Friday, November 30, 2012

The Evolution of Jafar

I was thrilled when I got the assignment to supervise the animation of Jafar, the villain in the film Aladdin. I had just finished work on Gaston, who had to be handled with a certain amount of realism.
I remember thinking: Not with Jafar!
Here was a chance to design and animate a character who belonged in a graphically stylized world.
Animator Eric Goldberg had already done some incredible test animation of the Genie, which helped to set the style for character designs. Inspired by the fluid lines of famous caricaturist Al Hirschfeld combined with the voice of Robin Williams, Eric created a Genie for the ages and set the bar very high for the rest of us.
But how would I handle Jafar's personality against the uber entertaining Genie and the rest of the cast? Should I go along and give him plenty of lively gestures or should I downplay his acting and look for contrast instead?  
I found out the more I held back and showed him thinking and plotting, the more evil and interesting he became. Sure there were scenes when eccentric acting was called for such as when Jafar turns into a beggar. The attitudes here show a hunger for power as well as extreme frustration.
All those scenes were animated beautifully by Kathy Zielinski.
Other animators in the Jafar unit were Nik Ranieri, Ken Duncan, Ron Husband and Lou Dellarosa.

Many different design ideas were floating around early on, before animation began.

A fun drawing by designer/story artist Daan Jippes.

This sketch by director John Musker showed just the right attitude to go along with Jonathan Freeman's voice recordings. 

A couple of my early drawings with extra evil eyebrows. Didn't feel right though.

I order to loosen up I scribbled many facial expressions to explore the range of his facial features.
Setting Jafar's mouth very low on his face allowed me to create bizarre but interesting mouth shapes. 

My attempt to tie down some of those rough faces.

How realistic or how cartoony should his hands look like? I knew I wanted hands you wouldn't want to touch.

Premature cleanup studies. The right type of personality is emerging, but his face has way too many angles and planes. Too complicated to look at and not in line with the style of the film.

Jean Gillmore drew these expressive poses. 

I tried to minimize the line milage in the design. Still not stylized enough.

After one more pass I was comfortable with these animatable shapes.
This is the design directors Ron Clements and John Musker approved.

Clean up artist Kathy Baily creates the fine line look for the character.

An oversized drawing of Jafar with a cut out Iago provided by animator Will Finn.

I don't particularly enjoy drawing model sheets, it's all about measuring the components of the character and being consistent. They are important though because they explain the character "graphically" to your animation and clean up crew.

A cool design for Jafar's staff. We decided to close the snake's mouth though to save line mileage.
It probably saved the film's budget, too :)

A couple of my more or less typical roughs.

This is a clean up drawing from a scene that was cut from the movie 
Jafar is muttering the magic word to make the gigantic tiger head appear in the desert.
That magic word was the name of our layout supervisor: Rasoul Azadani

Jonathan Freeman voiced the character perfectly, He loved being Jafar, and I loved animating to his inspired vocal performances.


  1. Amazing insight into one of my favorite characters! Thank you so much! :D

  2. Your website is awesomely amazing ! Thanks a billion !

  3. Amazing Stuff, Thanks for sharing it...

  4. As a child, I watched Aladdin constantly. Loved Jafar scenes – his thin T-shaped body, stoic poses, or random outbursts of evil.
    A year ago, I saw a picture of Jonathan Freeman and thought to myself, "How the heck does that guy's voice not match his super jolly face and body?!"

  5. Thanks very much for illuminating Jafar's history for us! Jafar ranks among my favorite Disney villains -- like Captain Hook, he enjoys being evil and can really ham it up.

  6. It would be nice to get a closer look on the maquettes. In general, actually. Would be great!

  7. Thanks so much for this post :) The development of Jafar looks amazing. Just one question - the voice of Jonathan Freeman matched the acting of Jafar so amazingly, so at which stage of the development of the design was he chosen for the role? Usually the characters adjust to the actor personalities, but here is seems that the actor wonderfully adjusted to the character's way of acting.

    1. Jonathan was chosen very early on in production.
      We designed him just listening to his tracks, Nobody knew what Jonathan looked like until much later.

  8. Thank you so much for this beautiful, fascinating post!

  9. ...Thank you ever so kindly for providing this priceless resource time & time again, Andreas...! - it truly was a pleasure meeting you at CTN this year!

