"What happened was that towards the end of the movie when he is really powerful and has the lamp, all of a sudden he broke into a song talking about his problems and who he is. Even though it was a great song, at that point in the story it just didn't fit. They tried to cut the song out altogether, replacing it with story continuity, and that sort of worked but it was kind of dry and someone said that it really missed a musical piece. Then someone suggested we pick up the Prince Ali theme and humiliate the lad with a reprise version ... Thank God I hadn't animated yet. It was storyboarded and composed and scored actually, but nevertheless we went for the shorter version and that's the way it is now. We could have had a song with Jafar maybe at the beginning of the movie. Later on I had an idea that when Jafar is changing into the old man, he could sing about his problems while you actually see him dress up. It would have given him some nice character development."
In many reviews of Aladdin, Robin Williams, who provides the voice of the Genie, has been getting the bulk of the credit for the film's success. This is a bit unfair, not only because the entirety of the movie is enormously entertaining, but because Williams' talents are not the only ones fleshing out the popular character. "I'm actually very much with you on that," Dejas said when I asked him about this. "We were talking with the Academy to find out whether Robin Williams could actually receive an award for a supporting role and he can! So I think that they're going to try to make that happen. And I'd be very disappointed if, were he to win, only he goes up on the stage to pick it up. It's a 50-50 thing and Eric Goldberg should be up there because he made it act. Robin Williams gave us a beautiful track -- it's a sort of stand-up comedy radio show in a way -- but Eric had to visualize all of that and he brought that character to life."
Apparently the victim of some type of animation typecasting, Andreas
Deja will next be bringing to life the villain in the animated feature
of the Jungle, which Disney plans to release in 1993 [The
Lion King would be released in 1994].
Biography * Animating Jafar (1992) * 1995 Interview * 2003 Interview * Making Mr. Bad Guy
1995 INTERVIEW WITH ANDREAS DEJA
Interview with Andreas Deja by Didier
Ghez in Paris, January 1995
Q: Let's hear how you entered the Walt Disney Company.
I started in August 1980 and the person who helped me to enter was Eric Larson. I had written to him whilst still living in Germany as an Art Student and I'd heard that he was involved in training new, young animators. I asked if there was any advice he could give me. He sent me a nice letter back, which was very encouraging, so I thought that as I now had a contact like this that I might as well go ahead and send him some of my student work and cartoon work. Eric wrote back again, this time he was really encouraging, and said "I think you've got what it takes" and to let him know if I was seriously interested. I finished school in the Spring/Summer of 1980 and in August I went over to America.
Q: How did you become aware of Disney before that? What were the crucial milestones?
In Germany I had always grown up with Disney and it was exposed to me in Disney comics first at a very early age, when I was 4 or 5 years old. I hadn't seen any films, because our parents didn't take us to the movies, but I had been exposed to some Disney images in the comics and drew them in kindergarten, so there was already some enthusiasm for this sort of graphic world of Disney.
I was about 10 years old when Jungle Book came out for the first time and I went to see it and it changed my life basically and it left such a strong impression - I kept thinking "Wouldn't it be nice to be able to do this and work with a group of artists that do this? Wouldn't it be nice to work for Walt Disney?" I didn't know that much about the studio at that time, but a couple of years later I wrote to the studio very generally with some questions as to how one became a Disney animator, and what kind of training was involved and so forth? So they sent me a form letter back answering these questions, and that was important for me because I at least had an idea of which way to go. They didn't necessarily need to see your own films, your own cartoons or comics, they just encouraged you to become an artist in your own right first. To go to art school, to study animals, to study the human figure, anatomy and just a very solid academic art training was what they recommended.
So I started as soon as I could with the evening classes after school - drawing classes - which led to my Graphic Design studies at University in Germany. Towards the middle of my studies I turned again to Disney, to Eric Larson, and then I got in. I wasn't naive like many who write to Disney, and send in little cartoons, and say "look I can draw this and do you have a job for me?" I was always very critical and always thought that the level of quality was so high that I wouldn't fit in anyway, but wouldn't it be nice. You dream along as you train yourself, so I think I was a bit more critical toward my own work and the possibilities of actually getting in. So it was to my surprise, even more so, that I actually did get in.
Q: Do you remember the kind of drawings you sent to Eric Larson?
Yes, I think I still have the package somewhere. There were life drawings done in the classroom with an instructor. I had a student room in a town called Essen, where I lived on a dead end street with lots of children, and they knew that I was a Disney fan. Sometimes they would come up and we would watch Super 8 movies of Disney and I would drawn them as they were sitting there eating cookies and watching the films, which was fun. They were so excited and lively. So I sent some of those sketches and also drawings done at the zoo.
Q: Could you summarize the characters you animated for Disney during your career?
I started with a movie that nobody has ever seen called The Black Cauldron. It had a pig-keeper in it who I helped design. I animated quite a lot of the boy Taran and the Princess called Eilonwy and later on a mentor named Dallben. And also some of the Smurf type little characters underground (Andreas chuckles). I think you've seen this movie, something tells me! This was my first job and my first movie ever.
