The influential supervising animator and mentor, who spent four decades at the studio and worked on films from ‘Robin Hood’ to ‘Frozen,’ passed away last Friday from complications due to ALS.
The folks over at Disney have shared the sad news that Dale Baer, one of the most prolific, influential, and talented animators/supervising animators/mentors at Walt Disney Animation Studios over the past four decades, passed away at UC Irvine Medical Center in Irvine, California on January 15th from complications due to ALS. He was 70 years old.
Baer started at Disney Animation in 1971, being only the second person hired into the Studios’ inaugural training program, and went on to contribute to many of the feature films that followed, starting with Robin Hood (1973) and continuing through Frozen (2013) and beyond. From his landmark work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit to his supervising roles on The Lion King (adult Simba), The Emperor’s New Groove (Yzma), The Princess and the Frog (the frog hunters), he was acclaimed and admired by his peers. He was honored at the Annie Awards in 2001 (for Individual Achievement for Outstanding Character Animation for his work supervising Yzma) and in 2017, when he was presented with the coveted Winsor McCay Award for his distinguished career and lifetime achievements.
Commenting on Baer’s passing, Clark Spencer, president of Walt Disney Animation Studios, said, “Dale was an incredible animator and a great guy, who we were lucky to have known over his many years with the Studio. He brought life to a wide range of memorable Disney characters, proved himself to be a master artist and animator, and still found time to inspire and mentor several generations of aspiring animators. We are deeply saddened by his passing, and send our condolences to his family, friends and many admirers.”
Eric Goldberg, Baer’s friend and colleague at Walt Disney Animation Studios, added, “Dale was one of the very few special animators. It was an honor to know him, chat with him, and work with him, which I did on several occasions. He was trained by the ‘golden generation’ of Disney animators; Johnny Lounsbery was one of his main mentors. As such, Dale was a vital link for us to that illustrious group, and we could see it in his work. His drawings and animation had the whiff and inspiration of all of our Disney heroes, and every scene he did was a joy to watch. Amongst his many accomplishments were Mickey Mouse in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Owl in Winnie the Pooh, the three hillbilly hunters (and a lot of Ray) in The Princess and the Frog, Yzma in The Emperor’s New Groove, and many, many more. Dale was also a great teacher, teaching classical animation at several venues, including CalArts. We will miss him terribly, but we were fortunate enough to bask in his aura.”
Born in Denver, Colorado on June 15, 1950, Baer was captivated by animation (particularly the Disney films) as a young child, and had decided by the tender age of eight that he wanted to work at Walt’s Studio. During a visit to see his grandparents in California, he pleaded with his grandfather to park outside the Disney Studios so that he could stare at the animation building, and wonder what magic was happening inside. As a high school student, he wrote to the Animation Department inquiring where he could learn the craft. This led him to enroll at the Chouinard Art Institute (which later merged with CalArts), after creating the perfect portfolio. He finally got a chance to sneak into the Animation building on the Disney lot while running an errand for the school. A few years later, he found himself accepted into Disney’s fledgling inaugural training program, as only the second applicant.
Starting at Disney Animation in 1971, Baer learned from six of the “Nine Old Men” (Walt Disney’s trusted group of pioneering animators) during his first five years on the job. John Lounsbery recognized his talent and served as a mentor. He got his first feature film credit (as a character animator) on Robin Hood in 1973, and went on to work on The Rescuers and Pete’s Dragon. He left Disney in 1976 and worked on such animated favorites as the Peanuts television specials, commercials for Richard Williams, and The Lord of the Rings for Ralph Bakshi. Even when he was not directly working for Disney Animation, he continued to freelance and contribute to such films as Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and The Great Mouse Detective, among others.
In the mid-1980s, he and his first wife, industry veteran Jane Baer, formed the Baer Animation Company, and contributed animation for such Disney titles as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, (they were responsible for the Los Angeles unit that produced 11 minutes of footage involving the character of Benny the Cab and much of the Toontown scenes) and Beauty and the Beast.
Baer returned to Walt Disney Animation Studios on a fulltime basis in 1998, and lent his talents to such films as Tarzan, Treasure Planet, Home on the Range, Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons, and The Princess and the Frog. His credits also include the 2007 Goofy short, How to Hook Up Your Home Theater, and the 2013 Oscar-nominated short, Get a Horse. Baer retired from Disney in 2015 and worked on several freelance projects for small studios. Most recently, he worked on projects for Walt Disney Imagineering including an assignment animating Ursula and LeFou for Tokyo Disneyland (with his daughter Nicole inbetweening).
In 2017, Baer was honored at the Annie Awards with the Winsor McCay Award by ASIFA, the international animation organization.
Baer is survived by his wife, Teddy, and their two daughters, Nicole and Clarisse. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that contributions can be made to The ALS Association at als.org.
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.