Vance Gerry
, 00 United States

Professional Summary

In Memory of Vance by John Musker

I've known Vance for over 25 years. We first worked together on "Black Cauldron." I can still see Vance with his saddle shoes and a sweater casually draped over his shoulders. His limpid eyes were constantly bemused at the absurdities that swirled around the Story Department, and his throaty laugh filled the room along with his amazing drawings. He reminded me of William Windom who played James Thurber on the sitcom, "My World and Welcome to It." Windom played Thurber with wry and offhand charm, qualities that typified Vance as well.

Make no mistake though. Despite Vance's quiet and genial exterior, he was a man of powerful artistic convictions and a masterful draftsman and designer of tremendous elegance and charm. If you're unfamiliar with his work check out his concept art for "Sword in the Stone" in "Treasures of Disney Animation Art." He did a beautiful color sketch of a vine-entwined sword embedded in an anvil, which dwarfs a tiny figure of a boy in the background. Brilliantly staged, it is moody, dramatic, full of big bold values and graphic power. Take a look also at Frank and Ollie's "Illusion of Life" book where they reproduce wonderful pen and ink studies for "The Rescuers" of Penny and Rufus in the orphanage, full of warmth and drama. Or, if you work at Walt Disney Feature Animation, check out the third floor, where boards are filled with splendid drawings for projects that may never see the light of day, but are blessed with the distinctive Vance touch. Through the years, I've also marveled at another demonstration of his art not as many are familiar with his stunning caricatures. I remember a particularly brilliant one he did of John Lounsbery that Henry Selick was in awe of "It's like...a Picasso!"

In the early 80's I was developing an early version of "Basil of Baker Street" (before it received its new and "improved" title of "Great Mouse Detective.") It ran afoul of Ron Miller, its producer, who found it strange and odd. It was Vance who revived the movie with his drawings and story ideas (as did Burny Mattinson also.) Vance's sketches radiated appeal and charm. Like everything Vance did, the effortlessness of the drawings was stunning. I can still hear Vance "pitching" his writing and drawing of Basil's demonstration of his deductive powers to Dawson: "You've sewn your torn cuff together with the Lambert stitch which of course only a surgeon uses." I don't remember if the Lambert stitch was Vance's invention or if he got it from Doyle, but to this day I think of Vance when I hear it. The drawing of the Lambert stitch was not only stylishly drawn, but beautifully calligraphed in that distinctive Vance script.

Vance was a mentor to many young, developing, brilliant story artists like Pete Young, Ed Gombert, and Joe Ranft. He was a mentor too, (although that word is too high falutin' for Vance, whose picture appears in the dictionary next to 'self effacing') to some novice directors like Ron Clements and myself. Even as recently as a few weeks ago his words of encouragement to me meant a great deal, and were a worm fire on a cold night.

Vance was a conduit to the Walt Disney Studio's past for us young'uns. It was he who, when we were developing "Little Mermaid" brought to our attention the legendary illustrator Kay Nielson and the drawings he did for a proposed animated version of Andersen's fairy tale that were gathering dust in the Archives. Without Vance we would never have known those fantastic drawings existed, drawings which helped inspire the handling of the storm sequence among other things.

"Inspiring" is a word that applies to Vance as well. He was a gentleman and a gentle man. He was centered. He had passionate interests outside the confines of the Studio walls. He was an oasis of calm and professionalism in a stormy sea of story changes and strong personalities. His brilliance as a draftsman, designer, stager, and colorist was exceeded only by his own modesty. In a world (and a studio) where tooting your own horn was not uncommon, Vance took the road less traveled. He didn't campaign. His horn remained "tootless." What he did was draw and paint prolifically, and he spoke volumes with those countless gems.

Joe Ranft related the other day that years ago on "Oliver and Company," Vance, with whom he was sharing a room, told him about a dream he had the night before. In it, Vance was in a large story room, stacked floor to ceiling with a vast number of storyboards crammed with sketches. And every single drawing, Vance wryly noted, needed, "just a little change." Vance would have made those changes without complaint, done them all with his usual offhand with, charm, and skill.

I'll miss you, Vance. You're a great talent. And an even greater man.

John Musker Director Walt Disney Feature Animation


Last Updated December 10th, 2005