I watched a lot of cartoons and movies. I draw incessantly and carry a sketchbook everywhere. I work in animation and self-publish my books. There are monsters in the streets, don't wear red. Mad bulls and monsters hate that color. I still watch cartoons.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Dan Lee

Dan Lee passed away this weekend after a lengthy battle with cancer. Dan was one of the very first people who welcomed me at Pixar and I came over to his cube a lot back at Point Richmond to get a feel of where everything is or how things are done. He drew beautifully and I hung around noticing that he's a fan of Japanese animation. Later on we would trade QT clips of anime that we like and talk about kits. He built a varied collection of ships and characters that he lovingly spent nights painting to exacting detail. When they moved him from one room to another he would harbor those beauties in my room, safe from those who think these figures can take some rough handling.

Photo by Amber Maclean, December 2004

As a designer, he had a fluid style that was unhurried as he was as a person. He would bicycle to work and hang out at tea places in our small city of Piedmont. That's where I suspect he drew these drawings. Before the sad news of his diagnosis I had asked to see this collection and he told me to download a group of them for myself. I've held on to them until a few months back when I mentioned to him that I had wanted to do a feature on him on the blog. He's not one to seek attention normally, but he was too weak by now to offer his usual fiesty dismissal of the whole idea. He conceded and it's good to have his blessings. We will miss him.

Dan was only 35.


Link to CBC article on Dan's passing here. Thanks, Anonymous for the info.

Link to Jamie Baker's blog's post about Dan.

Link to Otawa Citizen front page on Dan.

Article copy below sent to Craig Good of Pixar:

Ottawa Citizen Remembers Dan Lee

A friend in Canada sent this to me. Scans of the front page are here and here.

Text of Front-Page Article


Latest News

The genius behind Nemo

You may not have known Dan Lee, but you probably know his animated characters, who were as full of life as their Canadian creator, writes Christopher Shulgan.

Christopher Shulgan The Ottawa Citizen

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Dan Lee led a healthy life. He didn't smoke or drink. He liked hiking on nature trails, and the Toronto-born California cartoonist often rode his bicycle to his job at Pixar Animation Studios, where he designed some of the entertainment industry's best-loved characters.

Nemo and Marlin, his best-known creations, were the lovable father-son duo at the heart of Finding Nemo, whose $865-million U.S. worldwide gross makes it the second-biggest animated movie of all-time, behind Shrek 2.

Despite his lifestyle and easygoing sensibility, Mr. Lee died Jan. 15 after a 17-month battle with cancer. He was 35.

"Dan was a longtime member of our Pixar family," says Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton. "He single-handedly designed Nemo and has been a major influence at Pixar. Dan was a wonderful, irreplaceable, talented human being, and we miss him terribly."

Character creation was Mr. Lee's gift, Mr. Stanton says.

That's an early part of the animation process that entails designing the look of each character. It typically happens after the movie's story has been roughed out, but before the screenplay is drafted.

With Nemo, the challenge was to draw a fish character who nevertheless gave the impression of an endearing human youth.

"It's really tough to create these animated characters. You have to make the character look appealing and likable, but not so cute they make you want to throw up," says Mr. Stanton. "Dan was exceptional at it. He never needed much direction. In fact, much of our collaborating involved me just getting out of his way. With Nemo, he hit the bull's-eye with his first sketches."

Mr. Lee was raised in Scarborough. His parents are first-generation Chinese immigrants, and he has three older sisters.

As a child, his drawing ability grew out of his love for cartoons and Japanese animation, particularly the Robotech series.

William Cheng met Mr. Lee in their Grade 10 science class.

"Instead of listening to the teacher, we doodled," says Mr. Cheng, who is now a Toronto set designer.

The pair competed to improve their drawing abilities, buying art books and making weekly pilgrimages to Toronto's Silver Snail comic book shop.

Mr. Lee loved to peoplewatch in cafes, where he created cartoon characters of his fellow coffee drinkers, then dreamed up fictional histories for his doodles.

When he graduated high school, Mr. Lee enrolled in Sheridan College's animation program and graduated in 1991 at the top of his class.

In 1996, after several years working in Toronto and California for animation companies that did a lot of advertising work, he sent his portfolio to Pixar, which had a lot of buzz thanks to the unexpected success of their 1995 movie, Toy Story, which grossed $362 million U.S. worldwide.

