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Andreas Deja : " ... If you take the drawing out of Disney, it just isn't Disney"

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Andreas Deja : " ... If you take the drawing out of Disney, it just isn't Disney"

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You know what's really striking about Andreas Deja ? Not that he's such an accomplished animator, the talent behind such memorable Disney characters as Gaston in "Beauty & the Beast," Jafar in "Aladdin," Scar in "The Lion King," the title character in "Hercules" as well as one of the title characters (I.E. Lilo) in "Lilo & Stitch"). But -- rather -- that this huge talent has such a small ego.

Which perhaps explains why Andreas is somewhat uncomfortable with all the acclaim that's recently been heaped at his feet. Winning the Winsor McKay Award at this year's Annies. That week-long celebration of Deja's career that was held in his hometown of Dinslaken, Germany. Not to mention tomorrow night's event at Van Eaton Galleries, where the cream of the animation community is expected to turn out to help celebrate "An Evening with Andreas Deja."

Andreas Deja returns to his hometown in Germany for week-long celebration of his career

Truth be told, this sort of event isn't really Andrea's cup of tea. But given that this "Evening" (Which is a very belated celebration of the 25th anniversary of Deja's arrival at the Walt Disney Animation Studios) is actually a fundraiser for the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive ... Andreas is willing to stand in the spotlight for a little while if it will help out such a worthwhile cause.

"I think that I'm still kind of young for this sort of celebration," Deja admitted. "But Steve (Worth) asked for my help and I'm glad to do what I can."

Of course, some of Andreas' unease may come from the fact that -- while many animators working today consider him to be something of a Disney Legend -- Deja knew the real Legends. Having corresponded with and/or befriended many of the veteran artists who helped create such classic Disney films as "Bambi," "Cinderella" and "Fantasia."

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"I actually got to meet all but two of the 'Nine Old Men,' " Deja explained. "Les Clark and John Lounsbery had both passed away before I arrived at the studio in 1980. But as for the rest, I did get to talk with them and then convince them that I wasn't just some fan. That I was serious, that I genuinely did want to learn more about my craft. Which is why some of them were then nice enough to share their insights about how to get a good performance out of an animated character."

The key (as Andreas understands it) is that you have to " ... throw yourself into the brain of your character. Take your own life experience, your own working knowledge and then try and make that character, that moment in the movie seem as real as possible."

Case in point : "Lilo & Stitch." Deja freely admits that he initially had trouble tackling this assignment, which was animating the very odd 6-year-old girl who served as the emotional center of this Chris Sanders film. But then Andreas saw the storyboards for the sequence in the movie where Lilo & her sister, Noni were at home screaming at one another.

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"There was something very familiar about all that yelling and door slamming," Deja said. "Which was when I realized that this was just what my two sisters used to do when I was living at home. It was then that I realized how to root this sci-fi story in real life. Make what was happening to these characters at that moment something that the audience could really connect with."

That said, the character of Lilo did present Andreas with some interesting challenges. "She had this huge Muppet mouth with no teeth," he continued. "I constantly worried about matching the dialogue. I mean, you have to have teeth to properly be able to say words like 'Stitch.' "

It's Deja's keen eye for details like that -- as well as his desire to not repeat himself -- that has made this veteran Disney artist something of an idol to many modern animation students. Which is why Andreas often finds himself being asked to give advice about which career path they should take.

"A lot of students tell me that -- while they love traditional animation and really want to learn that craft -- they still feel that they have to study CG because that's where the jobs are right now," Deja explained. "That -- to me -- is a decision that's being made out of fear. Which isn't how an artist should operate. Instead of giving in to fear you should always follow your gut."

Many times in his career, Andreas opted to follow his gut and take the less-easy path to success. Whether it was turning down the chance to animate a great character like Frollo in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (Because Deja felt that that was just one-too-many Disney villains and was worried about repeating himself) or leaving a comfortable life in LA to go work on "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" in London (Because it looked like Richard Williams and his team were really trying to do something special with that motion picture). Or -- better yet -- Andreas' decision to stick with traditional animation when so many of his colleagues at WDAS were climbing into the CG lifeboat.

"I've always said that if you take the drawing out of Disney, it just isn't Disney," he continued. "That's why I think that it's great that they're now reviving traditional animation at the studio. And not a moment too soon. If they had waited even one more year to try & rebuild this unit, it would have been almost impossible. People were leaving town, getting into other lines of business. But now hopefully we can avoid a repeat of the 1980s, where Disney made a couple of awkward movies while the artists had to relearn the craft of making good animated features."


