Dan Lee was born the youngest of four children on May 19, 1969 in Montreal, Quebec. Soon after his birth, the Lee family moved to Scarborough, a suburb in Toronto, where Dan's gift of drawing blossomed at an early age. His passion in art led him to attend Sheridan College where he studied classical animation and earned The Board of Governors Silver Medal Award for Academic Excellence.
After working several years in Toronto and California, Dan joined Pixar Animation Studios in 1996. Amongst being a sketch artist and animator, perhaps his greatest contribution was his role as a character designer.
The first movie he worked on was “A Bug’s Life,” creating Rosie the spider, Princess Atta, and Tuck & Roll. He was largely responsible and best-known for some of the best designs in “Finding Nemo", specifically the father-son duo Nemo and Marlin. Some of his other creations include the design of Waternoose and the little girl, Boo from "Monster Inc.", as well as Bloat, the barracuda in "Finding Nemo" - all characters which the world will cherish and endure well beyond his lifetime. Dan worked on Pixar’s “Ratatouille” film and much of his work can be seen in the Art of Ratatouille book.
Dan's artworks have a very unique sensibility. Sketchy thick black lines, bold flat color and witty sarcasm capture the essence of his subject's unique personality and expressions.
When Dan wasn't busy designing characters for the Pixar Animation Studios hits, he could be found doodling the local coffee drinkers at some neighborhood cafes in San Francisco and Oakland, mountain-biking, or hiking. Despite professional success, Dan was a modest guy. He lived a healthy lifestyle and often biked to work.
In August 2003, Dan was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer despite the fact he was a nonsmoker. After 17 months and rounds and rounds of chemotherapy and radiation Dan Lee finally succumbed to pneumonia on January, 15, 2005 at the age of 35.
THOUGHTS AND INSIGHTS ABOUT DAN FROM CO-WORKERS WHO ADMIRED HIM SO MUCH....
"Dan was one of my best friends. We met at Pixar. I think how we became friends was because we both liked good food. I still have vivid memories of going to dim sum on many Sunday mornings, we would just chat about anything, and his sarcastic humour was everywhere in the
conversations. I constantly laughed out loud. He didn't care too much about being PC, which made him so much fun to talk to. I didn't watch a lot of TV shows. He was the one who got me into “Futurama” and “South Park”. You can always tell someone's personality by seeing his place. In his place, you would see 3-4 Audrey Hepburn fridge magnets, different kinds of tea, chips, and some other junk food on top of the fridge, comic books, and models that he built himself. He liked to take good care of his plants. Even though some of them were on the verge of dieing, but he wouldn't give up.
He used to go to “Canvas Gallery Cafe” to do sketches of people using his labtop and wacom tablet. I went to art school as well, I always thought I could draw, but after seeing the way he drew, I felt like I was nothing! I asked him how long he spent on each sketch, he said
roughly 10 – 15 mins. They are not just sketches, they are GREAT sketches. Everyone of them. What I love about his people sketches was, you can get a sense of who they are. Maybe that made him such a great character designer. I visited him at this office sometimes. He would
have his TV on, showing some random movies while he drew. He said that he produced the best work right before the director reviews. Most of the time, they would choose drawings he did in the last minute. He was so incredibly talented, but so humble at the same time. In a way, I don't know if he knew how talented he was.
After he got diagnosed for cancer, he still chose to come in to his office and work every now and then, until he couldn't. "Ratatouille" and "Lifted" were the last films he worked on. Even though he lived for only 35 years, but he told his mom that he felt that he had accomplished so much. He had a job that he loved, lots of great friends, well travelled, which a lot of people don't have even they live till their 70s."
-- Carmen Ngai, Pixar co-worker/friend
"Dan Lee and I met at Colossal Pictures when he arrived in 1994. We worked well together. He was always eager to start and quite dedicated on any project he was assigned to at the studio. He was quite a talent too. He was at ease creatively. Ideas and designs came to him quickly and his animation skills were at such a professional level at this early stage in his career. He was soft-spoken and always personable, making it easy to become friends and not just work mates. His dry humor and sarcasm was always fun, and he was easy to poke fun with, as he never took himself too seriously. Unfortunately, after finding out he was diagnosed with lung cancer, I was only able to visit with him once. I regret that I couldn't spend more time with him during his illness. He'll be sorely missed in the professional community, but mostly in all the friendships he's made over the very short years."
-- Tom Rubalcava, Director/Partner
Dan Lee was a great friend and colleague. I had a great time working with him back in the Colossal Pictures days. He was young and enthusiastic with learning everything about animation. My fondest memories of him at Colossal is when he used to ride his bike to work, and he would take off his soaking sweaty shirt that he wore riding in, and hangs it on his partition, and as you walk by his area, you would see steam coming off it, leaving a cloud of funk in the air...heheh. He amused me, besides grossing me out. Ahhh, Dan...you rest in peace, my brother, and you will always be in my thoughts.
-- Steward Lee
I worked at Colossal briefly, learning inbetweening. It was almost 10 years ago but I clearly remember how helpful Dan Lee was, graciously answering my endless questions. He was completely willing and enthusiastic to share his knowledge. His humility was equally striking, I had no idea how talented he was, I just knew that he always had time for questions.
-- Anna Brewer (Blomfield)
I worked with him recently at Pixar where he was one of the main character designers, but we first met at Colossal Pictures back in the mid 1990’s.
I believe that Colossal was the first place he worked at in the USA after leaving Canada. While there, amongst other things, he animated on the Koala Lumpur game that I was working on, and that’s when I got to know him. I remember that he was belting out great animation daily, and seemed highly skeptical of the fact that I loved everything he did and didn’t change anything… Anyone who worked with him back in those days probably remembers his little cubicle drapped in equal proportions with beautiful sketches, lots of pictures of Audrey Hepburn and Dan’s sweaty bike shorts.
Dan was amazingly talented, but not at all difficult about it. I remember that he was the first artist on Finding Nemo to manage a “cute fish” design. I had been wrestling with the challenge of drawing a cute fish for weeks, (it’s harder than you may think!) and Dan managed it immediately. (DOH!) If any of you have the “art of Nemo” book you will be able to see some of his very appealing little sketches of Nemo in there.
Apart from often being inspired by his easy way with a pencil, brush or stylus, I admired the fact that despite his illness Dan continued to work at his job. I suppose it continued to make him happy despite all that he was going through.
-- James Baker
For more about Dan and words of inspiration from his friends…
Info about his posthumously released sketchbook