John Cawley
Home of John Cawley

Dedicated to My Wife & Times - A Site for Sore Eyes

Back To Archives
Back To Main Page

Frames of Time...

062_04 - Into Don Bluth's Lair
My second connection with Don Bluth came when I was working at Tom Carter Productions. I was in charge of the animation studio, and had a variety of titles. Don had approached Tom about investing in one of Don's new projects. Tom, a big fan of Disney animation, was not very savvy about animation production, nor about other studios. Hence, he asked me to meet with Don and bring back a report.

At the time, 1983, Don was still in the studio that had housed the production of THE SECRET OF NIMH. When that production finished, Don's second feature became stalled due to the infamous 1982 animation strike. By the time the strike had ended, Don's backers had moved elsewhere. The result being he declared bankruptcy. However, at this point, he had joined forces with two other cash strapped entities on a bold idea in videogames.

Don was just finishing up production on DRAGON'S LAIR. As we walked around the studio, Don talked of how the average videogame was graphically challenged. Instead of using the typical computer to generate images for DRAGON'S LAIR, he and his partners had developed a videogame that would use actual cel animation.

The basic idea was that the animated segments would be on a laserdisc. The gaming machine would house an industrial laserdisc player. Unlike videotape, laserdiscs allowed almost instant access to any scene on the disc. (DVD's similar powers would doom the laserdisc industry by the end of the century.) The player would use the controls to, in effect, control the destiny of the characters and reach the end of the film, thus winning the game.

Tom had been called because Don and his backers had run out of ready cash. Don needed a small investment to pay his creative team for their final weeks. The amount was around $25,000. Don told me if Tom was not interested, Don could still get money from licensee advances. Don was resisting this since the result would be that Don would see less money once the merchandise began selling.

I went back and reported to Tom. I told him I thought the game had a very good chance to make a lot of money. Tom thought about it, for around ten seconds, and then decided to pass on it. When I gave the news to Don, he was disappointed, but thanked me for my time. He told me he thought Tom would pass (since Tom had not come personally) and had already begun talking with the licensing folks.

A short time later, the game debuted and became an instant success and phenomenon. DRAGON'S LAIR was credited with reviving a (then) dieing videogame industry. The game made more money in its first few months than many motion pictures made. In fact, it did about twice the box-office of NIMH. When someone at Carter's would mention the "amazing" new videogame, Tom would state he didn't want to hear anything about it.

A few months after the game's debut, I got a call from John Pomeroy. John told me that my recent visit had reminded him and Don of my animation business knowledge. He stated they both had remembered my time and advice on BANJO. As they were getting their studio up and growing again, Don had told John, I could be a strong asset to the studio. The bottom line, would I come to work for the Bluth Group (as they were now known).

I went back and chatted with Don and John one evening. Gary Goldman also dropped in and added support. They stated they had liked my comments on the game during their presentation to me, and remembered I had good ideas back at Disney on THE FOX AND THE HOUND (another frame of time). Don said he was working on a new game, SPACE ACE and was looking for someone to help develop new videogames. Since there was no budget for "writers", everyone had other tasks. I, along with writing, could handle public relations.

At the moment, my position at Tom Carter was quite good. I was one of a few top folks helping to direct the studio's future. I had co-written the script for their first feature. As mentioned, I was even running the animation studio. But this resulted in me moving farther and farther from the creative side. My days at Carter were full of meetings and briefings with little time to write and create. However, Carter had some very good ideas and, like Bluth, was a new studio with lots of possibilities.

One day, I questioned a Carter decision. The number two man came into my room and basically declared, "how dare" I question the studio's decisions. I explained that, as one of the key folks, I thought my comments were always welcomed on any matter. I was told not any more. That was the deciding point.

I talked a bit more with John and firmed up what I would be doing. Don stated I would be brought on as head of public relations. Officially, I would represent the company and its projects at events and conventions around the country. (Don had a solid fan base and wanted to cultivate it.) I suggested the idea of creating a "fan club", which Don liked very much. My other task would be to help develop ideas for new games.

Even though it was a substantial cut in salary and position, I accepted Don's offer. Tom Carter's studio offered lots of promise, but Don's offered a return to creative work. A few months after I left Carter's, the government shut his studio down. It seemed as if I had made the right decision. But as irony had it, a few months later Don's studio would also close. And yes, both of those are other frames of time.

Back To Archives
Back To Main Page