By: Elyse                Categories: AnimationGeneral

Tony Bancroft, director of Mulan and author of Directing for Animation, asked the top animation directors in the industry the same question…

“What is the most important tool in your director’s tool box?”

This is what he found out…

Dean DeBlois, co-writer and co-director (with Chris Sanders) of Disney’s Lilo and Stitch and DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon.

How to Train Your Dragon © 2010 DreamWorks animation LLC, used with permission of DreamWorks animation LLC

“Well, I think the most universal tool is story aptitude. I’d say if I was going to encourage any director out there beyond learning camera techniques and camera angles and the language of film, which is important, but right above that is always story. You should read books about it, you should attend seminars about it and learn as much as you can about the techniques, the craft and the art of story. That is first and foremost. Some directors just show no interest in story because they are more interested in another aspect of the filmmaking process. But, in my opinion, it’s story first and filmmaking craft second. Beyond that you also need to be good “in the room.” Knowing how to diffuse conflicts when they arise and riding the storm is a good quality because there can be a lot of chaos on a film set or even on any animated film production. There are inevitably blow-ups and upsets, politics, etc. The director needs to be the solid guy who people can come to and know that they’ll get a straight answer and feel supported by.”

Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Director of Kung Fu Panda 2

Kung Fu Panda 2 © 2008 DreamWorks animation LLC, used with permission of DreamWorks animation LLC.

“I think it’s . . . gosh, that’s a tough one. I guess, it’s being able to read people. Because, as a director, you don’t actually do that much of the work. You have to get other people to do the work, so, being able to try to see what people need to do their best work. I think that’s been useful, ’cause, it’s different for everybody, so, you can’t just treat people the same. That listening ability, I think is important.”

Pete Docter, one of the top directors at Pixar; Director of Monsters, Inc. and Up.

from Monsters, Inc © 2001 Disney • Pixar

“I think you just have to be a good study of human nature . . . I remember at school, looking around at everybody, and going, “Oh, that guy’s gonna be the best animator around,” I mean, my thought was it’s all about your skills, as a draftsman, or in terms of movement, and all that, and now that you get out in the world you realize how much just social skills are really crucial. The fact that somebody can communicate clearly to someone else, and corral a group of people getting them all focused on the same page, I mean, that’s all really crucial skills that a director needs, and, at the same time, I feel like, as soon as you’re conscious of that, like, as soon as I stand in front of a group of people, I say to myself, “OK, Pete. You gotta lead these guys, and rev ’em up, and get ’em excited,” then I just become self-conscious of it, and I think people can sense that, you know. I think it’s just gotta come from you. Hopefully you have a sense of enthusiasm and passion for what you do, and an ability to communicate the emotion that you’re trying to get across, and then I think, really trusting your team. And again, different people like different things, but, I feel like, the more I can tell, let’s just say, an animator, the essence of a scene, and the feeling I want, and what’s going on in a character’s head, and let them worry about the specifics of, “Where’s his hand on frame forty-seven,” and “How fast does his elbow move,” and all that. They know that stuff, and they’re gonna bring all these great acting ideas. My job, at least initially, is just to make sure they’re focused on the right thing, and that they have the right information in their heads so that they can do their job and bring their own creative ideas to the thing.”

from Up. © 2009 Disney • Pixar.

Eric Goldberg, co-director of Disney’s Pocahontas

from Hercules. © 1997 Disney.

“My brain. That’s the most important tool, because you’re constantly thinking: How can I “plus” the material? How can I get what they want, and make it readable? How can you dissuade them from something that doesn’t really feel like it’s a particularly cohesive idea? Often, I have to think on my feet, which is not a bad quality for people to nurture, because, it’s one thing just to sit there with a sour puss and say, “Oh, that’s not gonna work!” but, if you say, “You know what? That may not work as well, but if you try this, you know, you may get what you want, and we can do X, Y, and Z,” and usually they buy it. They buy it because you’re offering them a positive alternative.”

from Aladdin. © 1992 Disney.

from Pocahontas. © 1995 Disney.


Excerpt from Tony Bancroft’s Directing the Story © 2013 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

About the Book

Pull the right strings to bring your characters to life and center your story by developing the visual cues that lend to your audience’s understanding of the plot, place, and purpose. Tony walks you through the process, bringing you behind the scenes of real, well-known projects – with a little help from some famous friends. Learn from the directors of Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Ice Age, Chicken Run, and Kung Fu Panda, and see how they developed stories and created characters that have endured for generations. Get the inside scoop behind these major features… pitfalls and all.

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