I didn't work on Mickey's Christmas Carol, but I did work on The Great Mouse Detective which was an odd assignment because they asked me to re-do some of the animation of the Mouse Queen originally done by someone else.
I went quite early on into story work for Oliver & Company. By that time the management had changed and we were working with Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner. It was a funny time because I didn't know where that project was headed and I liked Pete Young, who was the head of story on that film, as he had some good ideas - they were funny and entertaining - but he died suddenly (very young). Other people came in and took the project over and it didn't look as attractive any more and I just lost interest in it.
During that time I had met Richard Williams, who was working in London on commercials, and we became friends and socialized whenever he was in Los Angeles. Eventually, he was hired by Disney to direct the animation for Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, which was a Disney/Amblin co-production. He knew I was not very thrilled working on Oliver & Company and invited me to come to London to assist with the animation. I hesitated at first, because it would mean another big change to go over there for one year, but eventually I thought, Well, Why not?. I had nothing to lose, I could stay with Disney, and go to London for a year - so that's what I did. I worked there with Richard Williams and a European crew on Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, which was a lot of fun.
I animated a few sequences of the Rabbit, and some of the Disney cameos - i.e. some of the Fantasia characters and some of Mickey and Donald and even some of the Warner Bros. characters - Bugs Bunny and so forth. I did some of the ending sequence, the scene where they all come running in towards the villain who had died - there was a little hole in the wall with Toon Town behind. They all came running in with Mickey and Minnie up front.
We always thought that Mickey was the Mayor of Toon Town - The Boss. He was dragging Minnie behind and there was Goofy, Pluto, the Coyote and Betty Boop and tons of characters and they all had to come running in according to their character, they don't just float across and there they are! There was a prospective shot, very difficult to do, so I had to research all of the runs and walks that these characters had done, from Betty Boop, to Road Runner to Goofy, who bends his knees funny when he walks. All of this. It took me forever to do this scene, and management of course were asking "where is this scene, you've been on it for a month?". I said "Yes, I know. But do you know how many characters are in this?". It took me a long time as it involved just about every character that had ever been animated.
I also did some of the Weasel leader, Smart Ass - when he is by the kitchen sink with Bob Hoskins looking for the rabbit - that whole section is mine. I also did the Gorilla, the Bouncer - I did all of him but some of the scenes were cut out that I animated - there was more footage of the Gorilla. After Roger Rabbit', I came back to LA. I was not really very happy because I loved London very much and made a lot of friends.
The next film was The Little Mermaid, which looked really good in the storybook stages. I was very pleased with this new form of musical. It was the first one that looked like a cohesive story. I was supposed to animate Prince Eric because of my somewhat careful drawing of humans and they thought that I would be cast well for that character. So I thought "Why not - it's going to be a difficult one, but someone has to do it". I started to give it some thought when they said "Hold it, hold it, we need you for this father character, who's role is really expanding". Ruben Aquino had already done some test animation on King Triton and he went over to do Ursula, so I got put on to King Triton and stayed with that character for the whole production.
After the Little Mermaid came The Rescuers Down Under. I did not work on this as I was working, with a smaller group, on a Mickey short, The Prince and The Pauper at the same time. This was fun as it was Mickey Mouse in a dual role. We also tried to make it look like something that was done in the early forties (the look of the film and the character) and it was really fun to research the character very thoroughly and get to know Mickey Mouse. The short wasn't as cohesive in the end as it should have been - the story was a little convoluted and for a short there was just too much story that had to be told. But it was still fun to work on.
Next came Beauty And The Beast where I did Gaston and then Aladdin where I did Jafar, the villain again. Then came The Lion King where I animated Scar - which was the end of my villain saga because I am going to do other things.
We have just finished here in Paris with the Runaway Brain project, that was going back to Mickey Mouse, which was also fun to animate. It remains to be seen how that will turn out, as of now they are still editing and cutting. It was fun to work with a group of French artists on that.
Q: What were your best challenges in terms of animating villains and other characters? What were the sequences that you remember?
It is hard to say as it is so general. If you have a nice design to work with, like Jafar, which I think is the best design that I have come up with, because the Supervising Animators also design the characters. This is not the best way of working, but we do not have too many good designers at the Studio as yet, which is why I am trying to hire some new French talent to take care of that.
So, I designed Jafar and really enjoyed drawing him because he was a little bit stylized and bizarre looking, which was intriguing to draw - compared with Scar, who was not so interesting in terms of design. However, although Scar was not so much fun to draw, as a piece of acting, and as a personality, his role was much stronger than Jafar. There was more of a range to his personality, there were a lot of levels that you could portray Scar.
I never thought that of Jafar as he was so overshadowed by the Genie throughout the movie that everything else seemed to just be added on. That brings me to something .. what animation means to me in terms of acting. That was just about the best acting role that I've gotten, was the Scar character with Jeremy Irons voice. Then you sometimes have a role, like Roger Rabbit, that is so easy to draw - it was so simple it was pathetic. There's no drawing problems when you're drawing something like Roger Rabbit - because he can do anything, you can distort him, you can be very surreal with your approach towards the animation - no one will say "That looks weird" because he could do anything. The problem with that movie, of course, was to combine it with the live action, which was extremely tricky and caused a lot of headaches. They are all different - all these challenges.
