Born in Denver, Colo., at 8 years old Baer saw Disney’s animated Peter Pan, and vowed that someday, he’d work for Disney. He attended the Chouinard Art Institute (which Roy and Walt Disney helped merge with the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music to establish the California Institute of the Arts, or “Calarts”), and in 1970 took a job at Filmation, where he did layout for Journey Back to Oz (released in 1972). But in 1971, Disney announced a new Animation Training Program, and Baer jumped. As is typical in animation, he was first an “inbetweener” — creating the artwork that goes “in between” the key frames to smooth out motion. He worked on Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), Robin Hood (1973), and the 1974 short, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too. To do actual animation, he’d have to work on his own time, so he’d arrive at the office at 5:00 a.m. to animate before work, and stay until 9:00 p.m. to finish what he started that morning. Several of the “Nine Old Men” of Disney animators, particularly John Lounsbery and Eric Larson, saw Baer’s potential and started giving him character animation tasks.
By the late 1970s Baer was in heavy demand. He left Disney to work on Peanuts TV specials for Bill Melendez Productions, The Smurfs for Hanna-Barbera, and The Lord of the Rings for Bakshi Productions. He also accepted work from Disney, contributing to Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983), The Black Cauldron (1985), and The Great Mouse Detective (1986). He was given so much work for 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit that he created a studio with 75 people to do it all. With all the assignments from Disney Baer went back to full time there in 1998. He was the supervising animator of multiple characters: Yzma for The Emperor’s New Groove (2000, and Baer won the 2001 Annie Award for Individual Character Animation for the character), Alameda Slim for Home on the Range (2004), Wilbur for Meet the Robinsons (2007), and Owl for Winnie the Pooh (2011, and the last hand-drawn animated film Disney produced). In all, Baer worked in the industry for more than 50 years, and won the 2016 Winsor McCay Award, a lifetime achievement recognition for animators. Baer’s last credit is Bob’s Burgers: The Movie (not released yet: still in post-production). And in the middle of all that, he also “passed it on” by teaching character animation at CalArts. Baer died January 15 at 70.