Deja was born in Gdańsk, Poland on April 1, 1957, but moved with his family to Dinslaken, Germany, in 1958. He credits seeing Disney's The Jungle Book as an 11-year-old with inspiring him to become an animator. After graduating from Theodor-Heuss Gymnasium (secondary school), he studied graphic design at the Folkwang Hochschule in Essen, Germany.
A lifelong fan of Disney animated films, Deja was hired by the studio in 1980 after he had corresponded with Eric Larson, one of Disney's senior Nine Old Men of animation who ran the studio's training department. The first film on which he worked was The Black Cauldron, during which time he shared a cubicle with future film director Tim Burton.
During his rookie days at Disney, Deja sought mentorship and practical advice from seven of the then-living Nine Old Men, who were already retired before his tenure. Deja has collected information on the Nine Old Men over the years, and has stated that one of his ambitions is to publish one book for each of the Nine Old Men.
Deja is best known as the supervising animator of some of the most memorable Disney villains: Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, Jafar in Aladdin and Scar from The Lion King. He also animated Roger Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit, King Triton from The Little Mermaid, the titular character from Hercules, Lilo from Lilo & Stitch, Queen Narissa from Enchanted, Mama Odie in The Princess and the Frog, and Tigger in Winnie the Pooh. In addition, he is the current resident specialist for the animation of Mickey Mouse.
In 2006, at the 35th Annie Awards, Deja was awarded the Winsor McCay Award for outstanding contribution to the art of animation. Recently, he began a blog where he shares some of his collection of the work of the early Disney animators.
Deja is openly gay. His sexuality has been discussed as an influence on the development of some Disney characters.
Disney Filmography Credits
|1985||The Black Cauldron||Supervising Animator: Taran, Eilonwy, Dallben, Gurgi, Doli, Horned King, and Fair Folk / Character Designer|
|1986||The Great Mouse Detective||Character Animator: Queen Mousetoria|
|1988||Who Framed Roger Rabbit||Supervising Animator: Roger Rabbit|
|1988||Oliver & Company||Character Designer|
|1989||The Little Mermaid||Character Designer / Directing Animator / Supervising Animator: King Triton|
|1990||The Prince and the Pauper||Supervising Animator: Mickey Mouse and The Prince|
|1991||Beauty and the Beast||Supervising Animator: Gaston|
|1992||Aladdin||Supervising Animator: Jafar|
|1994||The Lion King||Supervising Animator: Scar|
|1995||Runaway Brain||Supervising Animator: Mickey Mouse|
|1996||Quack Pack||Animation Director / Supervising Animator: 1 Episode: Ducky Dearest|
|1997||Hercules||Supervising Animator: Adult Hercules|
|2000||Fantasia 2000||Animator: Segment Rhapsody in Blue / Character Animator: Mickey Mouse / Host Sequences|
|2000||The Emperor's New Groove||Additional Visual Development Artist|
|2002||Lilo & Stitch||Supervising Animator: Lilo|
|2004||Home on the Range||Animator: Slim and Junior|
|2004||Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas||Animation Consultant|
|2006||Bambi II||Animation Consultant|
|2007||How to Hook Up Your Home Theater||Animator: Goofy|
|2009||The Princess and the Frog||Supervising Animator: Mama Odie and Juju|
|2011||The Ballad of Nessie||Supervising Animator|
|2011||Winnie the Pooh||Visual Development Artist / Supervising Animator: Tigger|
|2017||Happily Ever After||Animator: Snake Jafar|