Q: Who's was the most difficult to animate: was it Gaston, Jafar, or Scar - not Roger Rabbit obviously?
The most difficult was probably Gaston, because of the realism involved. It was a character who's a villain, but looks like a hero, like a good guy, and that's an odd thing in itself, of course that was the theme of the movie, don't judge the book by the cover. But it made it very difficult because he had to be portrayed realistically and yet there are things that he did, whether in a thought process or physical action that seemed to be cartoony in the story boards - but how far could I go with something like this? How much can I distort him - well not very much. So I tried to find the fine line about keeping him sort of handsome looking and not making a cartoon character out of him, so to speak, but also being able to give him some expressions that were required for the material - it was hard to walk that fine line - in some scenes it worked out and in some scenes I have done I really didn't pull it through, it was just very difficult. I hope I can do better with Hercules. The concept is simpler there, he is a hero, he is a good guy, but again we are going to have to work very hard to make that character expressive and interesting.
Q: Do you have any ideas yet how you will do that?
As yet I do not know very much about the story, I have been on and off the phone with the Director and he is apparently going to be a wide eyed naive boy, who looks at the world and thinks that he can do great things and is very positive about everything - but he is naive - he hasn't seen much and hasn't done much. So I think the interesting thing there will be when he is paired with the girl that is supposed to kill him, Meg. She is hired by the villain and she is the opposite of those personality traits. She would be a woman of the city, she has seen it all, she's been around and she just can't believe how naive this guy is - so it is going to be a nice contrast in characters between those two.
Q: Why did you decide to animate Hercules in that film, for instance why did you not decide to animate the girl, or the villain?
I thought I would want to do a hero sometime, a hero character - somebody who the movie is about. A Peter Pan or a Mermaid or an Aladdin, just for once. Also I thought I hadn't been too happy with the male characters, the heroes whether it was the old classics or the newer ones - they always look funky, they don't look right. So, I'm going to put my pencil where my mouth is and try something.
Q: In the future do you want to animate some more heroes, or some girls or ...?
I wouldn't mind - I'd like to do a comic role sometime, something very funny. Something that gets laughs - it's always the best feeling when you see the movie. Something like a genie, just a clowny, crazy funny character. Sometime I would like to take a crack at comedy.
Q: Do you think it is easier than drawing a serious character?
I think so - you don't have any problems with the range of emotions. You have a wide range, they are very expressive. Like the villains are expressive in a menacing way, and intriguing thought processes and things like that. A comic character just makes you laugh - so they are bound to be expressive. They are easier in a way.
Q: Let's talk a bit about Scar. Did you work a lot with Jeremy Irons on this character?
You don't really have to work that close with these voice actors, because they only come in a few times and read their lines. But most of the time I was there on the sound stage and watched him and discussed the character a little bit with him. He even did my input - I would say either with the directors or separately "can you say this a different way?" - he was very easy to get on with and have some input like that - no problem. You watch him, and he wasn't that expressive - he's subtle I think - but then so is Scar a subtle character. I just remember he would come to the recording studio and would try to get really comfortable, take his shoes off, and sit on a bar stool with a microphone in front, cross his legs and light a cigarette - and then say these wonderful lines, with a smoky voice.
What always intrigued me was - always - every time - he read them differently than you thought he would read it. We all had a copy of the script and we would go over the up coming material, and think that it would be like that - but oh no - he always had a different way in surprising you with the way he would read it. Making something out of it. He's one of those people who can make mediocre written material sound very good. He could add so much character. Not to say that the dialogue was mediocre, I thought it was written very well - but he could help anything. He just brings it up to a level that's a couple of notches higher.
I saw some of his movies again, and had some photographs that helped me with the design - he ended up looking like Jeremy Irons somewhat - that was on purpose. I just recognized some of his facial features that I found interesting - even though it's a lion - you can give him baggy eyes and this crisp lip that he has - that is very sharp. Then combined with the British accent, it just made a certain graphic shape in the mouth shapes, so I tried to do that with Scar. His hair was combed backward as if there was some grease or some mousse in it and I used that for Scar. And he recognized himself in it too - he saw halfway through some video animation that we brought along and he was looking at it and touching his chin and said "Yeah, it does look like me".
Q: Did he like the character?
Yea - he loved it. He didn't quite know what to expect - he said so. He was very generous with accomplishment at the end - the overall accomplishment of the movie. He didn't really take the flattery very well - he just put it right back to us - saying that he just read the lines and you guys made it move and brought it to life, you guys were quite incredible. It was quite refreshing for an actor of such stature to share the accomplishment like that. I thought it was very nice of him.
Q: Tell me more about Scar, how much inspiration did you take from Milt Kahl's drawing of Shere Khan. Were you really inspired by his drawings?
Yes and no. I knew that there would be similarities with that character. You have another British aristocratic voice, just like Shere Khan. Also it's a large cat and it's evil, there are just a lot of similarities. Me having grown up with the Jungle Book and knowing those characters very well, I knew there would be a danger of copying, or taking some of the formulas they had used for their animation. I tried not to, I tried to stylize Scar a little bit more and give him this claw like nose - his face sort of more vertical than Shere Khan who was more horizontal with his big jaw, so proportionately it's a little different.