Hopefully with Deja on hand, WDAS can avoid any awkward mis-steps when production of "The Princess and the Frog" (I.E. Disney's first traditionally animated feature since "Home on the Range") officially gets underway sometime later this year. As of this moment, that new Ron Clements & John Musker movie is still in story development. So to kill time 'til he can get an assignment on that project, Andreas has been doing everything from helping to create new shorts for the studio to working on Disney's highly anticipated Holiday 2007 release, "Enchanted." Plus -- of course -- agreeing to take part in worthwhile events like tomorrow night's "An Evening with Andreas Deja" at Van Eaton Galleries.

Speaking of which ... Space is extremely limited at this ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive fundraiser. So if you want to be guaranteed a seat (More importantly, the chance to get your hands on one of only 200 limited edition giclees featuring some of Andreas' most famous characters that the artist has created just for this event), please call 818-788-2357. Tickets purchased in advance are $10, $12 at the door. The festivities are expected to get underway at 7 p.m. and then wrap up sometime around 10 p.m.

Van Eaton Galleries is located at 13613 Ventura Blvd in Sherman Oaks, CA. For further information on the galleries and/or this special event, please click on this link.

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  • Great story Jim.

    I love Deja's work, and I do prefer traditional animation. Although, I do think computer animation has it's place.

    In any case, I do hope Andreas is involved in the "Frog Princess".

    And, that's a great scetch of his, btw.

  • *Sketch*

    LOL, sorry bout thath, I've had a very Looooooooong day.

  • <em>Deja knew the real Legends.</em>

    I think the second blooming of Disney animation: B & B, Alladin, LK, Tarzan, Lilo and Stitch compare pretty well with the Disney classics, certainly well enough for Deja to be considered a "real" legend.

  • Jim, this is why your site rocks so much. Where else can you read such great articles about living Disney legends? I'm so glad Mr. Deja is involved with Disney's traditional animation renaissance. I love CGI as well as I love 2D, but after a glut of the former at movie theatres for the last few years, I am so eager to see some beautifully rendered 2D animation done in the Disney style. And I'd bet big bucks there are milliions of viewers out there who feel the same way. The trouble with CGI is that for the most part *it all looks the same*. Computers, no matter who manipulates them and which studio employs them, use the same techniques and have generally the same skill levels, unlike humans, and so many CGI features have the same static look. (True, Pixar, in the grand old Disney tradition, "plusses" its CGI so that it's the best there is - but it's still got that same visual look at its roots). But a colorful, lush, traditionally-animated Disney movie - films like "Lady and the Tramp" and "The Lion King" - has its own signature look that no computer can duplicate. I'm eagerly awaiting the first films coming out of this renaissance.

    But I *still* think "The Princess and the Frog" is a terrible title! Disney should go back to the original title "The Frog Princess" IMO.

  • I met Andreas on Lilo and Stitch, and he's just a nice guy.  Which is great.

  • Great article and fantastic quote! I miss 2D and I'm glad there are people who fought for its survival.

  • Well, Deja's "follow you gut" advice takes a load off.

    We're lucky to have a modern-day animator who's committed to keeping the original Disney spirit alive.

  • Oh, why do I have to live on the other end of the country? I wish animators would record lectures for the rest of us or something... I'd buy 'em up like hotcakes (but I wouldn't eat them).

    Yeah, Lilo is a "muppet!" I hadn't thought of how hard that would make things till now...

  • On the subject of Lilo,

    I do remember one part of the original movie where Lilo tries to speak to Mr. Bubbles. All she does is open her mouth, then close it, before moving on to her first sentence. That did seem kinda like a "muppet" when you look at it.

  • great article. eep up teh good work!

  • I was at this event last night. Andreas is amazing and I especially admire him for not selling out to CG. As long as we've got animators like him still working, there's hope yet for traditional animation.

  • The generation of Disney animators that came along in the late 70's/ early 80's have produced a great many top flight talents, no question. However, I have a particular admiration for both Andreas Deja and Dave Pruiksma, as these two animation greats were outspokenly critical of management's foolheaded decision to shut down traditional animation. They never threw in the towel to switch to CG, but instead kept believing that the artform that Walt Disney built his legacy on would oneday return to  it's rightful place at the Studio. A big thank you is due to both of these gentlemen.

  • I've been wanting to contact Mr. Deja for some time.  I have some of his original artwork he created for the old Storyboard Magazine.  I think he is one of the best animators out there (along with Glen Keane).

  • Todd James Pierce reports in on Monday night’s Marc Davis Celebration of Animation event at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Where many industry vets recalled Kahl’s artistry & attitude

  • Jim Hill reviews Michael Lassell’s latest making-of book for Disney Theatrical Productions. Which reveals how Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” went from being an Academy Award-winning animated feature to becoming a popular musical for the stage

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