'Moana' Animator Says Technology and His Craft Have "Blown Up Like Crazy"

Dale Baer - How an Animation Legend Stays Active - Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy of HOUSER PR

Animator Dale Baer, 66, who will receive a Winsor McCay Award for career achievement (along with indie legend Caroline Leaf and anime pioneer Mamoru Oshii) at the 44th annual Annie Awards, has spent decades at the Walt Disney Studios, working on everything from The Lion King to Zootopia and Moana.

He first came to the studio in 1971 for its training program and learned from some of the Nine Old Men, Disney's fabled group of veteran animators. "Robin Hood was my first film in the training program," he says. "It was so wonderful walking into this place and working with heroes of mine. Eric Larson and John Lounsbery were the most patient, helpful people I ever met. I gravitated to John because he liked to do very broad, comical animation. He was never overly critical. Eric was very methodical. He'd look at your work on the Moviola, stop and zero in on one spot that needed work and take a piece of paper and make a drawing. He'd hand you the paper, and it just made sense."

Baer has worked on a range of Disney films, including The Rescuers ("I did a lot of Bernard and Bianca") and Moana ("Heihei was fun — we explored different shapes of the body, hair and beak"). Now Baer marvels at how the animation industry has "blown up like crazy," he says. "I worked on two CG films at Disney, though I still like drawing on paper. I'm glad they're both out there now. It's exciting."

This story first appeared in the Feb. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.