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Don Bluth

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Also Known As: Donald Virgil Bluth Died:
Born: September 13, 1937 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: El Paso, Texas, USA Profession: director, animator, director of animation, production designer, producer, theater manager, layout artist, assistant animator

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Arguably one of the biggest names in feature-length animation since Walt Disney, animator and producer Don Bluth learned his craft at the Disney Studio, before turning into a direct competitor after branching out on his own in 1979. While with Disney, Bluth worked as an assistant animator on "Sleeping Beauty" (1958), only to leave for college and to work as a Mormon missionary. He returned in 1971 and was the animator on "Robin Hood" (1973), "The Rescuers" (1977) and "Pete's Dragon" (1977). But he felt that Disney had lost its way through its cost-cutting measures and decided to form his own company with animator Gary Goldman called Don Bluth Productions. Bluth earned immediate buzz for the 30-minute short, "Banjo, the Woodpile Cat," which led to being hired to animate a musical sequence in "Xanadu" (1980). After the mild success of "The Secret of NIMH" (1982), Bluth entered the video game design business, only to see his company declare bankruptcy in 1984. He reformed the studio with fresh investment money and forged ahead with Sullivan Bluth Studios, relocating to Ireland and making "An American Tail" (1986) and "The Land Before Time" (1988) under Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment. In 1992,...

Arguably one of the biggest names in feature-length animation since Walt Disney, animator and producer Don Bluth learned his craft at the Disney Studio, before turning into a direct competitor after branching out on his own in 1979. While with Disney, Bluth worked as an assistant animator on "Sleeping Beauty" (1958), only to leave for college and to work as a Mormon missionary. He returned in 1971 and was the animator on "Robin Hood" (1973), "The Rescuers" (1977) and "Pete's Dragon" (1977). But he felt that Disney had lost its way through its cost-cutting measures and decided to form his own company with animator Gary Goldman called Don Bluth Productions. Bluth earned immediate buzz for the 30-minute short, "Banjo, the Woodpile Cat," which led to being hired to animate a musical sequence in "Xanadu" (1980). After the mild success of "The Secret of NIMH" (1982), Bluth entered the video game design business, only to see his company declare bankruptcy in 1984. He reformed the studio with fresh investment money and forged ahead with Sullivan Bluth Studios, relocating to Ireland and making "An American Tail" (1986) and "The Land Before Time" (1988) under Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment. In 1992, that company failed and led Bluth to partner with Fox Animation Studios, making "Anastasia" (1997) and "Titan A.E." (2000), the latter of which forced Fox to shutter its doors. Despite his business track record, Bluth was nonetheless noted for quality hand-drawn animation that was once the standard for rival Disney.

Born on Sept. 13, 1937 in El Paso, TX, Bluth was raised with six other siblings by his father, Virgil, and his mother, Emaline. He moved with his family to Payson, UT when he was six years old, later settling in Southern California as a teenager. After graduating high school in 1955, he spent 18 months at Disney as an assistant animator, working under veteran animator John Lounsbery on "Sleeping Beauty" (1958). He left to fulfill his Mormon mission in Argentina and to later earn a degree in English literature from Brigham Young University. Upon his return to Los Angeles, he became a layout artist for Filmation Studios, working on Saturday morning cartoons like "Fantastic Voyage" (ABC, 1968-69). Bluth returned to Disney in 1971, where he was joined the following year by animator and future partner, Gary Goldman, then fresh out of college. His first feature as an animator was "Robin Hood" (1973), and graduated to director of animation on "The Rescuers" (1977) and "Pete's Dragon" (1977). A devotee of the classical Disney style of animation, Bluth became dissatisfied with the cost-cutting measures the studio had taken, which cheapened the animation's look, and decided to branch out on his own.

Along with Goldman and animator John Pomeroy - not to mention about a dozen other animators - Bluth left Disney to form his own company, Don Bluth Productions, which started in a garage in Culver City. Bluth, Goldman and Pomeroy had already been working on their own animation project and once on their own, they put themselves on a crash course to finish it, resulting in the 30-minute short, "Banjo, the Woodpile Cat," which eventually aired on ABC in 1982. Prior to that, however, they won critical praise round Hollywood, as the animated film served as a résumé that landed them an assignment to animate a two-minute musical sequence for the feature "Xanadu" (1980). With the nicely textured "The Secret of NIMH" (1982), based on the Newberry Award-winning children's book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N*I*M*H, Don Bluth Productions showed its work could compete with Disney, only to see the picture disappear quickly from theaters despite rave reviews. After a second film project dissolved during the 1982 animators' strike, the Bluth team jumped at the chance to animate interactive video arcade games for the San Diego-based Cinematronics company.

