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Who's The Bossert? UltimateDisney.com Interviews Dave Bossert, Disney Animation Veteran

For over twenty years, Dave Bossert has been working at the heart of some of the Walt Disney Company's most exciting animated projects. As an effects animator, he's had a hand in several of the studio's all-time biggest hits, including Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King.

Bossert's contributions, however, extend far beyond his lifetime, thanks to home video, the site of many of his latest efforts. Last decade, he pitched the idea for Walt Disney on the Front Lines, a two-disc DVD collection of World War II shorts that in 2004 became one of the highest-praised volumes in the Walt Disney Treasures line. As the Artistic Supervisor of the Disney Restoration Team,
he's overseen dramatic digital restorations given to Platinum Edition DVDs of beloved masterpieces like Bambi, Cinderella, and Lady and the Tramp. He also produced last December's lavish DVD releases of the True-Life Adventure films in the premiere wave of Walt Disney's Legacy Collection.

Remarkably, ensuring that yesteryear's triumphs can dazzle today's audiences as brilliantly as ever has not prevented Bossert from creating more original work himself. He currently is the Creative Director of Disney Animation Special Projects. In recent years, he's worked on a number of animated shorts as visual effects supervisor (Lorenzo), artistic coordinator (The Little Matchgirl, now in contention for the Best Animated Short Oscar), producer (Destino), or director (The Cat That Looked at a King, found on the Mary Poppins 40th Anniversary DVD). Even more recently, Bossert directed four installments of Disney Learning Adventures, an educational DVD series for preschoolers. One of these programs, Winnie the Pooh: Shapes & Sizes, was recently nominated for Best Home Entertainment Production at the upcoming 34th Annual Annie Awards that celebrate achievement in animation.

Last week, Bossert took some time out to talk with UltimateDisney.com about the past, present, and future of his diverse career in Disney animation.

UltimateDisney.com: How are the Disney Learning Adventures different from other animation you've worked on?

Dave Bossert: They were different from the standpoint that you had to integrate some learning concepts into a story. They're a half-hour show and then a half-hour of reinforcement learning games that are included on them. What was wonderful about working with the Winnie the Pooh characters was that they're kind of like little kids themselves. So, we really work hard at coming up with a story that would allow the audience, which is 3-5 year olds, to learn with these characters that they love.

Winnie the Pooh illustrates a triangle in "Shapes & Sizes", an Annie Award-nominated, Dave Bossert-directed volume of Disney Learning Adventures. Lessons are woven into the story, as seen in this scene from "Winnie the Pooh: Shapes & Sizes", in which the Hundred Acre Wood gang sits down to food in a variety of shapes.

Was there anything you used as inspiration for the Disney Learning Adventures?

I've always sort of been a fan of some of the early Disney educational stuff, like Donald in Mathmagicland, and some of the other educational shorts that have been done over the years. So, you always look back at some of that stuff for inspiration. And certainly I think what you want to do with any kind of educational film that you work on is make it entertaining and engaging and at the same time not lose sight of the learning material.

I know there are at least two more Winnie the Pooh volumes coming out, but are there any others planned for the series, perhaps featuring other characters?

Not at the moment. Though I just started working on a 10-minute safety video using Pumbaa and Timon. We're doing a piece that looks like it's going to be on fire safety. That's something that's being done in conjunction with the Underwriters Lab and Radio Disney. And it's going to be put out across the country in schools and they're going to do school assemblies around it and that type of thing.

Let's back up a little. How did you come to work at Disney?

I started working at Disney -- the first picture I did here was The Black Cauldron -- back in 1984.
And prior to that, I worked at a small animation shop here in Los Angeles for about nine months after I graduated from CalArts.

What drew you to effects animation?

You know, it's interesting. I think I always had an interest in physics and natural phenomena. For me, it had abstract to it. You have to have a strong sense of design, a strong draftsmanship. So, there were a number of reasons that it was appealing to me. And that was the avenue I went down. I've joked with some of my friends who are character animators that I just didn't want to draw the same character over and over and over again (laughs). It gave me a lot more variety.

As someone who was animating Disney films from the early 1980s through the mid-1990s, what was it like to experience what is referred to as the Animation Renaissance?

