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Disney Animator Vance Gerry Dead at 75

Vance Gerry, a veteran Disney animation storyman, layout artist and visual development artist since 1955, passed away on March 5, 2005, at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, California, of complications from cancer. He was 75 years old. Regarded as one of the most talented and creative story artists in the animation industry, Gerry contributed to such classic Disney animated features as 101 DALMATIANS, THE JUNGLE BOOK, THE ARISTOCATS, ROBIN HOOD, THE RESCUERS, THE MANY ADVENTURES OF WINNIE THE POOH, THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE, OLIVER & COMPANY, POCAHONTAS, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, HERCULES, TARZAN, FANTASIA/2000 and HOME ON THE RANGE.

Up until his death, Gerry continued to work closely with 96-year-old Disney legend Joe Grant (who co-wrote DUMBO, and designed the Queen/Witch character for SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS), and Burny Mattinson (a 50-year veteran himself whose credits include animating, directing and storyman), adapting books and developing original story ideas. The trio comically referred to their group as the "Geriatricals."

Commenting on Gerry's passing, Grant said, "Vance was one of the finest graphic artists of our times, and he also was a great storyteller. I wish I had known him sooner and worked with him longer. In addition to his interests and talents in the field of animation, he was a master of topography and design. I loved working with him. He made an enormous impact in the art world of animation and he made coming to work a lot of fun."

Don Hahn, producer of such animated blockbusters as BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and THE LION KING, added, "Vance had his fingerprints all over such iconic animated films as THE JUNGLE BOOK, 101 DALMATIANS and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. He was a writer's writer and his sense of storytelling and influence on all of us was profound. He was one of the smartest and most charming storymen the industry has seen. A generation of filmmakers studied under his wing and learned from his spectacular storyboards. It wasn't that he drew better than others, or wrote better than others or communicated emotion and character better than others. It was that he did all these things and did them well for decades that makes Vance's legacy stand apart."

Born in Pasadena, California, in 1929, Gerry studied at the Chouinard Art Institute before joining Disney in 1955. He began his career as an assistant inbetweener. Moving on to layout artist, he contributed to such Disney television shows as THE GOOFY SUCCESS STORY, GOOFY'S CAVALCADE OF SPORTS AND HOW TO RELAX, and such featurettes as THE TRUTH ABOUT MOTHER GOOSE and DONALD IN MATHMAGIC LAND. As a layout artist, he also worked on the features 101 DALMATIANS and THE SWORD IN THE STONE.

Gerry exhibited his talents for story beginning with THE JUNGLE BOOK in 1967 and went on to be a major contributor to THE ARISTOCATS, ROBIN HOOD, THE RESCUERS, THE MANY ADVENTURES OF WINNIE THE POOH, THE FOX AND THE HOUND, THE BLACK CAULDRON, OLIVER & COMPANY and HERCULES. He received a story adaptation credit for the 1986 feature, THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE. For Fantasia/2000, Gerry worked on the conceptual storyboards for the "Carnival of the Animals" sequence.

From 1995 forward, Gerry turned his attention to visual development and character design. In those capacities, he contributed to such later features as POCAHONTAS, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, TARZAN and HOME ON THE RANGE.

Discussing his work with animation historian John Canemaker for the book, BEFORE THE ANIMATION BEGINS: THE ART AND LIVES OF DISNEY INSPIRATIONAL SKETCH ARTISTS, Gerry expressed a relaxed confidence about the creative process. "It doesn't take much to get started," he said. "I'd just as soon start with a title of a picture and just start dreaming into it. A script is restricting because it tells you too much. I'd rather start earlier than that and look for possibilities for animation and entertainment, rather than story elements or structure. A lot of things come quick at first. But once you get really tired of a project and can't stand it anymore, that's the time you're really going to get going on it. All the things that the guys work on so hard for a long time usually come off better."

In addition to his activities at Walt Disney Feature Animation, Gerry also operated his own letterpress, The Weatherbird Press, which published many fine print graphic books.

Gerry is survived by his wife, Mary, of 48 years, and his niece, Elizabeth Soder, of Red Bluff, California. A memorial service is scheduled for March 11 at 1:00 pm at Annandale Golf Club (One N. San Rafael Ave.) in Pasadena. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the International Museum of Graphic Communication, 8469 Kass Drive, Buena Park, California, 90621; 714/523-2080.