The features I guess are a little similar, but the proportions are different, and I think the facial expressions are different too - rather than looking at how Shere Khan says something, I looked at Jeremy Irons and how he said something and tried to get that in there. There will always be people who say that the characters are similar, and it is bound to happen as they are both underplayed and they are both large cats with British voices - so you can't avoid it. I tired at least to get away from it as much as I could, without making a chipmunk out of Scar. He had to be a large cat.
There was some basic animation of Shere Khan that helped me, just the walks., how he walks. I took some animation and had it in front of me, the steps and play of the shoulders - some things that I could have got out of live action too. There was a walk of Shere Khan that was very helpful. I just used it as a springboard, and did my own walk - when you do a walk like this you try to find out what is happening mechanically and you add some character to it. For Scar I had the intervals were a little shorter and the contact for each foot was longer - so it had this (sort of purring noise) with each foot, so you could vary it. I don't want to get too technical in this.
Q: We were talking about Milt Kahl and I was wondering what were your relations with him. It looks like you are really impressed by his art and influenced by his work. Why his more than others?
I think when I got my first letter from Disney when I was about 12 they said "before you learn how to animate, you have to learn how to draw - really concentrate on being a good draughtsman, study art and draw well" - so I always kept that in mind and studied classic artists and also the Disney artists and found that probably Milt Kahl was the best draughtsman they had over the years, who just drew the best. Now that's not to say that he was the best animator, because there is more to animation than drawing, of course. He happened to have the best sense of design, a more stern knowledge of anatomy and incredibly good taste - because when you draw something like Bambi with big eyes and round features it can look cheap, like a little children's postcard if it's not done with subtlety and some dignity and taste. He had all that and whatever he designed was just stunning.
The master drawings which Disney use for all the model sheets, which I found out later, 90% of the final look of the characters are based on the drawings of Milt Kahl, starting with Pinocchio, Bambi, all the way through to when he left the studio. With some exceptions, he didn't do the final design of the stepmother in Cinderella, or Cruella de Ville, or Captain Hook, but that's about it - the rest he did and they all relied on his sense of design for the characters.
I also liked his animation - there is something very sophisticated about it, the way he turned things and his expressions were usually a little bit more broader than the other ones. His drawings are very contrasting - I remember looking at Pongo from 101 Dalmatians - whenever he did Pongo the legs would get so skinny on the bottom, they were so stylised and the others just did not know how to do that. But he drew it, and it looked a little bit like Picasso sometimes, very stylised, but it moved beautifully and it is just the design sense that I absolutely adored. The other animators did too, when you talk to Frank and Ollie about Milt's drawings they say that there is nobody who drew like him - ever, in or outside of the studio. Because the drawings were sometimes so sophisticated they were hard to follow and they sometimes had a very hard time to understand the design and animate with it.
We sometimes spent so much time on each drawing to make it look like Milt's we just lost track of the animation. Again, for a group, it was a very individual style that was hard to follow, but I didn't, I learned his style over the years, because it was the best of the Disney styles and made contact with Milt in, I think, 1980, he had retired already. I had written to him once and he had written back and I met him in San Francisco where he had retired, and then saw him about once a year before he died in about 1987. I tried to ask as many questions as I could possibly think of at the time, but you can always think of more questions that you didn't have the chance to ask. He could not really tell you about his technique, or why he did something. You would get the information out of him by him telling anecdotes or reminiscing, but you couldn't ask him how did you do this, and why did you draw it like that. He had no idea - he would get really flustered and say that 'you just do it - you find out about anatomy and find out about the subject matter as much as you can - and just do it'.
Q: Can you tell us the story of Runaway Brain and of it's making?
It's a satire on the Frankenstein story. It will have Mickey in search of money, he had upset Minnie earlier on in the short, Mickey has forgotten their anniversary. To make up for it he promises to take Minnie to the Mini-Golf, except when he proposes to her via the newspaper she looks down on the lower part of the page and saw an advert for a Hawaiian holiday, so Minnie now thinks she is going to Hawaii - Mickey loves her after all.
Now Mickey can't get out of this and he has to make some money to take Minnie to Hawaii so he answers a different ad that Pluto finds, and it's for a 'mindless' day's work - call so and so for an appointment - so he ends up at this mad scientist's lab and he is confronted with this doctor Frankenollie (a little in-joke on Frank & Ollie Johnston) not Frankenstein. This doctor has built a monster and he switches brains through cables and all kinds of connections between Mickey and the monster, and in the end what you have is a very sweet, shy monster and Mickey turns into a monster, very rough and rugged who looks and talks differently.
The rest of the story deals with Minnie trying to switch it back to her old Mickey and the monster being the monster. It's a very simple story idea. It's eight and a half minutes long, and it's finished - and coming to a theatre near you!
Q: What was the most difficult to animate?
