Don Bluth

Donald Virgil Bluth was born on September 13, 1937, in El Paso, Texas, to Emalinee Pratt and Virgil Bluth.   He is an American animator and animation studio owner.  He spent most of his youth after age 6 in Utah.  As he worked on the family farm in Payson, Utah, he sang Disney songs, and even then he dreamed of working with Disney.  He practiced drawing Disney characters from comic books.  Bluth is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church.

In 1954 Bluth’s parents moved the family to Santa Monica, California.  He was a senior in high school at the time.  After a year at BYU, Bluth took his portfolio to Disney.  He was immediately hired in 1955 as an assistant animator and put to work on SLEEPING BEAUTY. He worked as an assistant to John Lounsberry. Oddly after finally realizing his dream he left in 1957, after only two years.  He then embarked on a mission for the Mormon Church to Argentina. After two-and-a-half years, he returned to Los Angeles, but not to a career in animation. Though he worked at Disney as an assistant on THE SWORD IN THE STONE for around a year, his main efforts were in live theater.  His stint in live theater didn’t fulfill him, so he returned to school at BYU.

Donald Bluth MormonBluth earned a B.A. degree in English literature at Brigham Young University.  In 1967 he began working at Filmation where he worked in layout.  In his spare time, Don organized a group of young singers and called them “The New Generation.” Numbering sixty at one time, the group toured around the states and even Mexico. He then went back to Disney.  In 1979 he left Disney to found his own animation studio, Don Bluth Productions, taking several other Disney animators with him, namely Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy.  The studio’s first production was 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 Secret of NIMH (1982), which was financially successful.  However, shortly after that, the company neared bankruptcy.  Teaming up with Rick Dyer, and under the name “Bluth Group,”  Bluth then created the groundbreaking arcade game Dragon’s Lair (1983).  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 (Don not only created the animation for Space Ace, he also supplied the voice of the villain, Borf), and Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp, a sequel, which was very rare in arcades.  However, fluctuations in the arcade market brought Bluth Group near bankruptcy.  But then Bluth met Morris Sullivan, a businessman who believed in the classical animation style. Together they formed Sullivan Bluth Studios and were able to negotiate a film deal with Steven Spielberg to do AN AMERICAN TAIL (1986), and initiate talks with the Irish government about opening a studio in Ireland. [a]

Bluth then teamed with Stephen Spielberg to create “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. The second Spielberg-Bluth collaboration The Land Before Time (1988) did even better in theaters and both are now widely considered animation classics.” [1]  Bluth’s team was ensconced in a fine animation production facility in Ireland.

Without Spielberg, Bluth then produced All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989).  The film didn’t make huge amounts of money in theaters, but earned more when released for home viewing.  Bluth downsized his animation staff.  The four following films were only a minor success.  In 1997, however, the company produced Anastasia, a huge hit and great money-maker.  Anastasia  was produced at Fox Animation Studios in Phoenix, Arizona, which established 20th Century Fox as a Disney competitor.  It’s plot was formulaic Disney.

The production studio created Titan A.E. (2000).  It was lauded for its combination of traditional animation and computer-generated animation, but it made back only half of its production costs.  Bluth was expected to direct Ice Age (2002) and the film was planned to be filmed in 2D animation like his previous films. Following the financial failure of Titan A.E., however, Ice Age was made as a computer-animated film and Bluth left the project. Bluth has not made another feature film since.

Since 2002, Bluth has sought to do more with Dragon’s Lair, creating sequels to the game, and looking forward to a possible film.   The studio was hired to create the in-game cinematics for Namco’s I-Ninja.  In 2004, Bluth did the animation for the music video “Mary”, by the Scissor Sisters.

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.  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.  Though he never desires to be preachy, Don says, “I’m not didactic and I don’t think movies should do that. But I like movies that fill you with hope. I like things that free you from your ills, your prejudices, and all the other things that hold us in spiritual darkness. If you can make people believe that they have the power to help themselves and help the world, then I think you’ve done a great deal of good. Movies have the power to do that.” [a]

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