Frames of Time...
043_04 - Don Bluth's Beginnings
Even though I was at the Disney studio when Don was still at the Mouse House, I did not meet him until after I had also left the studio. Oddly, while I was at Disney, I tended to hang with folks of the "other" group. In fact, I knew little of Don when I left Disney.
I first met Don while he was prepping his first feature, THE SECRET OF N.I.M.H. and trying to finalize his sale of BANJO: THE WOODPILE CAT. I came to the meeting through a mutual friend. Don was looking for someone who understood animation, and could also write about it. My friend knew of my many articles and thought I would be a perfect choice.
Like so many folks of the era, I found Don to be a true spellbinder. Don had an amazing ability to infect an audience with his love of animation and desires to build a new empire. He spoke with eloquence and enthusiasm, as well as a knowledge of the art.
At the dinner, Don spoke of his dreams of building a new studio where art and story would not be at the dictate of "suits" and "publicity zombies". He discussed his years of learning at the Disney studio, and how the most important lesson had been that the animation department had lost its spirit and imagination.
Initially, Don was looking for someone to create publicity for BANJO: THE WOODPILE CAT. I found the idea of working with such a visionary irresistible. Don stated they did not have much money. I told him I understood. He offered a few hundred dollars for my work. I shocked him by stating I would do it without pay. Instead, I would like some art from the BANJO production, as well as a drawing by Don. He agreed.
I spent several nights touring Don's home and garage, where the crew was rushing to finish BANJO in time for its network TV debut. The house had an atmosphere charged with excitement. As I walked from room to room, I found desk upon desk filled with young talent. They were animating, painting and checking. In one small room was a movieola where editing was going on. The garage had more artists at work. The backyard was crowded with folks sitting around snacking and chatting about animation.
After those nights, I went to work and wrote a number of press releases. I also designed some possible poster ideas. (Don had hoped to release the special theatrically first for Oscar consideration.) Once satisfied, I called Don and said I was ready to meet.
Our second meeting was very different. Don brought along one of his key production folks. The gentleman had allegedly gotten Don the deal with Aurora, the company that was going to produce NIMH and Don's next two features. During the meal, Don expressed his pleasure with my work. He even suggested I might come aboard as a publicity person.
At that point, the exec asked me who would tour celebrities around the studio. Don said that would probably be "publicity". Then the exec asked, if celebrities were interested in communicating with Don, who would they contact? Don repeated his answer, "publicity". The exec sat back and nodded slightly.
The next I heard, Don had decided they would not need a publicity person. He explained the exec would create necessary publicity materials for the young studio. However, it was obvious my work was well received, since the promotional art in the trades was my original design, and much of the press material utilized complete sections of my stories and presskit. Later, when NIMH was in full production, the exec had disappeared, and a full time publicity person had been put in place.
I ran into Don a few other times, mostly through the publicity person. I assisted in getting Don and the studio involved in a number of animation events. The photo above was taken at one such event as he (and fellow associate John Pomeroy) met fans. At most of these events, I had to remind Don he still needed to get me the art from BANJO for my "payment." It took around a year, but I eventually got several nice storyboard drawings.
Don continued to gather followers after the release of THE SECRET OF NIMH. Sadly, the film did not do enough business to warrant further work with Aurora. In fact, the Bluth studio seemed destined to end until they got involved with a new project, DRAGON'S LAIR. Oddly, at that time, Don and I bumped into each other again. Don wanted me to come on board to help in writing new games and handling studio promotions. This time there was no exec worried about meeting celebrities.
My life and times with Don would last for several years... and will be discussed on later days.
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