I actually did not animate as much as I usually do because I worked with so many people on the movie, with the animators, with the clean up people, because we had to train then at the same time. I didn't animate as much as I would have liked to. It wasn't that difficult because I had done Mickey Mouse before and once you decide on the type of Mickey you want, the look and design, because there have been several over the years. We decided to take the one with the red pants and the buttons and Minnie is topless like she was in all the late 30's/early 40's shorts, just a skirt and the high heeled shoes that look like little submarines. Then you just draw that model - I couldn't think of any particular problems.
Q: Doing the bad Mickey: Mickey as a monster?
I never did Mickey as a monster, I helped with the design of the Mickey Monster, but there were other animators to do that. I thought that one of the most critical was doing Mickey as Mickey, to do him as the monster you are almost creating a new personality, but when he is Mickey I thought I would concentrate on that and most of my animation is at the beginning of the movie.
Q: What did you think about doing Mickey as a monster?
I think it's very, very funny, because Mickey is just about as nice as you can get - probably the nicest animated cartoon ever is Mickey Mouse, the sweetest. That is also, as we all know, why he can become a little boring over the years and lost a certain edge he had, like in 'Wild Waves'. So the studio wanted to do something with a little bit of an edge, and the story was bounced around and I think he has the edge we were looking for, even though you do create a personality, it is not Mickey Mouse, it is a monster. But when you see this design of Mickey Mouse, portrayed as a monster, it is just very very funny.
Q: Do you think people will object to that, seeing their idle portrayed as a monster?
No, I don't think so.
Q: Were you surprised by the artists at Walt Disney Animation France? What did you expect, what did you find when you arrived?
I got to know some of them when they came to California, a hand full of them, to start the movie with us there, in Los Angeles and I saw that they were all talented and can draw very well. I just had to work with them on the finesse for animation a little bit, taking it a step further there to reach a certain plateau, a level of quality they could animate in - but how do you get further with that? You just work with them very closely, and encourage them to add some overlap and follow through to make the animation look softer and simple and so forth, but they are a great crew.
Q: Do they work very differently to the Americans?
No, not that much. They all draw very well. At the stage of their careers that they are at, they probably draw better than a lot of people in California.
Q: Do you have any funny anecdotes to tell us from your work at this studio?
The only thing that comes to mind is that a lot of the French artists don't speak English yet, or if they do, very very little. So that will change in the future as English courses/classes are given. There was just the problem of the voices looking 'off sync', as if the voice wasn't coming out of the character, the mouth is doing a different thing to what it sounds like - it is not in harmony with each other. I looked at the test scenes, and sure enough, it looked different, and we found that the French, of course, pronounce words differently, especially English words or names.
The Americans say 'Mickee' and the French say 'Mickay'. So with 'Mickay' you open your mouth very wide and with 'Mickee' you go more into the sides of the mouth. They also animate as if it sounds like 'Mickay', so when Minnie Mouse comes down stairs and says "Hi Mickey, are you looking forward to this evening?" she says "Mickay" - and it doesn't look right. It looks like it's not coming out of her mouth. So we had to ask French people why they drew it like that - and they say they looked in the mirror to see how their mouths moved . I said that they could not do this because you speak French or French/English you have to talk to someone who speaks American English and let them say it to you several times, so that you could see what it looks like.
So it was just the language thing that was a bit difficult in the beginning. Once they started doing that, talking to Americans and have them say it a few times, then they picked it up. In the future they will all have to learn English, to be able to do the dialogue scenes.
Q: What was the impact on the change of Mickey throughout the shorts on the way it was animated?
This Mickey is a little bit more athletic. We were trying to do the 'Fantasia' Mickey in 'The Prince and the Pauper', with the big eyes and on this one we tried to do something like the 'The Little Whirlwind', 'Mickey's Birthday Party', some of those where his body is a little smaller and the hands are very large, he's just wearing his red pants - a little bit more athletic looking.
Q: What is your favorite Disney character?
I don't think there is one - there is one, one month and the next another, and the next year it's another. I was just watching Peter Pan again the other day and I think some of my favorite characters are Captain Hook and Smee as characters who relate very well, who are individually animated extremely well, with a lot of finesse, big subtleties, great voices. I just love those two characters, I think they are really, really outstanding. But then again it goes on, I love Cruella de Ville I like all of Marc Davis' characters. Maleficent for her stylish, cool qualities. I like Milt Kahl's 'Medusa' very much,, even though that is more like an animators character, because story wise she is not as good as some of the others but she's just animated so well. Again, I love Shere Khan very much - there's tons.
Q: Talking about Marc Davis: would you like to animate both a hero and a villain in the same movie like he once did?
Yes sure, if I had time. I animate them all.
Q: What is your favorite movie from Disney?
It's probably 'The Jungle Book' still, because it is just one of those things that stays with you. It was the first Disney movie that I had seen and it, of course, just stays with you. I look at it a bit differently now when I see it, but again, what I like in animation is the charisma that you create between the characters, the subtleties in the personalities and the way they relate to each other. There is just no other movie like 'The Jungle Book' I don't think. There is so little story to tell in 'The Jungle Book', there is hardly any story points. It is just wandering through the Indian jungle to meet crazy characters - that is why they could concentrate on the characters so much and establish their relationships - I don't think there has ever been any thing like it, it is so strong as far as that goes.