Shortly after Mr. Lee applied, Pixar asked him to visit the company. Psyched up for an interview, Mr. Lee arrived to find the company wasn't interested in just talking with him: Purely on the strength of his portfolio, they wanted to give him a job.

At Pixar, Mr. Lee's favourite work entailed doing exactly what he did for fun as a high school student in coffee shops: He created characters. His first success was on the 1998 hit, A Bug's Life, where he drafted Rosie, the black widow spider voiced by Bonnie Hunt. Rosie's movements mimic Audrey Hepburn, who Mr. Lee particularly revered.

"Once my parents were cleaning his house in Richmond and he made sure they didn't hurt the spider living outside his front door," says his sister, Sunny Lee-Fay. "Because he studied the spider in order to get Rosie to move realistically."

Ms. Lee-Fay recalls how thrilled she was when she saw a theatre full of children laughing at her brother's work on the movie's opening day in 1998.

"It was so neat to see something he had created giving so many people so much joy," she says.

Mr. Lee would go on to work on Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story 2 as a sketch artist, character designer and animator.

Other characters he designed include Princess Atta, Dot, Hopper and Tuck & Roll in A Bug's Life; Henry J. Waternoose in Monsters, Inc.; and Bloat, the barracuda in Finding Nemo. A perfectionist, he worked long hours to get his characters just right, often kept company in his workspace with his pet rat -- whose name, Zippity, also graced the licence plate of his Honda Civic.

When he wasn't working or sketching, Mr. Lee enjoyed hiking, cooking and cycling, frequently making the commute to and from Pixar's Emeryville, California, studios on two wheels.

Fine dining was a particular pleasure. His friend Onny Carr recalls the pot-luck dinners Mr. Lee hosted at his apartment.

Along with Mr. Cheng, Mr. Lee also made annual pilgrimages to Montreal to the Bar B Barn restaurant, where he enjoyed slow-roasted spareribs for lunch, dinner and the following day's lunch, then drove back to Toronto. "That was our rib intake for the year," says Mr. Cheng.

In August 2003, Mr. Lee was about to fly from California to Toronto when he had a coughing fit that wouldn't stop. As that was the time of SARS, he visited the hospital, where doctors discovered he had fluid in both lungs. Tests showed he had cancer in both lungs and in the bones of his spine.

"When he first got the diagnosis, we were all in denial," says Mr. Carr. "The statistics for lung cancer are pretty dire -- something like 85 per cent don't make it past five years. But I thought, Dan's healthy and young. Maybe he'll be in that 15 per cent."

Two types of radiation and chemotherapy were among the treatments Mr. Lee tried. When he felt able, he continued to work at Pixar.

"He could have travelled, or taken time off, but he didn't," says Ms. Lee-Fay. "That showed how much he liked what he did."

With his options for treatment diminishing, Mr. Lee's doctor suggested in the fall of 2004 that the animator should make an effort to see everyone he wanted before he died. He prepared himself for his death by reading about different religious conceptions of the afterlife. Buddhism and Eastern spirituality particularly interested him.

"I don't know whether you can ever be ready for something like this, but he had come to terms with it," Mr. Carr says, "One day we were watching Winged Migration and he kind of muttered to himself, 'Maybe in the next life I'll be an eagle'."

Mr. Lee was hospitalized at Berkeley, California's Alta Bates Summit Hospital on Jan. 10 for complications due to a lung infection. Surrounded by family and friends, he slipped away after five days in intensive care. He was cremated after a private service in California.

"He followed his dream and ended up at the top of his profession, doing exactly what he wanted," says Ms. Lee-Fay. "How many people are able to say anything like that?"

Pixar is planning a private tribute party to honour Mr. Lee's life on Feb. 13. "It's going to be a tribute," says Ms. Lee-Fay. "We're going to celebrate his life."

Mr. Lee is survived by his mother and father, Kam-Sau and Hung-Yau Lee of Toronto; and sisters Sunny Lee-Fay of Vancouver, Mei Okurmura of Tustin (Orange County) and Brenda Lee Truong of Toronto.

The family asks that donations in memory of Mr. Lee go to the Alta Bates Summit Foundation, 2450 Ashby Ave., Berkeley, CA 94705.


Blogger Ryan Summers said...