Looking back, it certainly was an exciting time. But I think being in the middle of it, you don't really know you're in the middle of a Renaissance. People look backward and say, "Wow, you know that whole period, they turned out an amazing amount of work." I think at the time, it was just exciting. Because we were just going from one project to the next. And each one of them was fantastic. Little Mermaid broke box office records at the time. And then we did Rescuers Down Under and we were bringing on a new digital ink and paint system, the CAPS system, on line for that movie. Then we did Beauty and the Beast and it was the first animated movie to break 100 million dollars at the box office, you know. Which really sort of like made everybody sit up and take notice.

To me, it wasn't just about the box office. It was really how audiences were responding to it. I can remember Beauty and the Beast, the first month or so in release, we had reports that theaters were selling out or almost selling out evening performances. That it was becoming a date movie that young adults -- people dating -- were going to see Beauty and the Beast, a feature animated movie. So it was pretty exciting to see a lot of that stuff happening. And then to do Aladdin, which was bigger than Beauty, and then Lion King just sort of went into the stratosphere. It was a really exciting time because they really started taking notice of animation and our staff grew, it was pretty wild.

I feel I have to ask this of a Lion King effects animator. You've probably heard it before. There is a scene in the movie where Simba lays down, dust rises and there appears to be the letters S-F-X formed in the dust. There is an urban legend that it says S-E-X and on the DVD, it's been edited so that there is nothing to be distinguished. Can you put an end to those rumors?

You know, honestly, with that kind of stuff, there's an awful lot of people that try to read things into what's done. I've looked at it, and you can kinda see the sort of S, maybe an F, and an X. I don't buy that it's ever said SEX. It's an urban legend. I can sit there and tell you up and down that that's not the case and you know, but it's an urban legend (laughs).

One of Disney fans' favorite DVD series is the Walt Disney Treasures, which you are said to have had a hand in. Was it just Disney on the Front Lines that you worked on and how involved were you?

I helped them out on a number of volumes, but Disney on the Front Lines, I was a DVD producer on. I actually went in and pitched that whole project and really drove for getting that collection together.

Donald Duck's trying years in World War II were at the foreground of "Walt Disney on the Front Lines", an award-winning Walt Disney Treasures DVD set which Dave Bossert produced. Walt Disney's Legacy Collection was launched last December with the release of four volumes of the nature documentaries known as "True-Life Adventures."

Some of the material on Front Lines was stuff that had been buried for many years and Disney presumably was reluctant to put out there. In the same vein, is Song of the South something you think ought to be released?

You know, I think at some point, I would hope that they would consider that. I know that on the Front Lines volume, there was a lot of thoughts on that. That some people didn't want [the films] to ever be released. But there were images from a lot of those shorts that were already out on the Internet anyway. It took me eight years, by the way, to get that collection out.

And it's all about timing. I went and I had the door slammed in my face a number of times in putting that collection out. And I went back in and pitched it a couple of months after 9/11 happened. I think that the whole sensibility of the country had shifted at that point. There was an outpouring of patriotism. I couched it that if we put this collection together, we have to put it out in the context in which these were made. They were made during World War II. And I think Leonard Maltin did an absolutely outstanding job in introducing all of these cartoons and putting them in the context they were made.

I think everybody who was involved was extremely proud of the project and I certainly am. It won a number of awards the year it was released. I'm really pleased with it. As far as I know, there's never been any complaints about it. It's historical material.

Recently, the news has come that last December's wave of Treasures was the final one. Are you aware of this and the reasoning behind it?

You know, what they're doing is that they're putting out now what they're calling the Walt Disney Legacy Collection. That's sort of the replacement collection, I guess, to the Treasures.

So, it sounds like it's really a shift rather than a farewell to the type of rare, unreleased content the Treasures have been known to bring?

Yeah, that's the way I look at. I don't know what the thinking over at our Home Entertainment division. But that's what it appears to be. Because the first four volumes on the Legacy Collection are the beautiful True-Life Adventures films, which I was very fortunate to be able to work on those again as a DVD producer.

Speaking of which, previews on those DVDs foretold a DVD release for Destino, the long-unfinished short collaborated on by Walt Disney and Salvador Dali. As the associate producer of that film's realization, you must be pleased that this cartoon is going to finally be reaching the general public.


