Sunday, September 13, 2015

Double Anniversary

On this date in 1979, Don Bluth resigned his position in the Feature Animation department of Walt Disney Productions and went off to make The Secret of NIMH with one third of the Disney animation staff, who left with him. (A few years later, Don and many of those former Disneyites made The Land Before Time, pictured above.)

Don Bluth's exit happened on Don's 42nd birthday. ...

I trained under Don Bluth. For the first three-plus months I worked at the studio in 1976 and early 1977, he was the boss to whom I reported.

I found Don to be a talented guy. He was a good animator, a good layout artist and draftsman, and there was nobody who could stand up in front of a group of young artists and inspire them with a passionate speech about the glories and possibilities of animation like he could.

At the time he exited, the department was split into two camps. There was a group of artists who thought Don was a great leader and the future maker of great animated films. Then there was a group of animators and designers, many of them recent graduates of Cal Arts, who thought he was many things, but not the guy who should run the Disney animation department.

His departure took Disney management completely by surprise. They had no idea that he was walking out, and that he was leaving with so much staff. All of a sudden key personnel were saying sayonara, and there were production deadlines to meet!

But Mr. Bluth wanted to be his own man and creative force, and that's why, I think, he left the studio. It put the release date of "The Fox and the Hound" back a year, and caused at least one middle manager's head to roll, but life, ultimately, went on.

And Don went on as well, making over a dozen animated features, more than any Disney competitor before or since. And lots of big talents who are now pillars of the cartoon business saw their careers launched at one or another of the studios Don led after his career at Disney.

So maybe, all things being equal, Don going off to chart his own course on that Fall day in 1979, was a pretty good thing after all. For everybody.


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