I was sorry to hear that Disney Animation veteran Ed Hansen passed away earlier this month (there's an entry on THE ANIMATION GUILD's blog). Ed entered the studio as an animation effects artist on PETER PAN and worked his way up to assistant director by the time of ROBIN HOOD. Shortly afterward he was promoted to the general management position over all feature animation, although I can't remember his actual title. He was to me and many of my generation, our first "boss" in the profession. He was also the first guy to fire me, a situation that rankled until it happily rectified.
In these corporate times of mind-boggling beurocracy it seems hard to believe that one single person oversaw the whole operation (Ed had one secretary, the always cheerful Jo Anne Phillips, and supply seargeant Joe Morris served as a sort of right hand man). Granted things were sleepier at the studio in those days, but Ed had what must have been the peculiar vantage point of rising through the ranks and peaking at a time when the old guard were rapidly retiring and new blood was flooding in like it hadn't since the 1930's. In the late seventies he was in his early fifties, literally bridging the age gap. He was casual (he looked and dressed like a golfer) but he could be flinty and hard-line when he had to be, although according to reports from "old timers" he was a big improvement over his apparently hard-headed predesesor. When I entered the training program under Eric Larson's auspices, Ed was one of the first people I was introduced to. He flipped through my sketchbook and suggested I make a test of a mouse character I had drawn, but I said I had something else in mind. Mistake. The temperature dropped about 20 degrees and I sensed right away I wasn't going to have an easy time with Ed.
To make a long story short, although I made it through the two-month trainee period, I only lasted another six months on production (THE FOX AND THE HOUND) as an apprentice inbetweener. I was so overwhelmed to be at Disney that every move I made seemed to be the wrong one and when I got fired I kind of knew I had it coming. At my exit interview I sheepishly asked Ed if there were ever cases where someone who got fired at Disney eventually got re-hired. Ed, (who knew my bad rep all too well) said in a very blase manner: "Well very occasionally something like that happens, but I don't think this is going to be one of those cases." I was doomed.
To make a longer story short, the experience did sink in and I spent the next seven years not only developing my skills but also working on my attitude. Late in 1986 I wound up doing some freelance with Glen Keane on THE CHIPMUNK ADVENTURE and he generously offered to submit my portfolio when he returned to Disney in '87, which he did. A few weeks later I got a call from Ed Hansen, who offered me a very sincere welcome back and a journeyman animator job on OLIVER & CO. I was pretty elated and will always be grateful I got the chance to mend the fence with the very guy I who made me aware of the damage. I wound up spending 14 of the following twenty years working at Disney Features (nine years at one stretch, five at another). When I saw Ed in person he was a kinder, gentler Ed and I hope I was a wiser and more experienced me. I was out of the doghouse in any case. In the shifting management sands of the late 1980's Ed himself retired before the decade was out. He had worked at Disney for something like 35 years and he spent the time since then in picturesque Solvang, in Santa Barbara. Ed hired (and fired) quite a few of us aging kids still in the business and for me he will always represent the happy resolution of a "second chance." My condolences to his family and friends.