Vera Pacheco, a clean-up artist who held senior roles on films by Disney and Don Bluth, died from pancreatic cancer on December 11.
Born Vera Frances Macaluso in 1955, Pacheco was introduced to animation production in Bluth’s garage, where a team was working after hours on the short film Banjo the Woodpile Cat (1979). Her first job was at Hanna-Barbera, according to Ross Anderson’s Pulling a Rabbit Out of a Hat: The Making of Roger Rabbit. Soon after, Bluth arranged for her to get a job at Disney, where he was then employed.
Pacheco worked as an inbetween artist on Pete’s Dragon (1977) and a clean-up artist on The Small One (1978). But when Bluth staged his famous walkout in 1979, leaving the company alongside a dozen-odd loyal artists to form his own studio, she was among the artists who joined him.
Completing Banjo the Woodpile Cat was the first task for the fledgling Don Bluth Productions. Pacheco worked on the film and subsequent Bluth projects, supervising the clean-up department on features The Secret of NIMH (1982), An American Tail (1986), and The Land Before Time (1988). Her then-husband, effects animator Dorse Lanpher, recalled that she sometimes helped him with the effects. She also worked with Bluth on the video game Dragon’s Lair (1983), doing clean-up and providing the voice of Daphne.
By the end of her time with Bluth, the studio was known as Sullivan/Bluth and based in Dublin, Ireland. From there, Pacheco and Lanpher hopped over to London for a stint on Richard Williams’ Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), before returning to California — and to Disney.
Pacheco worked on most of the key works of the Disney Renaissance, including The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), and The Lion King (1994). She eventually made it to clean-up supervisor on movies like The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), The Princess and the Frog (2009), and Winnie the Pooh (2011). While at the studio, she married Jim Pacheco, who worked at Disney Imagineering, in 2003.
Vera’s seniority at Disney speaks of her talent, which might have been more widely recognized were clean-up work — the refining of rough animation drawings — more generally seen as the highly artistic endeavor it is. Among her colleagues at least, Pachecho was highly respected.
Bluth is among the artists who have paid tribute to her, writing on Facebook:
I am saddened by the news of my friend Vera’s passing. She was a spark that lit up a room. I cherish the all the time we worked together and she will surely be missed. Not only for her artistic talents but for her wonderful personality that she gave to all who knew her. We’ll miss you Vera. Rest in peace.
John Pomeroy, another artist who left Disney with Bluth, wrote on Instagram:
I was looking forward to seeing her at a virtual An American Tail reunion, when I heard of her illness. She was a kind, sweet person and tremendous talent.
Correction: Pacheco’s maiden name was misstated. She was born Vera Frances Macaluso, not Vera Law.