Q: Who are the artists, outside of Disney who mostly influenced your work?
There are some artists who I have studied who I like who I like very much, and one is Heinrich Klay, the German illustrator from the 20's and 30's who drew for 'St Putitimus'. These wonderful ink drawings of centaurs, fantasy characters and animals, people. He dew them very realistically but in a fantastic setting and a fantastic situation. All animators at one time or another find his stuff and become influenced by it. I love his stuff.
After that there is a variety of artists. At Disney you are encouraged to study anything from classics like Michael Angelo to Picasso to .... you name it, anything that has a style, that is done well, it is worth looking at and studying. I like them all.
In art in general I like the time period of the Baroch when things started to move -the sculptures and paintings and an additional sense of movement in the figures. They seem more animated than others. Renaissance was very static, not stiff, but more flat. In the Baroch thing started to really move and there are these wonderful sculptures that seem to move, so when I am in Paris, I seek those sculptures and draw them.
Q: We met yesterday with Albert Uderzo (the creator of Asterix) ...
Yes, of course, that is outside of Disney. I told him this when we met that between Disney and his characters it pretty much was the main source of inspiration when I was a kid. When I was a kid was when Asterix came to Germany and every year there was another Asterix which was a big event and, of course, he was very influenced by Disney. A great talent, a great influence.
Q: Are there any future projects, apart from Hercules?
Not at this point, just about as far as I can see is Hercules for the next two years. We will see after that.
Q: What are your dreams in terms of animation?
I can just sum it up in one thing, one sentence, I would just like to get much better as I can see in my head the things that I want to do but can't do yet. I hope that I can improve in general fast, in terms of draughtsmanship, personality, acting, all of those things - just to be a better artist - to draw things better and animate them better and do incredible work. That's what I hope I can accomplish.
Q: You are about to go back to Los Angeles. What memories do you have of your Parisian stay?
It gave my social life a boost. I made a lot of friends here in Paris and I love the European social life, it is the only healthy social life there is here in Europe, if you compare it to the States and California - which is pretty sad. California is a good place to work - if you have less of a social life at least you have more time to concentrate on your work. Maybe it's better that way career wise. I just love to hang out with people here and make friends and go places and have parties - I just loved all that - so some of that I would like to take back and see how far that can be taken in L.A.
A cultural boost, a shot in the arm being surrounded by so much culture again for seven months just boggles the mind - it is absolute heaven to be an artist living in Paris. I couldn't think of a nicer place. London being second on the list - a close second. I love London too. Just being away from the grind, just being exposed to something different was just a terrific break and I think that will last me a little while when I go back.
Q: So, you'll be back?
Yes indeed, I'll be back - Watch out for me. I'll make Paris unsafe
Biography * Animating Jafar (1992) * 1995 Interview * 2003 Interview * Making Mr. Bad Guy
2003 INTERVIEW WITH ANDREAS DEJA
Interview with Andreas Deja by Colin Jacobson
for DVD Movie
Guide, March 2003
Q: As a big Disney animation fan, it’s a pleasure to get a chance to talk to someone responsible for so many of my favorites!
Oh, thank you so much! It’s very kind of you to say.
Q: I’m curious to know a little bit about how you came to Disney and how your career got started in that way.
I started in 1980, so I’m one of the old-timers around here, and I’ve wanted to be a Disney animator since I was 10. Growing up in Germany, Disney was far away, and it seemed impossible to even dream about working there one time. But I’d always drawn Disney characters ever since Kindergarten, and enjoyed in general, and then once I saw The Jungle Book when it came out for the first time – I was about 10, and that just about did it, or did me in. I thought this was it, there’s no other way – I have to find out about this, if they are looking for people, if there is training they recommend, and all of this.
There were no books, or hardly any books – maybe one or two in those days – that talked about animation and how it’s done. I wrote to the studio and asked those questions – what to do if you want to be a Disney animator – and they sent me the answer. It was actually extremely good advice which still holds up today. They said if you’re serious about it then you need to focus not only on cartoon drawings but on the real thing. Meaning becoming an artist in your own right – you need to do life drawing for a long time, you need to know the human figure and how to draw it, and you need to spend a lot of time at the zoo drawing the animals – how they’re put together and how they move.
So it kind of made sense to me even as a kid, because after Jungle Book I saw the other re-releases and I thought that if you wanted to do something like Bambi, you need to know where the bones are, of course. I rolled up my sleeves and I spent days and months at the zoo and I loved it – I loved the whole learning process. I was really motivated having gotten that advice from Disney.
Then I went to art school later on and started graphic design because it gave me the chance to do a lot of life drawing and so forth. But there was no course for animation at the time. In my little student office, I would get Super 8 clips from some of the films and study them frame-by-frame, and I did some experiments with my Super 8 camera.
In that way, I’m pretty much self-taught, but toward the end of my studies, I did put together copies of some of my better drawings and I sent them to Eric Larson, one of the old animators who was training at the time – he was head of the training program. I had a nice exchange of letters with Eric, and when he saw my work, he actually thought I had what it takes. That was the way he put it, and I almost fainted!