Bluth and his people designed the groundbreaking video games "Dragon's Lair" and "Space Age" before the bottom fell out of the arcade market and stopped their cash. Though Don Bluth Productions would go bankrupt in 1984, a semi-retired mergers and acquisitions broker named Morris Sullivan entered the picture as their guardian angel, providing the sorely-needed business savvy to keep the newly formed Sullivan Bluth Studios solvent. Sullivan would be the impetus behind their move to Ireland to take advantage of that country's lower production costs and government incentives for the arts. Impressed with "The Secret of NIMH," Steven Spielberg also came to Bluth with the idea that became "An American Tail" (1986), a cute story about a Russian mouse named Fievel, who becomes separated from his family and winds up having adventures in America while trying to find them. But after the success of "An American Tail" and "The Land Before Time" (1988), both released through Universal Pictures, Sullivan Bluth severed its connections with Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, passing on the opportunity to do the animation for "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" (1988), which would have put them back on the Disney payroll.

The next two features from Sullivan Bluth, "All Dogs Go to Heaven" (1989) and "Rock-a-Doodle" (1991), were not successes and Bluth's company again was forced to declare bankruptcy. Sullivan Bluth eventually became the property of Rupert Murdoch, and the animation head's sixth feature - and first one sharing directorial credit with Goldman - "Hans Christian Andersen's Thumbelina" (1994) came out under Warner Bros' Family Entertainment banner. "The Pebble and the Penguin" (1995) was Bluth's last gasp from Ireland, but the 1994 deal that he and Goldman signed with 20th Century Fox promised deeper pockets and another opportunity to go toe-to-toe with Disney. Grafting warm and family-friendly motifs onto turbulent aspects of modern history and mythology, Bluth-Goldman brought forth the anxiously-awaited debut offering from Fox Animation, "Anastasia" (1997). Though certainly a cut below the best of Disney, it grossed more than either "An American Tail" or "The Land Before Time," establishing a substantial beachhead for further attacks on the behemoth.

Basically an animation traditionalist to this point, Bluth had favored old-fashioned children's stories, naturalistic character movement, and uplifting values. Rather than concocting new recipes for success, his movies offered solid animation with thriftier techniques, and were often hampered by weaker characters, storytelling and songs. Fox Animation's next move was a cautious one, releasing "Bartok the Magnificent" (1999) straight-to-video. Moving away from traditional fare, Bluth and Goldman picked up where they had left off with their innovative video game "Space Age," embracing cutting-edge sci-fi animation for "Titan A.E." (2000). This meant a departure from their more traditional work as 65 percent of the movie was CGI. But all the hard work failed to pay off, as "Titan" was such a colossal financial disaster that it forced Fox Animation to shut its doors for nearly a decade. Feeling the sting of failure, Bluth and Goldman returned to making video games like "Dragon's Lair 3D: Return to the Lair" (2002) and "I-Ninja" (2003), while doing the animation for the music video "Mary" (2004), by the Scissor Sisters. In 2010, Bluth and Goldman formed the video game development company, Square One Studios, and forged a distribution pact with Warner Bros. Digital. As of 2011, Bluth had no plans to return to animated features.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Titan A.E. (2000)
2.
  Bartok the Magnificent (1999) Director
3.
  Anastasia (1997)
5.
  Thumbelina (1994)
6.
  Rock-a-Doodle (1991) Director

CAST: (feature film)

VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
At age six, moved with family to Payson, Utah
:
Moved to Southern California as a teenager
1955:
Joined Walt Disney Productions upon high school graduation, working 18 months as an assistant animator before fulfilling his Mormon mission and going to college; served as an "inbetweener" to Disney animator John Lounsbery on "Sleeping Beauty" (released 1958)
1957:
Traveled to Argentina as Mormon missionary
:
Managed and directed theater with brother in Culver City, California
1967:
Joined Filmation Studios as layout artist; worked on Saturday morning cartoons
:
Formed and worked with young people's singing group, "The New Generation"
1971:
Returned to Disney
1972:
Joined at Disney by animator and future partner Gary Goldman, then fresh out of college
1973:
First feature film as animator, "Robin Hood", directed by Wolfgang Reitherman
1974:
Began pre-production work on "The Black Cauldron" (not released until 1985)
1977:
First feature film as animation director, "The Rescuers", co-directed by Lounsbery, Reitherman and others
1979:
Last animation asssignment at Disney, "The Fox and the Hound" (released in 1981)
1979:
Left Disney with Goldman and John Pomeroy, taking about a dozen other artists with them on his 41st birthday, September 13
1979:
Set up shop in Bluth's Culver City garage 18 miles away
:
First short film completed by Don Bluth Productions, "Banjo, the Woodpile Cat"; Bluth's debut as story and songwriter (also produced and directed)
1980:
Animated a cartoon sequence for the teen-oriented musical, "Xanadu"
1982:
"Banjo, the Woodpile Cat" aired on ABC-TV
1982:
Produced, wrote, and directed "The Secret of NIMH"; first feature by Don Bluth Productions
1983:
Hired by the San Diego-based Cinematronics to animate some interactive video arcade games
1983:
Produced the first interactive video arcade game, "Dragon's Lair"; featured a fully animated sword-and-sorcery narrative
:
Produced "Space Ace", a fully animated sci-fi narrative on interactive laser disc for video arcades
1984:
Don Bluth Productions went bankrupt
1984:
Met Morris Sullivan, a 72-year-old semi-retired mergers and acquisitions broker; Sullivan offered to become their "guardian angel"
1985:
Sullivan Bluth Studios inaugurated in Van Nuys, California
1986:
Relocated Sullivan Bluth Studios to Dublin, Ireland
1986:
First film as production designer and storyboard artist (also director, producer), "An American Tail"; first collaboration with executive producer Steven Spielberg
1988:
Made "The Land Before Time" for Amblin Entertainment and Universal
:
Dissatisfied with the financial arrangements on their previous collaborations with Amblin and loath to work again for Disney, Sullivan Bluth declined the opportunity to produce animation for "Who Framed Roger Rabbit"
1989:
Became a full one quarter partner along with Sullivan, Goldman, and Pomeroy
1992:
Sullivan Bluth declared bankruptcy
:
Studio and its two completed features purchased by a partnership of John Boorman's Merlin Films and Media Assets, a Hong Kong company; distribution rights sold to Warners as a "first-look" option for any animation produced over the next five years
:
Rupert Murdoch purchased Star TV, the owner of Media Assets
1994:
Bluth's sixth feature, "Hans Christian Andersen's Thumbelina", released under Warner Bros. 'Family Entertainment' banner; first time sharing directorial credit with Goldman; previously Goldman had received credit as co-director
1994:
Signed a long-term production deal (with Gary Goldman) with 20th Century-Fox
1995:
Last project with Pomeroy, "The Pebble and the Penguin" (no director credited); Pomeroy would later work on the Disney movies "Pocahontas" (1995) and "The Tigger Movie" (2000)
1997:
Released first animated feature made for Fox, "Anastasia"
1999:
Made "Bartok the Magnificent", a straight-to video prequel to "Anastasia"
2000:
Attempted to win over a teenage audience with the animated science fiction feature "Titan A.E.", which boasted an over-the-edge rock-and-roll score underneath the action
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Education

