I was delighted to meet the tall, reserved English gentleman who had recently joined our team. We were about to begin work on one of the most sophisticated Walt Disney motion pictures ever produced and we were lucky to have this talented artist on our crew. Not only did Denis Rich bring his considerable expertise, he was an excellent storyteller who spun facinating tales of working on big time British and Hollywood movies. Denis had worked with top directors such as James Cameron and screen stars, Roger Moore and Marlon Brando. His stories took us inside studios such as Pinewood and Elstree, and his movie experiences were often hilarious. I had never visited the U.K. but Denis managed to paint a picture of London I’ll never forget. Recently, someone had taken a GoPro Camera and traveled through the streets of London. The GoPro camera is an amazing tiny movie device that captures high resolution video. The digital images are crisp, clear and beautiful. I suddenly found myself transported to the United Kingdom and walking the streets of London. In a weird way, it was almost like being there. Such is the power of present day technology.
While taking this virtual trip to London, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my dear friend and colleague. Denis Rich was a film production designer and storyboard artist who had done it all. His art can be seen in Albert Brocolli’s James Bond films and the original big screen version of Superman directed by Richard Donner. His talents can be seen onscreen in James Cameron’s hit science fiction film, Aliens. Denis had been persuaded by Walt Disney Feature Animation to join our creative team in California. Denis thought this might be an excellent opportunity to work in the states as well as provide a holiday for his family. Apparently, one of his London colleagues didn’t see this as a great idea. When informed Denis had signed a contract with Walt Disney Studios, the fellow art director laughed so hard he literally fell off his chair.
Denis Rich moved into an office next to mine in our Glendale facility we called, “Sanctuary.” As we began creating storyboards for The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Denis would regale us with stories about motion picture work at Pinewood, Elstree and the other U.K. motion picture studios. Often time the stories were hilarious and I came to regard Mr. Rich as an excellent storyteller. A true Brit, Denis had no end of pithy comments about the movie business. I could literally fill a book with the dry, acerbic comments made by the distinguished English gentleman. One such, was the description of animated movie making as compared to live-action. “In live-action you can make your bad movie faster,” smiled Denis.
Dealing with the machinations of Hollywood movie making was hardly a holiday for Denis. He was continually on the phone trying to resolve contractual differences. There was no email in those days and nobody even had a computer. No one, that is except for myself. Weird people like me always had a computer. Anyway, Denis went through phone call after phone call until he finally snapped. Now, we all know that English gentlemen are quiet, reserved and known to keep their feelings on the inside. Not so, with this British gentleman. Mr. Rich suddenly screamed, “Bloody hell!” and smashed his telephone to bits. He totally lost it and darn near dismantled his cubicle. Later, the usually mild mannered Brit apologized for his unseemly behavior. We all laughed it off and said, “no need for apologies. Mickey Mouse can sometimes do that to you.”
In time, Denis Rich’s contract with Feature Animation came to a close. We had a farewell dinner with our English colleague and laughed about the good times we had. As we said our goodbyes, the tall English gentleman reached out to shake my hand. Knowing I would probably never see Denis again I decided a handshake was not nearly enough. I probably over stepped my bounds but couldn’t help but give Denis Rich a big hug. Since our time together at Disney I continued to look for Denis Rich’s name in the screen credits of English movies. Some years ago, I sadly read of his untimely passing. Denis Rich was a talented gentleman who worked on his share of famous movies. Though You’ve probably never heard of him you’ve seen his work on the big screen. He was a friend, a colleague and a gentleman. He was also one of the nicest men I’ve ever met.