The Animated Films of Don Bluth
by John Cawley




An American Branch


When Sullivan Bluth moved to Ireland in 1986, a small group stayed in the U.S. This skeletal staff of production people gave the studio a local base to work with Amblin, Universal and other U.S. vendors. This adjunct was also to continue looking for new projects such as commercials. It was based in one of Burbank's new highrises, the same one that boasted The Disney Channel's offices.

The U.S. branch really began to come about when John Pomeroy requested to move back to the U.S in 1989. With him came a few of the original crew. They set up shop on Olive street in Burbank, a stone's throw from the Disney studio. Calling the studio West Olive, they began doing work on DOGS and a few commercials. The crew began to grow and soon moved to a large building by the Burbank airport. After some time at the new facility they changed their name to simply Sullivan Bluth Animation Studio in January of 1990. At the end of 1990 they planned to move to a large facility in Burbank that would house both the artists and the production team formerly in the Disney Channel building. As this book goes to press in Summer of 1991, the studio has not moved from its airport location.

As work began on ROCK-A-DOODLE, and later on A TROLL IN NEW YORK, the studio became self sufficient. Initially the artists would do roughs and have them sent to Ireland. The new, larger staff allowed them to handle the art all the way through clean- up. Xerography and painting are still handled in Ireland. As work continued on TROLL, the U.S. studio was at times producing over 100 feet of animation a week.

SPECIAL PROJECTS

Thad Weinlein, production manager for TAIL and LAND also returned to the U.S. with Pomeroy. After having success bringing in commercials, he set up a Special Projects division. With total autonomy, he was allowed to find work for the artists to help train newcomers and maintain income. He landed several commercials, but his biggest coup came in obtaining and coordinating the production of the animation for the Universal Studio Florida's World of Hanna-Barbera ride.

The attraction is similar to Disneyland's popular Star Tours which features characters from George Lucas' STAR WARS films. In the Hanna-Barbera/Universal film, Elroy Jetson is kidnapped by Dick Dastardly and the audeince, in special seats, participates in a chase through the various Hanna-Barbera "worlds" like Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park and Fred Flintstone's Bedrock to rescue the boy.

For this attraction, Sullivan Bluth provided animation of such classic Hanna-Barbera characters as Fred Flintstone and Scooby-Doo. The animation was placed over computer generated backgrounds done by deGraf/Warham. The ride became one of the first big hits of the Florida attraction.

The division then went to work on another animated attraction. This time for a Japanese park. Though Weinlein left the company in mid-1990, the Special Projects division has continued as a highly profitable department of Sullivan Bluth. It has even done work for other studios' features such as Hyperion's ROVER DANGERFIELD.

Unlike other productions at Sullivan Bluth, the Special Project's productions were done without any input or direction from Don. Much like the previous TV series of the videogames, Don preferred to keep his attention on features and the main projects.

DON BLUTH ANIMATION GALLERY

The Don Bluth studio had frequently sold cels from a number of its productions. Prior to NIMH's release, cels of Banjo were sold to dealers. Many of these autographed by Don, John and Gary. With the release of NIMH, the studio continued to sell artwork to dealers. However, the NIMH cels were jointly owned (and in the possession of) Aurora Productions.

With the videogames, the studio again had full control of their animation artwork. Through the Don Bluth Animation Club they sold pieces to collectors and dealers alike. However the artwork for their next two productions, AN AMERICAN TAIL and LAND BEFORE TIME were owned by Amblin' and Universal. Artwork from both of these productions have yet to become available in any substantial amount.

With the production of ALL DOGS, the studio once again had full control of its artwork. In 1989 it established the Don Bluth Animation Gallery headed up by Mary Ann Lewis. Along with setting up a major display at the 1989 San Diego Comic Con, they began contacting major art dealers around the world. Over thirty dealers joined the program in the first few months.

The Gallery seemed to be fully shut down in the Spring of 1991 when Lewis was released. The cels for ALL DOGS and ROCK-A- DOODLE, the majority of the Gallery's stock, had been pulled from the studio by Goldcrest. Apparently part of the agreement for Goldcrest to withdraw its petition for liquidation (see chapter on ROCK-A-DOODLE) was that Goldcrest would own the artwork.

THE RETURN OF DON AND GARY

In the Spring of 1991, Don and Gary began regular, lengthy trips to the U.S. branch. Gary announced it in an issue of the studio's newsletter, Studio News. "Every six weeks from now on, Don, Frank or myself will go to Los Angeles to spend a minimum of one week with the L.A. crew." Many of these trips were tied to post production duties such as music or effects spotting. But one of the main goals, according to Gary was, "We hope to pull the two distant locations closer together with the frequent visits to L.A. and finances permitting, some rotation of animators to and from Dublin."


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