Animator and Disney Legend Andreas Deja made his directorial debut with the short film MUSHKA which was screened at San Diego Comic-Con and MouseInfo had a chance to sit down with the prolific artist, animator, and director. MUSHKA is a story about a Ukrainian girl named Sarah who raises a Siberian tiger during the 1970s.
The film is dedicated to Eric Larson, one of Disney’s “Nine Old Men” — an honorarium given to the original titans of Walt Disney’s early animation powerhouse that brought classic animated features to life going all the way back to the very first: SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS.
Larson was the final of the Nine Old Men to retire, providing a time overlap for Deja to find his way forward in his career with a well-linked connection to the history of the studio. Deja had initially written to him from Germany about a possible career in Animation; a step that would lead to him becoming a supervising animator on titles such as THE BLACK CAULDRON and WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT before hitting the big leagues on characters including Gaston, Jafar, Scar, and adult Hercules amongst many others.
On his decision to leave Disney, Deja shared the answer that we’d probably all expect: Disney was largely focused computer animation and not on hand-drawn features. Despite having some training in that then-new and burgeoning field, he mused that drawing was in his DNA. The choice was obvious although hardly easy.
With MUSHKA, Deja found profound growth as an artist — a learning path that would ultimately take seven years from start to finish. As director, he was involved in every single aspect of the filmmaking process from approving storyboards, approving backgrounds, and even recording of the score and voices.
The film’s composer, Fabrizio Mancinellito, said that he was inspired by Disney Legend Richard Sherman and his theme “Mushka’s Lullaby.” Mancinellito said that it was a challenge to blend his own theme with Sherman’s but that the prolific Disney songwriter was ultimately happy with the final result. Mancinellito also spoke about the importance of music in animation, saying that it can be the storyteller when there is no dialogue on the screen.
Mancinellito also shared how Disney Legend Alice Davis was another guiding light for him after becoming a sort of adopted grandmother to him early in his career. He found cherished mentorship and guidance in her expertise and although she passed away before being able to see this film completed, he strongly believes that she’s always with him.
Producer Roger Viloria and animator Courtney Dipaola also spoke about their involvement in the film. Viloria said that he was passionate about animation from a young age, and he loved the opportunity to work on a project that was so full of heart. Dipaola said that she was initially hired to do in-between work, but she was eventually promoted to animator after impressing Deja with her test animation.
See it for Yourself
San Diego Comic-Con took place July 19 – July 23, 2023.