"Dream On, Silly Dreamer: A Conversation with Dan Lund" By Jason Anders

Jason Anders: What was it like to be a part of the visual effects team at Walt Disney Animation Studios working on the 1991 Academy Award-winning film, Beauty and the Beast?

Dan Lund: I loved every moment I spent at the studio. From day one I worked my ass off, and felt like a very big part of the process, even when I was just a production assistant. I didn't study animation in college, so with a little passion and interest shown, and a live action film background, Disney trained me on the job to animate EFX. Beauty and the Beast being the first "learn on the job" experience, and with a mentor like Dorse Lanpher and Don Paul I learned to love the art of EFX.

JA: What originally inspired you to become involved in animation?

DL: Being there every day got me excited about animation, but mostly it felt like filmmaking is what we did, and that's how I felt different from most animation geeks. I was raised on Spielberg and Zemeckis- they were doing live action films that felt like animation, so to me it's all just great storytelling.
JA: Tell me about your next experience, working on 1992's Aladdin.

DL: Aladdin was great, but probably one of the most intense overtime work experiences I've ever had. There was no CG animation back then, so my biggest memory was drawing all those little lamps... they were a pain to do, but again, it is all worth it when you see an audience embrace the film. Those were good times, and we all felt like the world appreciated every frame, hour of overtime, and vacation that we skipped to make them.

JA: In 1994 you became an assistant effects animator on The Lion King; what was it like working with director Rob Minkoff, who also co-wrote a Roger Rabbit short you worked on called Trail Mix-Up.

DL: At that time, I don't remember having access to the directors much. They were in a different building from EFX, and so we were just this little motley crew of odd-balls drawing fire, dust, and writing "sex" in the sky (just kidding). I loved working on Trail Mix-Up because it was my chance to touch those classic characters. I remember getting to work on the live-action combo ending, and that was exciting because it was the type of movie I was really into.
JA: In 1995 you became an assistant effects animator for the film Pocahontas, which has a reputation for being a difficult film to produce because of the complex color schemes and angular shapes...

DL: Pocahontas was a big turning point in my career; I was not officially an animator, but Don Paul gave me very exciting things to animate, and once I started, it just never stopped. I did most of the leaves in that movie. I'm sure it made some of the more experienced animators angry, but I was known for being fast and also not needing an assistant, so when a project was behind I sort of became the go-to-guy to get it done fast and cheap. I remember Eric was very cool, he loves animation and roots for you to succeed. As far as colors, I remember feeling very lucky to work on "Colors of the Wind". To get texture we put sandpaper under our paper, and drew over it in order to give our images some teeth.

JA: In 1996 you moved onto visual effects animator for The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and again for Mulan in 1998...

DL: I really loved working on Hunchback, even though it's not one of our most successful films. It's the film we made in the new building, so that was exciting, and we all felt very famous at that point. Mulan was cool because I was able to go back and forth between Los Angeles and Orlando. I think the avalanche scene is the best directed, edited, staged, and animated EFX sequence we have done in this current batch of films. I love the director on that, but Barry was hard to work for. He was rough on EFX because he used to be one of us, but I found him to be someone I wanted to please, and lost a lot of sleep trying to do so. 

When the film was over, he reviewed everyone and wrote about giving me nearly impossible scenes, which I stuck with to give him what he wanted. I appreciated him noticing, and that small note made it all worth it. I still root for him to continue directing.
JA: Do you have an all-time favorite piece of animation?

DL: The dress transformation in Cinderella- I still to this day have it hanging in my office, and study it whenever I need to think outside of the box. I don't think anything has ever felt that magical to me.

JAWhat were the final days of hand drawn animation like at Disney, and what were your feelings on those last few pictures produced by the studio like The Emperor's New Groove, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and Brother Bear?

DL: I always enjoyed working, even if the films were a bit off. I am a good cheerleader, so I always thought they were going to be classics when we were working on them. I also felt that any lack of creative ownership I might need, I could just get from my outside film work. I started making documentaries around that time, and both feed each other to keep me creatively satisfied. The only thing that bothered me was when people didn't want to make musicals. Music and Disney go hand in hand, and I always missed it when it wasn't around.
JA: In 2005 you directed a documentary called Dream On Silly Dreamer, in which you followed the events of the day that 200 artists were told they were being replaced with computers...

DL: Because I was always filming something, it didn't feel out of line to document this process. Once I decided to make it a fairy-tale based on the Pooh shorts, it started feeling like my chance to make a classic Disney film. That's how I felt about it, I was making a modern fairy tail. Once I was officially out of the building and we were all unemployed, that's when making the film got hard. I felt self-indulgent, and wondered if anyone would care about us. Would we seem ungrateful for the good times we had? I didn't want anyone to think that, so I made sure to tell our story from the fairy tale point of view, because that's what working there had been for me.

The film got way more attention than I ever dreamed, and people still thank me for making it, so it's one of those things I feel can always be used as a cautionary tale. Tony was a great producer, and because we experienced Disney from the same fairy tale point of view, I can't imagine anyone else working on it with me the way he did. He also is much more organized than I am, so it was nice to have someone make sure I didn't derail.
JA: What are you currently working on?

DL: Currently I am back at Disney working on The Princess and the Frog, and have never been more proud of the people I am working with. I think my own animation has been pushed to a new level, and yes, I have been given the assignment to come up with a classic princess transformation EFX, so every day I look at the Cinderella print, and hope I can touch that magic place just one more time!

Outside of Disney, I have developed and sold an animated show called Hildy Hildy. There are some short samples on You Tube if you want to get a taste of what I have been doing out side of my day job.

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