By Rica Arevalo
Here is a best-kept secret out in the open: One of Disney’s finest animation idols currently resides in the Philippines and he is German-born Hans Bacher.
Hans is the production designer of Mulan and has worked with numerous other Disney animated films like Bambi, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Hercules, The Lion King, and the live action animated film Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
His art is currently on view at an exhibit dubbed “The Hans Bacher Collection,” featuring his production design for Mulan at the School of Design and Arts Campus, De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde.
Born in 1953, as early as eight years old, he dabbled in drawing. “At the time there was nearly no book on the market, so you had to improvise, you had to come up with some own ideas,” he told Manila Bulletin Lifestyle in an exclusive interview. “I did my first animated short together with a friend when I was 14. It was clear from the very beginning that it was what I wanted to do.”
He has been in the animation industry for over four decades. “When I worked for Disney, it was working for a family production. We all knew each other. We worked on every film one after another,” the University of Essen MFA graduate said.
Hans became serious when he mentioned that times have changed. “That is not the case anymore. Today, they just hire and fire per one film, so it means that kind of family thinking—what we were used to and what we developed—that does not exist anymore,” he added.
Mulan tells the story of a daughter who impersonates a man to fight the Hun invasion. Lea Salonga provided Mulan’s singing voice. Chinese art, the balance of Yin and Yang, provided a good design and composition to the film.
The film’s pre-production happened in Los Angeles and the final production was in Florida. “I don’t like Florida so I was the only one who stayed in Los Angeles,” he said. “They flew me in every four weeks and the other collaboration happened via satellite.”
Back in those days, there were no internet video calls or FaceTime. “No, no, no, there was nothing back then,” he added, laughing. He guided three teams: The visual development team, the layout team, and the background team via satellite. “You had to teach them the look of the film and what’s supposed to be, that they would copy your style.”
Uncompromising in his pursuit of excellence, in 1998, he won the Annie Award (also known as the “animation Oscar”) for Outstanding Individual Achievement for Production Design in an Animated Feature Production for Mulan.
An unknown fact: Two of his favorite projects were shelved. “The first one was Cats. I was supposed to do the production design on Cats at London, the musical, and it didn’t happen,” explained the 1990 Golden Camera awardee. “The next project was Wildlife of Disney and that was shelved, as well. I think Wildlife would’ve been revolutionary and it probably would’ve had an Academy Award. I’m 100 percent sure because it was unbelievable!”
He confessed, “There were big, big problems with the story and I had warned them about it. But nobody wanted to listen. Roy Disney canceled everything.”
I did my first animated short together with a friend when I was 14. It was clear from the very beginning that it was what I wanted to do.
These days, Hans is busy lecturing to different schools in Asia.
He has also written four books: Designed Brushes for Photoshop, Dream Worlds, Sketchbook, Composition Studies for Film, and Vision, Color, and Composition for Film.
“I had a professor position in Singapore for seven years in film design,” he said. What fulfillment does he get from teaching? “Well, I learn more than the students!”
Why choose the Philippines to retire? “They were different reasons. My wife died in Los Angeles and I didn’t want to stay in LA, that’s why I left Disney. It didn’t make sense to go to Europe because everything there reminds me of our life before.
I didn’t want to go there. The only place left was Asia,” explained the 70-year-old archivist.
“My favorite city is Hong Kong but I don’t understand Chinese and I don’t write Chinese, so that was out of the question. My next favorite city is Bangkok, but I don’t read their lettering so that was a problem. Then I noticed that in the Philippines, nearly everybody speaks English. It is also pretty central, so I chose the Philippines,” he smiled.
What are his future plans? “I am writing a new book. It will be about the development of a style for a film. I want to explain how what I did in the past works. It’s pretty difficult, though. Besides that, I still do some teaching once in a while, but not as much as before,” said Hans. “I just want to have my peace.”
Organized by the Benilde Center for Campus Art (CCA) and the AB Animation program, “The Hans Bacher Collection” featuring his production design for Mulan, runs until Aug. 31 at the 11/F Animation Hallway of the SDA campus.