William (Bill) Dennis, Sr., a gifted and dedicated animation executive for major studios who also helped lay the foundations of the animation industry in India, died January 22 at age 80. His cause of death was not shared by his family, who were with him at his home in Washington, Utah at the time of his passing.
Born in Marion, Indiana, Dennis graduated from Rollins College and began his working life in retail before joining the Walt Disney Company, where he was accepted into the executive training program. He took on a series of management positions across Disney parks and resorts, taking a key role in the staffing and training strategy for the launch of EPCOT at Walt Disney World in Orlando, as well as the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. Dennis remained with the storied studio’s animation division for the rest of his 20-plus-year Disney career.
“Bill was head of HR at Disney in the 1990s,” former Disney animator and animation historian Tom Sito recalled in ASIFA’s blog. “At the Mouse Factory, Bill did that unenviable job of being the one that swung the axe on the orders of others. He did the hiring, firing and told you if you got your raise or not. As a result, he was not always the most popular guy on Flower Street, but I always got along with him.”
In the latter part of his Disney stint, Dennis served as Vice President of Feature Animation, putting together talent and resources for iconic Disney Renaissance movies such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. After ending his time with Mickey, avid globetrotter Dennis took up a post with Hanna-Barbera running the Fil-Cartoons studio in Manila.
In 1999, Dennis made his mark on Indian animation history when he set up the Toonz studio in Trivandrum with G. A. Menon. To fill the local training gap, he brought over old Toon Town friends such as Jimmy Murakami, Bill Plympton and Paul Driessen to share their knowledge and experience. Toonz initially provided production services outsourced from prodcos in the U.S. and Europe, but under Dennis’s leadership as CEO the studio began creating its own work, including award-winning series The Adventures of Tenali Raman.
Dennis’s influence on the Indian animation scene extended beyond the studio’s walls: He was the founder of the Toonz Academy, which continues to offer training in core animation skills, digital techniques and visual effects in Trivandrum and online; The Week with the Masters Animation Festival; and the ASIFA-India chapter of the International Animated Film Association, of which he remained President Emeritus after retiring from Toonz (he was also a former Executive Director of ASIFA).
In recognition of his contributions to the local industry, Dennis was honored with the Rashtriya Rattan Award from India’s Global Economic Council in 2000.
“[Dennis] was the first CEO of Toonz and his vision and passion has given identity to Trivandrum as one of the important animation centers in India,” the studio’s current CEO, P. Jayakumar, shared in a social media post. “The seeds sown by him have sprouted and grown into a global kids and entertainment major … The global animation community has sadly lost an important member and his absence will leave a gap in the community and for all of us at Toonz.
“We will continue to honor his legacy and live by the values he taught us. All of us Toonz will sorely miss him and pray for his soul to rest in peace.”
Over his decades-long career, Dennis also set up the U.S./German animation boutique Zantmation Associates and was a founding partner of the International Animation Consulting Group, based in Los Angeles.
Dennis is survived by his wife of 58 years, Rhonda; their three children Tiersa (Perry Vayo), William Jr. (Amy Carney), who goes by Paul, and Mireille Dennis Evans; three grandchildren; sister Jackie Hetler; and many nieces and nephews. They remember the departed as a family man who loved music, history and the ocean, and enjoyed travelling the globe with his family. Dennis is predeceased by his parents; two brothers, Gary and Dale; and nephew Bryan Dennis.
[Sources: ASIFA, Legacy.com obituary]