Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Vance Gerry pitching to Woolie Reitherman, Larry Clemmons,
Milt Kahl and Ken Anderson

Memories of Vance Gerry

Vance Gerry was a soft-spoken man. He had opinions, of course, but he never felt like it was his constant duty to express them (some of us, however, did feel that way). I never saw him angry or frustrated (others have, but they will acknowledge that it was on a rare and justifiable occasion). Here was the appearance of a man who had mastered life and had found contentment. He spent a lifetime drawing storyboards and personal illustrations, but he never lost his youthful enthusiasm for his own work and the good work of others. He did some of the best feature storyboard work I had ever seen.

I worked with Vance and Walt Disney Feature Animation during a time when many young artists were depressed with the quality of films that were in production – immediately prior to the success of The Little Mermaid. When artists much younger than he were complaining and expressing cynical opinions about the future of Disney Animation, Vance reminded the anxious young artists around him that there was never a time he remembered when everyone at the studio was happy and secure about the quality of films that were being made.

Vance, by example, showed those around him that there was never an excuse for doing less than your best work. He proved that good work can elevate average material and that this was the definition of a true story artist. While others would complain and stress about their work, Vance would quietly turn out sketch after amazing sketch that provided strong direction for the rest of the crew - for character acting and for the mood of the environments. I can’t say that it was the best drawing technique I had ever seen, his drawings were kind of simple with dough-y shapes but at the same time, terrifically charming – and the staging and lighting indications were always, ALWAYS wonderful.

He loved to dress up certain drawings with a simple color wash or some crayon – and he used the most humble, stupid “little kid” sets of watercolors and crayola crayons that you would find in any drugstore (shaming those who think they need the best materials in order to create their best work).

Vance was an inspiration to the younger artists around him. He was passionate about watercolor and loved the work of the California School of Watercolor. Many of those artists had worked at Disney or had some relationship to Walt and the studio; Millard Sheets, Phil Dike, Lee Blair, Art Riley, Ralph Hulett, Elmer Plummer, and many others had either worked at the studio or taught at Chouinard and then California Institute of the Arts. Vance would accompany some of the younger artists (including myself – a twenty-something neophyte at the time) to paint watercolors in the parks and other locations near the studio during lunch hours. I have one of his lunch hour watercolors - we traded one day after one of our painting trips.

Vance Gerry watercolor painted on his lunch
hour at Bette Davis park in Glendale, CA

He also was a fan of Jack Miller, an artist who worked in the Character Model department during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Vance had made a book from photocopies of Jack’s studio work – pirates from Peter Pan, caricatures of his co-workers, etc, and it was obvious that Vance’s drawing style owed much to that of Jack Miller.

Occasionally, I will look though my files and find copies of Vance’s wonderful work – and I still learn things from viewing his drawings. And then I miss him. So this blog entry is my tribute to the memory of Vance Gerry.


Major Pepperidge said...

This is a nice tribute to somebody who was one of those names I had heard of but didn't really know anything about. I just looked up his name on Google Image Search and found some nice examples of his sketches, some of which remind me of children's book illustrations from years ago, like Ludwig Bemelman ("Madeleine") or Thurber.

Nicolas P. Villarreal said...

Hi Fred! ...your watercolors are beautiful, I love the feeling and the style of them.

Take care!