  10. Andreas Thank you for sharing this stuff extremely precious! I love the animation of Jafar and the way his face stretches and compresses because the mouth ... very inspiring to me!

  11. Cool! My favorite Disney villain. And at the end of the film he does the most evil thing any Disney villain can do: he tells bad puns!

  12. I made this animated gif (which pinterest turned into a jpg for some reason) of your three Jafar comparisons... concept, rough, clean. Lining them up and seeing them change in time helped me visualize the changes that were made to the design and how it came together. Thought you might appreciate it.

  13. Though they probably saved the budget a little by closing that snake's mouth, surely the cleanup cost more on Aladdin because of it's elaborate variation in line weight? (Influenced by arabic calligraphy) You can REALLY see it there on that last cleaned up Jafar drawing. Kudos to the clean up team on Aladdin!

    It's fascinating seeing the full development of the character here, thanks Andreas! And it's encouraging to hear that even you find making model sheets a drag!

  14. Jafar is such a deliciously evil character. You all did a fabulous job. He's one of my favorite villains.

  15. Woah, this is really insightful. Thanks for sharing your thought process behind finalizing Jafar's design.
    Aladdin is my favorite of the '90s Disney animated features.
    Jafar truly is a work of art, and his performance in the film is fantastic.

  16. Andreas, did I read somewhere prior that Marc Davis praised your work on Jafar? If so, you deserve it. One of the greatest Disney villains ever!

    1. It wasn't really praise, but Marc told me he enjoyed Jafar.
      That was enough for me to make my day.
      Frank and Ollie gave me a compliment, too.
      Those are moments to be treasured.

  17. This is really wonderful, do you always start to sketch on blue pencil and then pulish the drawing in black? I saw that in some drawings you made of Scar and Lilo. One more question, did you get inspiration on some actors for Jafar's gestures or Mr. Freeman was the main inspiration? Great post, thank you!

    1. you must have thought about The jaffar character performed by Conrad Veidt ( the Thief of Bagdad 1940)

    2. That's my way of animating. Rough pass in color pencil, then tied down pass in pencil. That way clean up knows to go by my black lines only.
      I avoided watching The Thief of Bagdad during production, I wanted to do my own thing.

  18. That must have been an interesting challenge working with a character with another on his shoulder. Would Will always draw Iago? I can see where you guys had to line up pretty close. for example when Jafar is holding Iago's beak closed.Can you elaborate on what the process is for sharing a scene with a character that is touching your character.For example, do you guys do extremes on the same frame, stuff like that.Thanks again, for sharing your working drawings.

    1. Most Iagos are Will's. (I drew a few off model ones)
      Usually I animated Jafar first, because he provided a stage for Iago.
      When two characters are in the same scene, the motivating or aggressive one is animated first. The reacting character comes second.
      Should the characters' moods change, we might go back and forth with the scene amongst ourselves.

    2. Andreas, working with you on these guys was a total joy. Co animating two closely relating characters can provide...ahem... difficulties, but not so on this, we seemed to agree on everything (even the color styling) and the co-ordinating was completely harmonious (unlike Iago's voice!). One of my all time favorite assignments.

      Tony Bancroft and Brian Fergusson did their share of Iagos while i was supervising and nice they were too. Cheers!

  19. It amazes me how you can hone all those sketches and ideas into a perfect design.

  20. Perfect post as always. It was so interesting to see the early sketches.
    By the way I didn't know this "That magic word was the name of our layout supervisor: Rasoul Azadani" !
    WOw !

  21. Great designs of Jafar, Andreas but he is my fourth favorite Disney villain of all time.

  22. Jafar is of one the characters always remembered when somebody talks about Disney villains.
    Thanks, Andreas, for giving us this character.

  23. it's so funny when the voice actor looks so different to the character.

  24. Very Informative! This blog is great source of information which is very useful for me. Thank you very much for sharing this!


  25. Dear Mr. Deja,

    I'm working for the Hamilton Big Blue News and I was hoping if you're free to do an interview for the paper about the works of Disney's "Aladdin" on email with the animators, the composer, and the directors on the film. Thanks!

    Nicholas Simmer

  26. Thanks for the post, Andreas, but can you please do me a favor and do a post on Daan Jippes sometime soon or later on your blog?