He said “Finish art school and come over here, we have these four-week training sessions and we’ll see how you do.” So I went over and did my test with Eric for about four weeks animating little characters and then went on to The Black Cauldron. The fun there was that I worked with Tim Burton for about a year – the two of us would design characters for the producers and directors and sort of came up with all different kinds of ideas for the movie. Unfortunately it went the conventional way. We had a lot of alternative styles for that movie.
But I stuck with it and then animated – Tim went on to other things like stop-motion and live-action.
Q: Yeah, I think he’s done a couple of things since then – I think I’ve heard the name a few times.
(laughs) Yeah. So that was basically it, how I got in, and I then worked on not all of them, but many of the features ever since.
Q: How did you get recruited for Roger Rabbit?
It was interesting. I met Richard Williams socially even before he got involved. We sort of became friends and he always looked me up when he was in town and we seemed to have the same sort of taste or judgment in terms of animation – what’s good, what’s bad, we liked the same things.
Then all of a sudden he called me and said “They want me for this Amblin/Disney combo thing, and it sounds like it’s going to be something important – you should consider working on it.” I said that I’d just moved to the States and I didn’t want to go back to Europe.
Anyway, the more he told me about it, the more I realized that this was really going to be an important film, and then I decided to be part of it.
Q: What specifically did you do on the film? I know you’re a supervising animator, but supervising which elements specifically?
We were four altogether, and I worked on most of the characters except Jessica Rabbit – she was animated by Russell Hall, an English animator. I animated a whole bunch of sequences with Roger, including the one where he’s being held in the sink underwater by Hoskins and the weasel leader Smart-Ass comes in – I did those first scenes with Smart-Ass there too, and did the whole section when Hoskins comes home, pulls down the bed and the rabbit’s in there. That sequence, and many scenes throughout, but I also did many of the Disney cameos – the Fantasia characters, Mickey, whole group shots of them later on at the end of the movie. I did the gorilla at the Ink and Paint Club – I did a few scenes with him.
I kind of jumped around a little bit, but it was fun. It was really fun to do one day an ostrich and the next day do Roger and then you do whatever – cows that are standing around for the cattle call.
Q: I know you tend to specialize in particular characters. Have you ever done any of that kind of “pick-up” work on films since then? For example, in The Lion King, you did Scar – did you just do Scar or did you touch anybody else as well?
Really just Scar. Occasionally Simba would be in the scene reacting or just listening to what Scar had to say, so if the acting part on the other character would be minor, then I would do that other character too.
Q: How did working on something like Roger Rabbit differ from a standard animated film?
The type of animation that was needed was beyond what we would do at Disney normally. This was to be much broader, and Roger Rabbit was to be a much more physical character, expressing himself more physically. He’s put together in a very surreal way too – he could squash and stretch a lot more. That part was actually fun, because I think it loosened me up – my animation got a lot looser after Roger Rabbit. Before that I was very much into the drawing and making sure the arc’s just right and into the technicalities.
But when I saw the rabbit, the one that Dick designed, I thought this doesn’t look like it’s going to be any drawing problems, which it really wasn’t. Even though there are different Rogers in the movie because every animator draws a little differently, with a broad character like that, it’s really not that visible unlike any kind of human character.
Drawing-wise it was easy – you could just go to town and use your animation principle to the fullest and really loosen up. Just plugging that into the live-action and making sure that’s perfect was sometimes a pain.
Q: How do they cast animators for films? I’ve always been curious to know how much leeway you have for what projects you take and what you don’t, and how that whole process happens.
I think they look at people’s reels and see what they’ve done and also what they’re leaning toward. I think some people might like action a little bit more, or more acting, so you tend to get a few more close-ups. I think that’s the case for me. They tried to give me the scenes where Roger is not just jumping up and down and being crazy but maybe he would interact with other characters and there would be a bit more acting involved.
Because I came from Disney and I know Disney characters – I’ve drawn them all my life – it was obvious to give me those Disney cameos. So that’s kind of how it happens. Russell – who did Jessica – he’s a terrific draftsman and very solid, so it was decided Russell should just focus on Jessica and not do anything else.
Q: For a while there you became known as the guy who did all the Disney villains. How did that happen?
It was just one of those things. When you work for a company like this, if you do something that they like, you almost get labeled as the guy who does this thing. So when I came onto Aladdin, they liked what I’d done with Gaston, so they said, “Would you like to do the villain again?” I said sure, villains are great, and they’re very juicy, so I did that.
The same thing happened with Lion King. I’d wondered about Lion King and thought maybe I just ask to do Simba or another character, but once I heard that Jeremy Irons was going to do the voice, I thought oh! I really want to do this, though! That kind of voice would be so much fun, and then I talked to the directors and said that I know I just did two villains, but what do you think? And they said no, no – we actually had you in mind for Scar anyway.
But then it really was time to change. When Ron and John asked me to do Hades in Hercules - no, wait a minute, the first one before that was… on Hunchback… what was the villain’s name?
Frollo, that’s right. I actually said, you know, I really would like to do another character, because I start noticing that I repeat myself with certain expressions. I said “What about the gypsy girl, Esmerelda?” But they said that unfortunately, we had come up with Tony Fucile months ago and he really wanted to do that character.
