Disney’s master animator Andreas Deja calls ‘Bambi’ animated poetry

Walt Disney Studios’ Bambi joins its cutting-edge Blu-ray Diamond Collection line-up of animated classics, and debuts today, March 1, 2011.

Disney’s new “Second Screen” technology – introduced for the very first time with Bambi – will further transform the at-home movie watching experience by giving viewers the ability to engage with film content and bring it to life at the touch of a button.

 Read my interview with the former child star who voiced Bambi and kept it a secret for decades. 

And, since Disney reaches so many families on a personal level, it seemed only fitting to sit down with Walt Disney Studios’ master animator, Andreas Deja, who’s amazing work is behind classic Disney characters like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, Jafar in Aladdin and Scar from The Lion King.

He also animated Roger Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit, King Triton from The Little Mermaid, the title character from Hercules, Lilo from Lilo & Stitch, and Queen Narissa from Enchanted. In addition to all of that, Deja is also the current resident specialist for the animation of the iconic character, Mickey Mouse.

During his early days at Disney, Deja worked closely with seven of the then-living “Nine Old Men,” who were the pioneering animators at what was then Walt Disney Productions. As a group, they created some of Disney’s most famous works, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to The Rescuers.

You applied to be a Disney animator at age ten! How did you go about making your childhood dream an eventual reality?

I was very methodical about it. I wrote a letter soon after I decided I wanted to be an animator. Mailed it to Los Angeles – I didn’t have the correct address but it somehow made it to Disney.

I asked, ‘How does one prepare itself to be an animator?’

A few weeks later they wrote me back and said, ‘If you’re serious about our kind of animation, don’t send an animation of Donald Duck. Go to art school. Spend a lot of time drawing real live animals at a zoo.’

I was serious about it. And from there I landed a job in 1980.

What does Bambi mean to you?

I want to refer back to the letter when they said I had to learn to draw live animation. Bambi was released in theatres when I was 13-14 years old. It was then when I realized an animator had to really study the animal before animating it.

You view an animated film very differently from your typical moviegoer. What in the film would you notice and want to point out?

What I want to make people aware of is that Bambi is very unique in a couple different ways. The art direction and the look of the forest is almost a character as it changes every season throughout the film. If you look at the background, it’s very impressionistic, its indicated in a wash. It’s very crisp. Very beautiful and almost impressionistic in style.

The art director in the film is Tryus Wong, he’s 100 years young, a very interesting man, and a genius when it comes to studying animated film.

Second point, is the beauty of the animation, as if there is poetry in motion. There’s something so lyrical and subtle when Bambi moves, it’s always in sync with the music.

Bambi is animated poetry.

I really don’t know any other film that makes it looks so elegant. To preserve the dignity of these animals in film is such an achievement.

As a professional animator, is there anything specific that stands out to you in the film?

My favorite scene in the film is the ice skating sequence, when Thumper yells, ‘Look what I can do!’

It’s the difference between a master ice skater and a novice. That specific scene was animated by the great animator Frank Thomas.

Do things like voice and body language inspire your drawings?

Voice makes a huge difference. If you have a great voice to work with, your work is half done. Jeremy Irons, in the The Lion King, has a way with words and phrasing. This makes it easy to find a acting pattern.

Donnie Dunagan [the voice of Bambi] and Peter Behn [the voice of Thumper] were also wonderful to voice characters. I remember Peter could not remember his lines, therefore, it gave his character a sense of innocence.

How has technology evolved to help the world of animation?

Once in a while we have a problem where an animator draws a character too large or small. In the old days we’d have to re-draw. Now we can re-size the character. That’s one of the options. Fixing problems can be easily done with a computer.

Do you still employ any “old school” animation methods?

In hand drawn type of animation, yes. That kind of animation hasn’t changed all that much. We still sit in old vintage drawing desks though we have electric pencil sharpeners.

Post production is the new wave of modern technology. And now that drawings are scanned, animation is a very versatile and accessible form. However, the actual animation itself is the same as in Snow White or as in Bambi.

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