If you're an animation fan who's heading to the Bay area sometime in the next few weeks, you really should plan on stopping by the Canvas Gallery. Where - now through September 25th - this restaurant / art gallery / performance space is presenting an exhibition of Dan Lee's work.
Photo courtesy of Amber MacLean
"Who's Dan Lee?," you ask. Well, perhaps a better question would be: "Do you know who Princess Atta, Rosie and Tuck & Roll from 'A Bug's Life' are? How about Boo & Mr. Waternoose from 'Monsters, Inc.' Or better yet, how about Nemo & Marlin from 'Finding Nemo'?"
Okay. Those names, you recognize, right? Well, those much beloved Pixar characters were all originally designed by Mr. Lee. He was a guy who really had the gift for making slimy & crawly things (like ants, spiders, pill bugs and clown fish) seem downright cuddly.
Dan sadly passed away back in January of this year. Leaving a large number of friends, family & co-workers behind who really mourned the loss of their very talented friend.
I mean, it just didn't seem fair that a man like Dan Lee -- who was only in his mid-30s, who was just getting started creating all these great characters for Pixar Animation Studios -- should suddenly be gone. Before the rest of the world could realize what a true talent this guy was.
Which is why a number of Dan's friends decided to get together and create a book. One that would honor Mr. Lee's memory as well as pay tribute to his incredible gift for caricature.
You see, Dan was renowned in-house for his caricatures. His ability to affectionately razz his co-workers with a simple set of lines. A quickly thrown together sketch that would illuminate one or all of their foibles.
Mind you, Lee honed his skills by hanging out in cafes around Oakland and San Francisco. Where Dan would quickly sketch the various patrons that he observed there. Creating these drawings that were sometimes brutally honest ... but always wildly funny.
So -- when it came time to try & put together a book that would honor Dan Lee's memories -- it was those sketches that his friends and co-workers decided to pull together. All those quickly-thrown-together drawings of faces that Dan did while observing cafe patrons.
"And what did they then decide to call this book?," you query. Appropriately enough, "In Your Face: Cafe Sketches by Dan Lee"
As you page through this book of beautifully drawn caricatures, it's easy to see that why his friends thought Mr. Lee was a really gifted artist. The linework here is so clean and strong. And even though Dan's subjects often ended up with oversized noses and/or underdeveloped chins, it's also obvious that Lee had a real affection for humanity.
More to the point, given his obvious gift for composition and character design, it's easy to understand why Dan's co-workers at Pixar still miss him. (Though it must be some consolation to know that the character designs that Lee did for "Ratatouille" will still be featured prominently in that Summer 2007 release.)
Anyway ... Given that so many of the sketches that are featured in this volume were done in cafes, it only makes sense that -- when it came time to hold a book launching party for "In Your Face" -- that this party should be held in the cafe area at the Canvas Gallery.
This party was held back on August 25th. And I'm told that this was a somewhat strange affair. Given that this book launching party (which was being held in Lee's memory) occurred just days after Joe Ranft's tragic death. So there was reportedly lots of talk about how strange & fragile life can be sometimes.
Anywho ... It should also be noted here that the exhibition at the Canvas Gallery doesn't just include Dan's work. This display also includes caricatures by Lee's friends & co-workers. Talented artists like Daniel Arriaga, Ronnie Del Carmen, Enrico Casarosa, Louis Conzales, Liz Holmes, Mark Holmes, Robert Kondo, Albert Lozano, Ernesto Nemesio, Jay Shuster and Paul Topolos. Which is why this exhibition is well worth a look-see.
But if you can't make to San Francisco before the "In Your Face" caricature exhibit closes later this month ... Not to worry. There's still "In Your Face," the book. Which is pure unadulterated Dan Lee. Which is something that all you animation fans and aspiring artists really want to own. Particularly if you're a fan of good character design and strong linework.
By the way ... Not that it should really matter, but Zippity Publishing (I.E. The folks who actually put together this volume) have pledged that any money raised from the sale of this book will be applied to a yet-unnamed charity in Dan's name. Which is another good reason to pick up a copy of "In Your Face: Cafe Sketches by Dan Lee."
Not that I'm trying to get in your faces, mind you. As I close out this article that will (hopefully) help promote sales of this book.
I just think that Mr. Lee was a really talented guy who died far too young. And I admire his friends & co-workers for putting so much time & effort into a project that's deliberately designed to honor Dan's memory. That will also eventually raise funds for a yet-unnamed charity.
I think that this sounds like a pretty honorable project. Which is why -- if you've got the time and/or the $15.00 to spare -- I urge you to pick up a copy of "In Your Face: Cafe Sketches by Dan Lee."