In that case I ended up not even working on the movie. I went to France and ended up working on Runaway Brain, so doing Mickey Mouse again and then coming back and doing Hercules.
Q: Did you have to actively lobby to get a hero character when you did Hercules, or did they give it to you pretty easily?
They understood where I was coming from, because again, they’d asked me if I was interested in Hades. I said that it would be a great role, he would get all the laughs, but I should probably try to tackle a hero-type character. I knew if would be more difficult and more challenging, but I just needed that experience to have that in your repertoire. They understood that and then gave me adult Hercules to animate.
Q: Last year you got an even more unusual character in a little girl. How did you end up on Lilo & Stitch?
I was actually on… not Kingdom of the Sun… The Emperor’s New Groove. It started out being called Kingdom of the Sun. We had done a little work, and they realized that the story needed to be plussed, so it kind of started over again.
During that time, I was on the floor where they have the development work for the features, and I saw these drawings that Chris Sanders had done of a little Hawaiian girl. She was holding a fish, and it immediately looked extremely appealing to me – the style and the situations. They found out that I was interested in the project so they said, “Let’s pitch you the whole story.”
So a week later they pitched me the outline and I just loved it because it was so different, so unusual and quirky, yet there was personality and heart. I thought that I really wanted to work on this. I was the first animator that jumped productions, because Kingdom was starting over and becoming Emperor’s New Groove. I switched over to Lilo & Stitch and I did pretty much development work on all the characters, because Chris and Dean the directors wanted to see which character I would feel the closest to. After seeing sketches of Nani and Stitch and the social worker and David and all of them, they said, “You know, there’s something in these Lilo drawings that you connect with that character.” So I was very happy to take over that assignment.
I would have enjoyed doing Stitch too – don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a great character. But Lilo became a really fun character – she is so unusual and yet real, in many ways like a real kid. I really had a chance to crawl into that little character and animate her from the inside-out – that’s what I tried anyway, to really feel her pain and her loneliness and all of that.
Q: Lilo & Stitch was a nice moment for Disney because it was the first time since Tarzan that you’ve had a cel-animated film that’s done really well. What do you think the future is of cel animation versus CG?
You know, Colin, I don’t know. I wish I could say there’d always be cel animation, because that’s where my heart is. That’s also aesthetically what I like to see on the screen. I’m learning computer animation right now just to see if I can plus it. I’m not too thrilled with a lot of the acting going on and the way things move – they still look a little bit like high-tech puppets to me. I need to find out if I can change that, if I can help make it better, so I’m taking classes right now. I wouldn’t mind doing a CG film at all, but giving up the pencil, I don’t think that’s possible.
Q: Thanks a lot for the chance to chat, and I look forward to whatever else comes out from you!
Biography * Animating Jafar (1992) * 1995 Interview * 2003 Interview * Making Mr. Bad Guy
MAKING MR. BAD GUY
by Suzanne Harper for Disney Adventures
When Andreas Deja was 10 years old, he saw his first Disney movie, The Jungle Book --- and was totally blown away. "I wanted to see it again and again," he says. "My mom got a little worried; she said, 'Now, dear, you just saw it yesterday.' I didn't know why I wanted to keep seeing it; I just thought it was the most wonderful thing."
But he did more than go back to the theater. He wrote to Walt Disney Studios, asking how he could become a Disney artist. He got a letter back, telling him that he should study art seriously.
"I found out that you don't send drawings of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck," Andreas says. "The Disney style can be taught, but people need to know anatomy, have flair for movement and do life drawings for quite a few years. Once you know how to draw the real thing, you can caricature it."
It sounded like alot of work -- but Andreas really wanted to become an animator. So he started taking art classes when he was a teenage, then went to a college to study art and design. When he had some good drawings, the sent them to Disney Studios. When he heard that they liked them, he just about fell over!
Soon he was working on films like The Black Cauldron and Beauty and the Beast. On Aladdin he was given the job of developing the villain Jafar.
Here's his step-by-step story of how he created the look of this evil
character --- plus his inside tips on how you can become an animator, too.
From the Animator's Drawing Board
(The following are quotes from Andreas Deja that accompanied several small sketches of Jafar. I may scan them at a later date,..but if you would like to see them, please email me.)
"Here's an early sketch of Jafar's costume, which was a littls complicated. With all the bags and jewelry, your eye keeps bouncing around from one thing to another. When he comes on the screen, I want him to be a vision in black and red. And that means I have to make it very simple."
I wanted to find an interesting face that I could have fun with and that was very expressive. So I gave him this high upper lip and placed the mouth way low. His face almost looks like a mask, but I can do a lot of stuff with it. Sinister expression, real evil ones and surprised ones."
With this turban, I try to have the lines lead your eye toward Jafar's face; even the pattern goes right to the face, becuase that's the most important thing.
"I also gave a certain rhythm to the black hair on his face. You can
see how those heavy eyebrows come straight down, pick up on the upper lip,
go around the mouth and end with the twirl to his beard as sort of an accent."
How to Become an Animator