After a long battle with cancer that got into his lungs, Dan Lee died this last weekend. He was only 35 years old. I worked with him recently at Pixar where he was one of the main character designers, but we first met at Colossal Pictures back in the mid 1990′s.
I believe that Colossal was the first place he worked at in the USA after leaving Canada. While there, amongst other things, he animated on the Koala Lumpur game that I was working on, and that’s when I got to know him. I remember that he was belting out great animation daily, and seemed highly skeptical of the fact that I loved everything he did and didn’t change anything… Anyone who worked with him back in those days probably remembers his little cubicle drapped in equal proportions with beautiful sketches, lots of pictures of Audrey Hepburn and Dan’s sweaty bike shorts.
Dan was amazingly talented, but not at all difficult about it. I remember that he was the first artist on Finding Nemo to manage a “cute fish” design. I had been wrestling with the challenge of drawing a cute fish for weeks, (it’s harder than you may think!) and Dan managed it immediately. (DOH!) If any of you have the “art of Nemo” book you will be able to see some of his very appealing little sketches of Nemo in there.
Apart from often being inspired by his easy way with a pencil, brush or stylus, I admired the fact that despite his illness Dan continued to work at his job. I suppose it continued to make him happy despite all that he was going through.
I saw Dan as Recently as late October when I was in at Pixar storyboarding on another project he was doing wonderful designs on. (the rest of you will have to wait a year or two to see his work on that film). At that time he was physically frail but was nevertheless cheerful, certainly more so than I would imagine myself being in the same circumstances…
Thanks to Amber Maclean for this recent photo of Dan, taken in December 2004.
An obituary article about Dan was published by the CBC. you can read it online here.
There is also a piece by the TORONTO SUN
UPDATE August 2005: read here about the Dan Lee Commemorative book.