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Filmmaking Tips From the Disney Masters!

Filmmaking Tips From the Disney Masters!

By Jonathan Cooper

As a service to the young filmmakers who submit films to the YoungCuts Film Festival, we will be featuring weekly filmmaking tips from YoungCuts Alumni, Partners and Friends.

By Jonathan Cooper

Jonathan Cooper

Last year, Samantha Youssef of Studio Technique hosted a Master Class given by Disney animating legend Andreas Deja. We did some publicity for the class and, in return, Samantha chose her favourite animated film from submissions to last year's festival (Sweet Tooth), giving the filmmaker of Sweet Tooth, Audrey Meubus, a free seat in the class

Audrey was supposed to send us a report of the class, but she's been a little busy. Which was why we were so happy when Jonathan Cooper wrote up his report on the class for his blog. This was a Master Class for animators, but many of the general lessons that Andreas Deja gave during that class are applicable to filmmakers from any genre or discipline. With Jonathan's permission, we have adapted his notes for this article. 

Andreas Deja

#1. Find a Hook for Your Character - Andreas Deja

  • Use your life experience when making artistic choices
  • Draw on your memories to add depth to characters
  • Always ask: what is this character thinking and why is he thinking that way?

#2. Don’t Animate Drawings, Animate Feelings - Ollie Johnson

  • Crawl into your character's head and animate from the inside
  • Lighting and camera placement should match your character's emotional state
  • Easier to add technique to something emotionally true than to add emotion to sterile technique

#3. Animate the More Aggressive Character First - Andreas Deja

  • For a doc, interview your most aggressive character first
  • For narrative, light and block your most aggressive character first
  • Use less aggressive characters to add shading to your piece

#4. Observation, Observation, Observation! - Eric Larson

  • True whether you are capturing reality with a pencil, a camera or a computer
  • Go out and just watch. Then draw. (Or film.)
  • Learn your subject so well that you don't need the reference anymore

Andreas Deja sketching Big CatAndreas Deja's sketch of Big CatPosing is Hard Work! Andreas Deja, Samantha Youssef & Big Cat

#5. Observe and then Plus Reality - Andreas Deja

  • Mission statement for any filmmaker in any genre or discipline
  • Choose what to leave in and select what to add or take out
  • Difference between going to the zoo and watching Animal Planet

#6. Explore ALL Possibilities In Your Thumbnails - Milt Kahl

  • Or in your script, or in your notes
  • You can't succeed if you're afraid to fail
  • Never throw away bad work - worst case, you can later see that you’ve grown as an artist

Explore ALL Possibilities In Your Thumbnails - Milt Kahl

#7. Break Things Up – Everything Moving At the Same Time Looks Weightless - Andreas Deja

  • Good advice either way; how to shoot a science-fiction weightless scene
  • Also confuses audience; they don't know where to look
  • Simplify and focus

#8. You Owe It to Yourself and the Medium - Milt Kahl

  • Set high standards for yourself
  • Work hard; don't settle for second best
  • Set an example for your cast and crew

Andreas Deja's Scar

#9. Incorporate Asymmetry (In Facial Expressions and Lip-Syncing) - Andreas Deja

  • Symmetry is boring
  • Asymmetry adds character
  • True for lighting, scripts, actors, staging, blocking, etc...

#10. If It Doesn’t Look Natural, It’s No Good - Eric Larson

  • Show audience something they know to be true; easier for them to accept your fantasy

Andreas Deja's Scar

#11. Better to Focus on Your Weaknesses than Show Off Your Strengths - Andreas Deja

  • Forget your strengths to focus on your weaknesses
  • Be honest with yourself to identify your strengths and weaknesses
  • Perfection is TEH Enemy of TEH Good

#12. You Need to be Sincere in Your Own Work - Eric Larson

  • Avoid theatrics
  • Focus on making characters come to life
  • Don’t be ambiguous; make it strong and clear

Andreas Deja's Jafar

#13. It’s All About Feeling - That is Number One - Andreas Deja

  • Capturing emotion is more important than technique
  • Draftsmanship (or staging) is secondary; acting comes first
  • Let the audience see what the characters are thinking and feeling

#14. Don’t Forget, This Is Supposed to Be Fun! - Roy Disney

Andrea Deja's Lilo

#15. Don't Try To Be the Next Ollie Johnson, Be the First You - Andreas Deja

  • Young filmmakers have a tendency to try to replicate their idols.
  • To be successful, you need to express yourself in your projects.
  • Apply your own sense of humour, of drama, of romance, of fear.

Andreas Deja's Villain Trilogy Pose for Lilo

Jonathan Cooper is the Animation Director of Assassin's Creed III (also Mass Effect 1 & Mass Effect 2). His team just won Outstanding Achievement in Animation at this year's DICE awards for their work on Assassin's Creed III. Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @GameAnim

This article is adapted from a recap Jonathan wrote for his blog GameAnim

Assassin's Creed III

Agree with Jonathan? Disagree? Have your own filmmaker tips, best practices or mistakes to avoid that you would like to share? Get in touch! E-Mail the YoungCuts Film Festival Director, Michael Ryan:

Assassin's Creed III & its characters are copyright Ubisoft.
Scar, Jafar, Gaston & Lilo are copyright Disney Animation.