Can you tell us anything about that DVD release - what else will be on it, when it will come, have you been involved in any of the bonus materials for it?

There's a big documentary being made about Walt and Dali and how this film got finally made. That's going to be presented with the short itself. I think there's also going to be a gallery of the some of the art. It's going to be a really comprehensive document about Salvador Dali and Walt's relationship, the birth of this movie, and its completion. That will be released at some point later this year, I think. I don't know the exact date, but it is coming.

Bossert co-directed "One by One" with Pixote Hunt. The short, released on Disc 2 of "The Lion King II"'s Special Edition DVD, is one of four produced this decade by Disney that carry a world music theme. "The Little Matchgirl", adapted from Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, is another one. This cartoon, available on "The Little Mermaid": Platinum Edition, is nominated for the Best Animated Short at this year's Oscars.

Destino is said to have been intended to be part of a third Fantasia movie, which is one of Disney's most intriguing unrealized projects of recent years.
As someone who was involved with a number of the segments planned for it -- Destino, One by One, Lorenzo, and Little Matchgirl -- any light you can shed on the project and why it never got made as a movie?

Yeah, we did a bunch of shorts. I don't know if I'd ever classify them as being a Fantasia 3. I guess you can look at them and kind of think [that], but there are no plans of doing any kind of Fantasia 3 right now.

The way I understood it is that there were plans for a third movie and they just became shorts?

Well, when we were working on some of them early on, I think it was being referred to as a Music Project. But there was never any real solid plans to say we're doing a Fantasia 3. I think the concept of Fantasia was always going to be that it was an ever-evolving film so that it could be released periodically with new segments and old segments mixed together. Which is kind of what Fantasia 2000 was. It was sort of picking up on them.

One by One turned up on The Lion King II's DVD, The Little Matchgirl was on The Little Mermaid's Platinum Edition, and, as stated, Destino is scheduled to get a DVD release on its own. That leaves only Lorenzo as being unavailable. Do you have any idea when and where the general public will get to see that?

I don't know just yet when that's going to come out. There's been talk about possibly doing a collection of contemporary shorts on DVD. There's nothing firm, but I would suspect at some point that that will be in available.

The only non-Disney film in your resumι is the 2002 blockbuster Spider-Man, on which you are credited with animating a dream sequence. What was it like getting to work on something like that?

I jumped in as a favor to a friend of mine to help them out on that little dream sequence when Peter Parker falls onto the floor after he's bitten by the spider. The camera kinda pushes in on his face like you're going into his brain, and you see the transformation happen inside of his brain and his DNA. It was something that [director] Sam Raimi really wanted to get into the film, but they were running out of bandwidth at some of the effects houses. It was fun. It was great working with Sam Raimi -- he's a terrific director, very collaborative. And it was a very enjoyable experience.

You are an artistic supervisor of the Disney Restoration Team. Among Disney's catalogue, is there anything that you'd love to restore that you haven't yet had the chance to?

Uh...you know I think that we're slowly working through a lot of films. And each one is -- it's a labor of love to work on these. We just completed a beautiful restoration of Peter Pan, which is coming out in March. And it's absolutely stunning-looking. It's just pure joy to be able to bring these films back to that level.

The efforts of Dave Bossert (left) and other members of Disney's Restoration Team are the subject of the featurette "Restoring 'Bambi.'" Restoring classic Disney movies finds original elements scanned into the computer with the guiding principle being "What was the artistic intent?"

When you're restoring films, is the goal to look as it did upon original release or to get it looking as good as it can? How do you determine what's right?

Our guiding principle with our Restoration Team is "what was the artistic intent?" We're there to basically to present the movie the way the artists would have liked it to have been seen. The animation process has inherent flaws in it. Prior to the digital age... to look at any of the films in their original state, they've got pixels photographed in, dirt, footprints, cel reflections, cel scratches. In fact, a lot of people don't realize this, but during World War II, they used to wash the cels and re-use them. The actual process of washing the cels introduced scratches into the cels itself. There's a lot of anomalies and flaws that are photographed in.

