Don Bluth


Don Bluth
Don Bluth

Don Bluth, 2006
Born September 13, 1937 (1937-09-13) (age 74)
El Paso, Texas, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation Animation Director and Founder of Sullivan Bluth Studios and Fox Animation Studios
Known for Various animation work with Disney and other companies

Donald Virgil "Don" Bluth (born September 13, 1937) is an American animator and independent studio owner. He is best known for his departure from The Walt Disney Company in 1979 and his subsequent directing of animated classics such as The Secret of NIMH (1982), An American Tail (1986),The Land Before Time (1988), and All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989), as well as his involvement in the laserdisc game Dragon's Lair. He is also often [1] credited for providing competition to Disney, and forcing them to improve from their streak of lackluster film efforts[citation needed] to the films that would make up the Disney Renaissance.

Contents

Early life and the Disney years

Bluth was born in El Paso, Texas, the son of Emaline (née Pratt) and Virgil Ronceal Bluth.[2] His great-grandfather was Latter Day Saint leader Helaman Pratt, and politician Mitt Romney is his second cousin.[3] He grew up with a brother and eventual collaborator, Toby Bluth. Bluth received a bachelor's degree in English Literature from Brigham Young University, and became one of the chief animators at The Walt Disney Company in the 1960s. He first started as a directing animator for The Rescuers, 101 Dalmatians, The Fox and the Hound and as an assistant director on Sleeping Beauty and The Sword in the Stone, for all of which he was uncredited. He would not return to Disney until in the 1970s, when he was an animator on Robin Hood, The Rescuers, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Pete's Dragon. His last involvement with Disney was the 1978 short The Small One. Along with fellow animators Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy, he set out in 1979 to start his own animation studio, Don Bluth Productions. He drew a few (uncredited) scenes for The Fox and the Hound and "The Black Cauldron" but left early in production.

Independent years

Early critical success

When leaving Disney, Bluth brought several other Disney animators with him to form a rival studio, who like Bluth were allegedly upset with how the Disney animated features had "lost their charm" at the time.[citation needed] This new studio, Don Bluth Productions, demonstrated its ability in its first production, a short film titled Banjo the Woodpile Cat, and this led to work on an animated segment of the live-action film Xanadu (1980).

The studio's first feature-length animation was, the critically acclaimed The Secret of NIMH (1982), an adaptation of the award winning children's book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. His movies tend toward rougher and more energetic portrayals than that of Disney films. Often, his films also contain a mystical element, with mysterious, unexplainable forces at work throughout them.

Teaming up with Rick Dyer, Bluth then created the groundbreaking arcade game Dragon's Lair (1983), which let the player control a cartoon-animated character on screen (whose adventures were played off a laserdisc). This was followed in 1984 by Space Ace, a science-fiction game based on the same technology, but which gave the player a choice of different routes to take through the story (Bluth not only created the animation for Space Ace, he also supplied the voice of the villain, Borf)[citation needed], and Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp, a sequel which was very rare in arcades.[citation needed]

Sullivan Bluth Studios was an animation studio established in 1985 by animator Don Bluth. The studio initially operated from an animation facility in Van Nuys, California, but later moved to Dublin, Ireland to take advantage of government investment and incentives. Mr. Bluth and his colleagues also started an animation course at Ballyfermot Senior College.[4]

Affiliation with Steven Spielberg

His next film would have been an animated version of East of the Sun and West of the Moon, but was never made as the financial resources were drawn back.[5] Teaming up with producer Steven Spielberg, Bluth's next project instead turned out to be An American Tail (1986), which at the time of its release became the highest grossing non-Disney animated film of all time, grossing $47 million in the United States and $84 million worldwide.[citation needed] The second Spielberg-Bluth collaboration The Land Before Time (1988) did even better in theaters and both are now widely considered animation classics.[citation needed] The main character in An American Tail became the mascot for Amblimation while The Land Before Time was followed by twelve direct-to-video sequels.

Bluth broke ties with Spielberg before his next film, All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989). Although it had only moderate theatrical success, it was highly successful in its release to home video, becoming a cult classic.[6][7] Nonetheless, by the end of the decade and through the 1990s Bluth films such as Rock-a-Doodle (1991), Thumbelina (1994), A Troll in Central Park (1994), and The Pebble and the Penguin (1995) were all critical and box office failures.

Work at Fox Animation Studios

Bluth scored another hit with Anastasia (1997), which grossed US$140 million worldwide and gained favorable critical reviews, in part because it used well-known Hollywood stars as its voice talent[citation needed] and stuck closer to long-proven Disney formulas: a sassy and resourceful princess driven to become more than she is, a cruel and conniving villain who uses dark magic, a handsome and endearing love interest, and a comic-relief sidekick.[citation needed] Anastasia was produced at Fox Animation Studios in Phoenix, Arizona, which established 20th Century Fox as a Disney competitor.

Still, Bluth's troubles continued when he directed the futuristic space adventure Titan A.E. (2000) which failed badly at the box office.[citation needed] The film made less than $37 million worldwide despite an estimated $75 million budget and served as the last traditionally animated film released by 20th Century Fox in theaters until the release of The Simpsons Movie.[citation needed]

In 2000, after the studio's third film Bartok the Magnificent (released direct to video as a spin-off of Anastasia and the only sequel directed by Bluth), 20th Century Fox Studios decided to shut down the Fox Animation Studio facility in Phoenix.

Recent work

A recent attempt to capitalize on Dragon's Lair nostalgia by releasing the video game Dragon's Lair 3D: Return to the Lair (2002) yielded mixed results, with critics both praising and panning the controls and storyline. However, the visuals were widely enjoyed, using groundbreaking cel-shading techniques that lent the game a hand-animated feel.[8] Don Bluth and Gary Goldman are currently seeking funding for a film version of Dragon's Lair.[9][10]

Bluth and Goldman continued work in video games when they were hired to create the in-game cinematics for Namco's I-Ninja, released in 2003.[11]

In 2004, Bluth did the animation for the music video "Mary", by the Scissor Sisters.[12] The band contacted Bluth after having recalled fond memories of the sequence from Xanadu.

In 2009, Bluth was asked to produce storyboards for, and later to direct, the 30-minute Saudi Arabian festival film Gift of the Hoopoe. However, he ultimately had very little say in both the animation and content of the film, and asked that he not be credited as the director or producer. Nonetheless, defying his request, he was still credited as the director, possibly to improve the film's sales by attaching his name.[13]

On February 3, 2011, it was announced that Bluth and his game development company Square One Studios is working with Warner Bros. Digital Distribution to develop a modern reinterpretation of the 1983 arcade classic, Tapper. The new version will be titled Tapper World Tour.

On March 22, 2011, Anastasia was released to Blu-ray Disc. The high-charting release, as well as an increase in sales for other Bluth-directed titles, has sparked interest for a return to his as-yet unconfirmed 12th directorial feature.

Bluth as an author

Bluth has also authored a series of books for students of animation: 2004's The Art of Storyboard, and 2005's The Art of Animation Drawing. Additional books are planned.

Bluth as an educator

In early 2009 Bluth launched his own website, DonBluthAnimation.com, in which he focuses on animation education through video tutorials, short films and live video seminars.[14]

Filmography

As director and/or producer or animator

Further reading

  • John Cawley, The Animated Films of Don Bluth, 1991, Image Publishing, ISBN 0962750853 (Out of Print)
  • John Grant, Masters of Animation, 2001, Watson-Guptill Publications, ISBN 0823030415

References

External links


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