Veteran Hollywood animator Leon Joosen flew told an audience at an Animation! Training session that pitching to Jeffrey Katzenberg was “the most terrifying experience” of his life.
Delivering a lecture on the power of strong characters in storytelling at the Buenos Aires market on Wednesday (November 29), the former Disney, DreamWorks Animation and Marvel Productions employee professed his admiration for pitch session participants and recounted a personal experience from his past.
“Jeffrey would just stare and he would just glare and go up to the board and look at the characters as you were pitching,” Joosen, who counts The Little Mermaid and Space Jam among his credits, said. “It was the most terrifying experience I have ever had.”
Now working in independent feature animation, Joosen told the audience it was important to create a sense of identity around major characters and showed excerpts from Dutch Oscar-nominated short A Single Life.
The story centred on “an ordinary girl” who owns a magic record player that allows her to travel back and forth in time. “It’s a great example of how you can develop strong characters and the story moves forward by throwing something in its way and seeing how it plays out.”
Joosen showed excerpts from Disney’s 2017 Oscar winner Zootopia, which exemplified how storytellers need to be flexible. “Diversity wasn’t the theme at the outset. They came up with an idea, a caper, about two natural enemies – a fox and a rabbit – and then other aspects came to light like the racial profiling of the fox, so they adapted the story.”
And the Hollywood veteran said there were no rules against adding elements to a pre-existing story. While Joosen worked at Disney, animators were struggling to crack an adaptation of the popular fairy tale Rapunzel because there were so many pieces to the story.
Yet it was only decades later when a staffer introduced the idea of the drop of sunshine that had healing powers – an element that was not in the original fairy tale – that Disney finally came up with global smash Tangle.
The Animation! pitch sessions resume on Thursday.