This is the most heart-breaking of news, Ronnie. I always love picking up the new Art of Pixar book in the stores, flipping thru to find the artists that I admired. I built up favorites over time, and the anticipation of seeing the growth that was evident in these books was tremoendous. Your work, along with Enrico and Carter Goodrich's are always favorites. But Dan Lee's has always been tops for me. I remember seeing his work on A Bug's Life, and making sure that I remembered his name. I'm staring at his pages of Nemo drawings right now, just blown away at this shot of the father and son. To have such a talent taken away so early is humbling, and there is always going to be something missing with every book from here on out. I hope both he and his work is never forgotten.

9:25 PM

Blogger Ronnie said...

I'm with you, Will. Dan's good name and great work will will not be forgotten. Thanks for remembering him with us.


10:20 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is terribly sad news.

My first real exposure to Dan's work was in an Animation Magazine article about "Nemo" a while before the movie and art of book were released. I've been a huge fan of Dan Lee ever since. I liked his designs of Nemo so much in that article that I wished the film was being done in 2-d based on his drawings as the main designs.

Thank you Ronnie for showing some of his personal work in this tribute...I had really hoped to meet him someday.


4:31 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a terrible loss. His work was always a standout for me from the "Art of" books. He DEFINITELY was a true talent. Thanks for sharing your memories and some of his work with us Ronnie.

john hoffman

5:37 AM

Blogger Jastolfo said...

Very sad news indeed. I've known Dan for many years, went ot school with him at Sheridan where we both graduated from in 92. He was one of the tops in our year and one of the few to get a job right out of school. He worked on Tiny toons and Darkwing Duck up here in Toronto before moving on to Colossal for a stint then obviously on to Pixar where he remained.
Very talented and very humble. I last saw him last October before I even knew he was sick. Dan didn't want to burden anyone with news of his illness.A great person. A great artist. A great friend. I'm glad that his work will live on forever.
Say hi to Walt.

11:02 AM

Blogger Eric Hedman said...

A day that was coming that no one wanted see arrive.
I am supposed to be doing clean up drawing today, but my grafite keeps smearing. I must have a leak in the roof.
Strength and fond memories and celebration of a life very much worth celebrating.
Love and Peace,

11:36 AM

Blogger Chad Kerychuk said...


I'm sure when people like Glenn McQueen and Dan Lee pass away, that their loss is not only a great one to their families, but to the family at Pixar as well. I can only imagine that their relatives gain tremendous support from you guys and gals and that they'll be remembered well.

Keep up the fantastic job of putting a human element on the many artists working there.

2:39 PM

Blogger Ronnie said...

Thank you all for posting your comments on Dan's passing. We all strive to live lives that matter and given all the challenges and mistakes one can make it is a substantial achievement to be a good man doing what you dream of doing for a living. Dan is just that and he did live his life fulfilling his dream. In the end it is the noblest of wishes one can have and Dan leaves us having proudly done, to the end, a good job of it.

Our thoughts and prayers to Dan's family.


4:15 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

a great article from the CBC, television station in Canada :



11:17 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan eri un grande, talentuoso, unico.

Resterai sempre con noi ogni volta che guarderemo una tua creazione.

Resti nei nostri cuori


12:39 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey my name is Pam Rose..The passing of Dan made it on the Global News here in Toronto and even this webblog too was on the news.
I didnt know Dan was even Canadian and a Sheridan Grad...I only knew of his wonderful artwork from the Pixar books.
The news of Dan's passing only made the news up here in the past week.

8:06 PM

Blogger Ronnie said...

Thanks, Justin for posting. Many found out about Dan's passing did the same and take a look back at his work. It is a good tribute to a great talent, as John Hoffman's post says, "a true talent."

Jastolfo--I was at Warner Bros in the early nineties and probably came across his work and didn't know it. And yes, he didn't want to impose himself on anyone and would really hate all this attention we're heaping on him right now. We're all like that in a way.

Eric Hedman--we all went about work as always and because we know Dan didn't like the attention we didn't intrude. I gues we were hoping he'd conquer the illness.

LE, thanks for the link.

Nuvola, thanks for posting and sharing.

Pam Rose, I just came across your post here and on the message board about this blog being an item on Canadian news about Dan. It's apparent that the universal lament about his passing is that he left us so young and full of so much potential. Thank you for the update.


6:02 PM


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