Dave Michener, a veteran Disney animator, story artist, and director from 1956 up until his retirement from The Walt Disney Studios in 1987, has died at 85. He passed away on February 15 at his home in Los Angeles from complications due to a virus, according to his wife.
Over the course of his 31-year career with Disney, Michener contributed his artistic talents to such Disney classics as Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, The Aristocats, Robin Hood, The Rescuers, The Fox and the Hound, and finally The Great Mouse Detective (for which he received a co-directing credit alongside John Musker and Ron Clements).
Michener was born in Los Angeles on November 5, 1932. His father was a famous architect who helped design many of the iconic buildings in the Miracle Mile district of the city. His uncle was the best-selling author James Michener.
Michener was personally selected by Walt Disney to work at the studio as a result of his impressive art exhibit at Chouinard Art Institute. Upon graduation in 1956, he began his career in animation after receiving a call from Disney himself telling him that he had the job. Within weeks of being hired, Michener was animating on the original Mickey Mouse Club television show.
Soon after, he was assigned to work on feature films, where he assisted the legendary Milt Kahl (one of Walt Disney’s “Nine Old Men”) for seven years. He proceeded to have a hand in nearly every animated feature the studio produced over the next three decades.
Michener once observed, “I have always felt privileged to work for Disney. As a small boy of five or seven years old, my dad brought me out to the studio, and it was instant love. I never really wanted to work anywhere else. When you take an animated character and move an audience to tears, you’ve done a magical thing.”
During the early 1980s, Michener took on the enormous job of producing and directing nearly all of the character animation for the various pavilions at EPCOT Center near Orlando, Florida. He performed similar duties for Tokyo Disneyland’s “Meet the World” attraction, and for a PSA pre-show on the history of aviation at Disneyland. He officially retired from Disney on November 30, 1987.
Michener went on to teach animation at Cal Arts (California Institute for the Arts) starting in 1989. The following year, he began consulting for Hanna-Barbera on their full-length feature, Jetsons: The Movie, and later became the full-time director/producer on Once Upon a Forest, until his retirement from the industry.
His last artistic contribution was as illustrator for the award-winning children’s book, How Butterbees Came to Bee.
Michener is survived by his wife, Donna, who shared his life for 67 years; three daughters – Suzanne Gerhardt, Cynthia van Houten, and Donna Michelle Michener; six grandchildren – Courtney, Jeffrey, Lauren, Kimberly, Gwendolyn, and Joseph; and three great grandchildren, Isaac, Evey, and Levi Bea.