Oscar winner Michaël Dudok de Wit teaches at Aalto’s new master’s programme in animation

A world-renowned animation director recently gave a master class where he shared his experiences and gave top-class industry tips.
Silmälasipäinen mies seisoo katsoen vasemmalle yläviistoon
Michaël Dudok de Wit

Aalto University has launched a new Master's Degree Program in Animation. Executive in Residence Tuula Leinonen, responsible of the joint programme by the Department of Film, Television, and Scenography and the Department of Media says: ‘Our master's program has been devotedly planned, and also eagerly awaited in the animation industry, so we wanted to offer a top lecturer and master class from the very beginning. Many of our students had already mentioned Dudok de Wit as a role model in the application stage’.

Michaël Dudok de Wit (b. 1953) is a Dutch animator, director and illustrator based in London. His short film Father and Daughter (2000) won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.

In his open lecture at Aalto University, Dudok de Wit gave the audience of animation and film students some very handy tips and shared his experiences thus far.

‘Michaël’s master class was a truly inspiring experience. It was inspiring to listen to someone so passionate about their work it and provided a new perspective on making animation films. The small size of the group allowed a conversational atmosphere, and it was great to be able to exchange ideas with Michaël and my fellow students! It was clear that nobody wanted the two-day master class to end’, student Veera Krouglov says.

Whenever you plan your work, always ask yourself who you want to like it. This will make your work more conscious."

Michaël Dudok de Wit

It’s fine to be good enough

Dudok de Wit says that because the education was not of a very high standard when he was starting, he and his fellow students learned by experimenting. While he says it is maybe not the best way to get training, he pointed out that animation is best learned by doing, and finding the appropriate tools that work best for you.

After moving to London, Dudok de Wit says he learned most of what he knew about the industry by making hand-made (and computer-free) commercial short films and listening to feedback from the clients. He emphasises the importance of understanding what the customer wants and finding the best ways to respond.

It is also important to consider what one's audience is when planning a film.

‘Whenever you plan your work, always ask yourself who is this targeted towards? Repeatedly asking yourself this question will make your work more conscious’, claims Dudok de Wit.

When the esteemed Japanese Studio Ghibli contacted him a few years ago for filmmaking, Dudok de Wit says he was thoroughly surprised. ‘It took months to calm down from the shock that my idols had asked me to work with them. I have always admired Studio Ghibli; their films have always had underlying wisdom that is quite different from any other film’.

Studio Ghibli suggested that Dudok de Wit make a full-length feature film: which meant conceptualising the story and putting the film together, which the studio would then produce and distribute. Red Turtle was completed in 2016, and Dudok de Wit subsequently toured the world, marketing the film, also including a trip to Finland which he considered a lovely experience – A big reason why, he says, he is here in Finland again, and this time teaching.

‘I am not a top animator, nor a master storyteller. I have worked with the masters, and they are glorious. I’m good enough in this and that’, the director describes himself.

Mies lautalla ja punainen kilpikonna meressä tuijottavat toisiaan
Detail photo of the Red Turtle animation film.

Looking for inspiration

In his lecture, Dudok de Wit offered students practical advice on how to improve their creativity and where can you find inspiration, especially when ideas are lost, or work is not progressing.

He pointed out that simply taking a walk is a real head clearer such as in the city, a forest or some other special place that will get the creative juices flowing. He also said that reading books, seeing films, going to concerts, experimental theatre or dance performances are fantastic for ideas. The director said he often gets inspired by performing arts, especially by music, and explained that when he is in a state of bliss listening to the music, or enjoying wonderful experimental dance, he goes back to his project and it helps him to solve any unresolved creative problems.

Dudok de Wit emphasised that we learn by doing and not just by studying books or learning in a classroom. He also placed particular importance on getting life experience; There’s no need to travel all around the world, you can meet people and push your limits in your existing surroundings.

‘Get feedback always as it’s often the case that by being so close to your work, you might not see certain details that are easily apparent to others. Even if it’s just a few people, they can articulate better what doesn’t work in your film’, Dudok de Wit emphasised.


Rhythm and recognizable details are everywhere in life, they bring order in the midst of chaos.’

Michaël Dudok de Wit

Sensitivity as a strength

In a post-masterclass sit-down, Dudok de Wit expressed that he doesn't think people, in general, are curious enough, as many things in life start with a tiny little detail, he says; something you start being curious about, which then opens the door to a broader world. ‘In animation, there is a natural curiosity, a child-like wonder, which serves as an essential part of the creative process, which can produce amazing results!’.

‘We create patterns as filmmakers, and the audience recognises them, and you can play with the security and insecurity of the spectator. The human brain is educated to recognise a pattern in chaos, rhythm and recognisable details are everywhere in life; they bring order amid chaos, try to find something exceptional for your work. Think if it’s safe, obedient artwork or rather art with a sparkle’, Dudok de Wit added.

Intuition, he said, is essential;  it’s where the totally unexpected ideas come up. ‘Your internal judge and the perfectionist in you are vital for your work quality. Focus on recognising your own way and think about what your audience would like and make your work more audience-friendly while not compromising your own artistic endeavours.

Dudok de Wit also spoke of ‘spectator’s forgiveness', in which the audience forgives your mistakes and weaknesses because they don’t see what you consider to be a failure in your work. They were too busy watching the film.

He wanted to give the students one particular piece of advice which he once received as a budding filmmaker, ‘If you want to be a truly creative artist and filmmaker, ask yourself the biggest and deepest questions, like do I want to do this job? Do I want to make this film? What can I bring to it? What are my strengths?’

Finally, Dudok de Wit summed up his entire lecture in one word: sensitivity - That's what he calls on the future animators and filmmakers to cherish.

Text: Krista Kinnunen

For more information:

Executive in Residence Tuula Leinonen, Master's Program in Animation, Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, +358 400 688 054, [email protected]

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