It is well known that you are a stalwart fan of traditional animation techniques (i.e. 2-D hand drawn work). May we play devil’s advocate and ask you to say you something positive about the current industry fashion 3-D computer generated work? Can the two work in harmony for the future of animation?
I enjoy so many of the stories being told through 3D animation. Many of them have rich characters that really speak to the audience. I admire films like Jurassic Park where the technology is used to blend with live action. However, I do wish to see someone use the technology for something other than realism, which is currently the dominant form. I do believe that the different techniques can work in harmony. While CG currently dominates in the film industry, there are still films being made in 2D. I hope the key players in Hollywood realize that an audience for traditional methods still exists.
You’ve got a deep and expert knowledge of animation history and are a collector of animation, as evidenced by the frequent posts on your blog (link: http://andreasdeja.blogspot.co.uk/). At the risk of starting a possibly contentious discussion, do you feel that current animation students and courses lack the necessary reverence for the history of animation?
No matter what profession you are in, I’m a strong believe that knowing its history and who came before you will be helpful to your success in that field. While I’m not overly familiar with the current curriculum in art schools, if one has the opportunity to attend a course on the history of animation, I would certainly encourage them to check it out. John Canemaker leads a class at NYU and Tom Sito leads one at UCLA – both of which I would recommend. When I first moved to the U.S., I learned that many of the animators at Disney who worked on my favorite films were still around so I sought them out for mentorship. I met with them and picked their brains, learning more about how characters like Shere Kahn and Bambi were animated.
One of your recent blog posts hints that you would like to see the technique of live action combined with hand drawn animation in new productions as in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, in which you were supervising animator for the titular lagomorph. Film and hand-drawn animation - these are two worlds that might easily be viewed as incompatible to each other. What is it about this uncommon mixture that gives it an extra spark in your opinion, and how could it be utilised in future?
When you combine two worlds – the graphic world and the world of live action – it’s something that shouldn’t work, but you’re asking the audience to believe that it does works. In order to do this successfully, you must ensure that the animated and live character interact within and inhabit the same space. Contact between characters must be perfect at every second. For example, if an animated character is holding a real glass of water – it needs to hold it exactly as a live character would. I believe that when done well, such as in films like Marry Poppins and Roger Rabbit, this technique has amazing results. While the combination of the two may be uncommon, films utilising this format should continue to be produced.
Since you moved on from Disney, more recently have been hard at work on your own featurette Mushka, the story of a girl and her tiger. Can you talk a little about the adjustments you have had to make when – presumably – working with a smaller team, and more generally about what we can expect from Mushka?
It was a big adjustment for me, working on my own project, because at Disney I was just an animator. The scenes were always discussed ahead of time, they expressed to me what was expected and I was given all the supplies necessary to complete the job. Overseeing my own project has been a new challenge for me and when I first started, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to accomplish this. Fortunately, when you can acknowledge what your weaknesses are, you can address them by asking for help from those with more expertise. I’ve asked several people for their help on Mushka as I wanted to make the story rich. It’s been extremely rewarding working on Mushka, especially considering my team and I created the story from scratch and have been involved in the process from start-to-finish. While I don’t want to reveal too many details, I can say that we’ve seen a great reaction from audiences who’ve attended screenings. It’s really incredible to see people become really engaged with the story and get teary-eyed.
Do you have any advice for those that want to enter the animation industry today? What sort of challenges or opportunities await future generations of animators?
I recommend working on your reservoir of observations. As an animator – you need to observe things (people, animals, etc.) in order to really understand how they move and how to interpret behaviours so that you can incorporate this into your work. For those who desire to become animators, they will eventually have to choose an area of expertise they’d like to pursue. CG or 2D animation, or perhaps stop motion. This can be a challenging decision, because in the end, the more followed and popular path may not actually be what inspires someone. By the end of the day we are all entertainers, actors. As an old Disney animator told me, it is good to have a strong point of view of what is entertaining, and what isn’t. What is and isn’t cliché?
A quick question after we have questioned you at length: what’s your favourite thing to draw?
That’s an easy one. It’s usually whatever project I’m working on at the moment, because you have to love and be fascinated with what you’re working on. Working on Mushka, I had the privilege of deciding day in and day out which part of the project I’d like to work on and this allows me to create richer, more interesting story. I’ve especially enjoyed working on the tiger’s personality and focusing on how to use the tiger’s stripe pattern to animate the character.
Andreas, thanks so very much for the interview. The final word is yours!
Being an animator is the best job in the world. Master animator Marc Davis one stated that animation combines all the artforms into one. It is about acting, drawing, painting, singing and dancing. Studying all those things makes for a pretty fascinating life.
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