Brigham Young University: Provo , Utah -

Notes

Bluth gives 10 percent of his annual salary to the Mormon Church.

About leaving Disney: "We were just a group who loved animation and felt it had disintegrated into something quite inane. Walt [Disney] wasn't there and the pictures were just repeats of things he'd done. We wanted things to work there, but it's hard to reshape an old company. It's like trying to bend an old oak.

"If Walt had been alive, he would have walked out with us. We weren't doing anything there that he would have liked.

"I was never hoping to become the next Walt Disney, which is what a lot of people said when we left the studio. All we wanted to do was make the kind of animated movies that got us when we were kids. At Disney, everybody was trying to do what they thought Walt would do. Everytime you opened a cupboard, there was his picture. 'What would Walt do?' I think you need living leaders working in the current environment. Walt was gone and trying to guess for a dead man wasn't productive." --Don Bluth to Los Angeles Times, November 12, 1989

"Bluth saved the company he founded by giving it up. He and his partners--a couple of the animators who'd left Disney with him in 1979--sold off most of their stock in Don Bluth Ltd., Ireland, to keep it running by paying the salaries of their 200 employees. No longer a major shareholder, Bluth is now just one of the remaining 150 employees of the studio that bears his name." --"A Free-Agent Animator" by Joseph Gelmis in New York Newsday, March 29, 1994.

"Bluth's experiences confirm the Walt Disney Company's contention that nobody else can do animated features over the long haul because you need a bottomless pocket, a huge staff and feedback from collateral businesses. Disney's animated movies spin off theme park attractions and global licensing and merchandising of characters. And the home videos become a sort of electronic toy, earning even more money than the movie did in theaters.

"'You can make the best picture in the world, and that's only halfway there to the success part,' Bluth said he learned. 'You need a solid financial base. You need marketing. You need promotional tie-ins and licensing. And you need a distributor that doesn't treat your film like an adopted orphan. The distributors hold all the power. We just produce movies. Disney is both producer and distributor.'" --Bluth in "A Free-Agent Animator" by Joseph Gelmis in New York Newsday, March 29, 1994.

Regarding detractors (including surviving members of the Romanov family) of "Anastasia": "I'm not worried about them. There are hundreds of documentaries about the Romanovs--let them go watch them. This movie isn't intended to change history. It's mythology rooted in truth." --Bluth quoted in Philadelphia Inquirer, November 27, 1997

"It's an extremely exhilarating experience when a movie begins to come together. You start with nothing. You then hunt and peck and hunt and peck; drawings are done and drawings are thrown away. It's like birthing something. As you get closer to it, there's an amazing moment that happens, where the work starts to talk to you, it starts to tell you what it wants to become. By then, the movie is usually trying to grow and find its own shape and form. There's just an energy that gets going. By the time you see the first trailer, you find yourself saying, 'Wow this is really something!' But, it still always surprises me because, when you first start, you never think that this airplane will fly." --Bluth to Cinefantastique, June 2000

Family close complete family listing

father:
Virgil Bluth.
mother:
Emaline Bluth.
brother:
Virgil R Bluth Jr. Born in February 1934.
brother:
Frederick Lee Bluth. Born in July 1940.
sister:
Kathyleen Bluth. Born in May 1941.
brother:
Charles S Bluth. Born in October 1944.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

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