As an artist, and I've worked on some of these movies, including The Little Mermaid, which we did a restoration on because that was our last cel-animated film. You look at what's on film and say "Was it my intention or was it the artist's intention to photograph the dust and dirt?" And the obvious answer is "No." That was an inherent flaw in the process. So we've been able to go in and remove those unwanted elements - like dust, like dirt, cel scratches. Fingerprints, we've removed off of cels. Palm prints. Paint mistakes, [we] fixed those because it was never in the intention to put a scene out that had a paint mistake in it. So, for us, it's just really sort of bringing the film back to the state that the artists would have wanted it to be presented.

And by the way, I always point out, that we have had access to original filmmakers. Fortunately, on Bambi, early on, we were able to bring on [animators] Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas before Frank Thomas had passed away.

We showed them some of the stuff we were doing and they were thrilled, absolutely thrilled. We were able to bring [background artist] Tyrus Wong in who was still around and talk with him about the color of the film. Again, he was very pleased. We showed Lady and the Tramp to Ollie Johnston and I'll never forget this. At the end up the screening, I went up to Ollie and I said "What do you think?" And he had a grin literally from ear to ear. And he says "That's the way it was supposed to always look." You kind of walk away from those kind of comments and go "Wow, I feel good about what I'm doing." Like I said, it's a labor of love. Because you don't want to change these movies, you know, but you want audiences to see them really in their best light.

You mentioned Peter Pan and I imagine the upcoming Platinum Edition of The Jungle Book contain a restoration you supervised? Is there anything else exciting coming in the near-future that you've overseen?

Well, Peter Pan is coming out and Jungle Book and I don't know if they've announced it yet, but more than likely, I think Spring '08 is 101 Dalmatians.

How about any live action films, maybe for the Legacy Collection?

No, not right now. We got these True-Life Adventures out the door and we were able to do some press appearances for Roy back in December. So now, those are out, we're setting our sights a couple other projects. He'd actually like to see some more of the nature films come out.

Where do you see Disney animation five years from now?

I see it being here. And stronger. And turning out great movies. I think that going forward, there's a strong emphasis on the creative team driving things. And I think they're going to keep coming up with great stories and endearing characters and, I think, surprising people.

Do you think there's room for mediums to co-exist?

Absolutely. I think with anything that comes out new, you know like doing CG movies, the whole industry was sort of like "Hey, let's do what the new kid on the block is doing", you know? As the CG industry matures, I think my sense is that the creative teams heading up movies are going to be able to decide what medium they want to make their movie in. I think they're going to be able to decide on what the best medium is for their particular story that they want to tell.

Related DVD Reviews - The Works of Dave Bossert:
As Director:
Disney Learning Adventures: Winnie the Pooh - Shapes & Sizes • Winnie the Pooh - Wonderful Word Adventure
The Cat That Looked at a King (on Mary Poppins: 40th) • One By One (on The Lion King II: Simba's Pride SE)

As Effects Animator:
The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition • Beauty and the Beast: Platinum Edition • The Lion King: Platinum Edition
The Great Mouse Detective • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Vista Series • The Nightmare Before Christmas: Special Edition
The Black Cauldron • Oliver & Company • Runaway Brain (on Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Vol. 2) • Fantasia 2000

As DVD Producer:
Walt Disney Treasures: Walt Disney on the Front Lines • Walt Disney's Legacy Collection: True-Life Adventures, Vol. 4: Nature's Mysteries
More True-Life Adventures: Vol. 1: Wonders of the World • Vol. 2: Lands of Exploration • Vol. 3: Creatures of the Wild

Restoration Work: Bambi: Platinum Edition • Cinderella: Platinum Edition • Lady and the Tramp: Platinum Edition

UD's Recent Interviews:
Frank Nissen, director of Cinderella III: A Twist in Time and Pooh's Heffalump Movie (January 2007)
Brenda Song, star of "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody", Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior, Disney Channel Original Movies (January 2007)
Jim Kammerud, director of The Fox and the Hound 2, 101 Dalmatians II, The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea (December 2006)
Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, the writers of all three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Aladdin, Shrek, and Treasure Planet (December 2006)
Don Hahn, veteran Disney producer (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Nightmare Before Christmas in 3-D) (October 2006)

UltimateDisney.com Top Stories:

Interview conducted January 24, 2007. Published January 31, 2007. LB
Thanks to Dave Bossert and Carl Samrock Public Relations for making the interview possible.

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