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Bob Walker, ‘Brother Bear’ Director, RIP

Bob Walker co-directed Disney's Oscar-nominated feature "Brother Bear" (2003).
Bob Walker co-directed Disney’s Oscar-nominated feature “Brother Bear” (2003).

Robert Walker, Disney layout artist and co-director of Brother Bear, passed away last week from a suspected heart attack in California. He was 54 years old. The Ottawa Citizen confirmed his death this week.

“He was just a down-to-earth, quiet, thoughtful guy who cared about the people around him,” Walker’s brother Jim told the Ottawa Citizen. “He was unassuming: he went through life with untied shoes, jeans and a T-shirt.”

“He didn’t say much, and what he did say was always to the point,” Walker’s collaborator of 23 years, Aaron Blaise, told Cartoon Brew. “But he was one of the best souls I’ve ever met. He was simply a good man.” Blaise recounted a story of Walker’s gentleness:

“I remember on the six-month anniversary of my wife’s passing I was having a rough time. Bob, who everyone was very intimidated by, came into my office at Disney…He came around behind my desk and gave me the biggest bear hug. I burst into tears. I said, ‘Man! You’re making me cry!’ He just said, ‘That’s okay, it’s what you’re supposed to do.’ Then he turned around and went back to his office. That was the kind of man Bob was.”

bob walker

Bob Walker was born in Toronto, Canada and grew up in Ottawa. After taking liberal art classes at St. Lawrence University in New York, he transferred to the animation program at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, at the encouragement of a family friend. After graduation he was hired at Atkinson Film-Arts in Ottawa and worked on television series including Dennis The Menace and The Raccoons.

He joined the new Walt Disney animation studio in Orlando, Florida in 1989, having driven a van borrowed from his car dealer father to Florida to apply for the job. He met Blaise, who would become his longtime collaborator, on his first day.

Walker and the staff of the Orlando studio had been hired with the objective of producing Mickey, Donald and Goofy featurettes, but this was never realized. Instead, Walker began work as a layout artist on the Roger Rabbit short Roller Coaster Rabbit. He contributed to many of Disney’s best known contemporary features such as Rescuers Down Under (1990), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Mulan (1998), and Lilo & Stitch (2002), and eventually became the head of layout at Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida.

Walker made his feature film directorial debut with Brother Bear in 2003, with Blaise as co-director. The film’s expansive natural setting was a good fit for Walker, who Mulan production designer Hans Bacher observed had a “good sense for vistas.”

“This was the start of one of the finest partnerships one could ever hope for,” said Blaise. “[O]ur first film brought us together in a way that transcended mere friendship. We really became family.”

Brother Bear was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Walker had recently retired to California, where he continued to work on personal art projects and refined his golf game.

  • Roberto Severino

    I wish his family nothing but the best. It always saddens me when someone dies at a relatively younger age like that and from a heart attack too.

  • Aaron Blaise

    Thank you so much for writing this.

  • Richard Canipe

    R.I.P. Bob Walker for he should receive the Disney Legends award to honor his death!

  • J.S

    He will be missed.

  • Dave

    Very sad loss . He was an immensely talented artist and all around good guy.
    (Um , I hate to be picky , but that still of Kenai and Koda you have up there at the top is from the direct-to-video Brother Bear 2 . Might be nice to put up a still from the original Brother Bear theatrical film that Bob co-directed) .

    • AmidAmidi

      Sorry about that. We’ve updated with a proper image.

  • Lauren

    Aw Bob! This is sad to here. He and Aaron made one of my all time favorite films and I’m glad I was able to know who the man was. Rest in peace and may the Great Spirits guide you.

  • My condolences to his family and friends. My respect and thanks to Mr. Bob Walker.

    All my life, animation has been a big part of my world. I have great respect for animators, and animation is a dear part of my life. Animation made my childhood so sweet, and Mr. Walker’s worked on some of my favorite ones. I’ve always wanted to be an animator, and just enjoy the kind of small tight-knit world I often hear about animation teams.

    I think, many times, I’m more interested in the behind-the-scenes of an animation, sometimes more than the animation itself, because of stories of people, like here with Bob walker. It’s always interesting to me to see the personalities involved behind this expressive art form.

    I’m grateful to people like Bob Walker, and through this moment of sadness, that I hope his family and friends celebrate can find strength in celebrating his life. Even if most who’ve seen his work may not known his name, Bob’s career has touched the lives of many, many people. Children and children-at-heart alike.

    Thanks, Bob.

  • Im still shocked at Bob’s passing. He really was the definition of the “gentile bear”. He was intimidating if you didn’t know him but, if you did, he was one of the warmest, most caring guys. He was a huge talent to have as our head-of-layout for Mulan. He contributed as much as anyone to the visual style and story telling of Mulan. He will truly be missed.

  • Paul

    I thought “Brother Bear” was one of the best films to ever come out of Disney. I’ve read a book on the making of this film and the journey the staff took to create the film. Bob Walker was key to the films vision and his work on it was incredible. My condolences to the Walker family. RIP.

  • Mohegan

    Brother Bear inspired me to become an animator and it was one of the best movie experiences I ever had! So, I’m a big fan of both directors and it saddens me that one has passed away. May he rest in peace and thanks for all the inspiration!