Donald Virgil Bluth (//; born September 13, 1937) is an American animator, film director, producer, writer, production designer, video game designer, and animation instructor. He is known for directing animated films, including The Secret of NIMH (1982), An American Tail (1986), The Land Before Time (1988), All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989), and Anastasia (1997), and for his involvement in the LaserDisc game Dragon's Lair (1983). He is also known for competing with former employer Walt Disney Productions during the years leading up to the films that would make up the Disney Renaissance. He is the older brother of illustrator Toby Bluth.
Donald Virgil Bluth
September 13, 1937
El Paso, Texas, U.S.
|Residence||Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S.|
|Alma mater||Brigham Young University|
|Occupation||Animator, film director, producer, writer, production designer, video game designer, animation instructor|
|Employer||Walt Disney Animation Studios (1955–1957, 1971–1978)|
|Family||Toby Bluth (brother)|
Early life and Disney years
Bluth was born in El Paso, Texas, the son of Emaline (née Pratt) and Virgil Ronceal Bluth. His great-grandfather was Helaman Pratt, an early leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is of Swedish, English, Irish, Scottish, and German descent.
As a child in El Paso, he rode his horse to the town movie theater to watch Disney films; Bluth said later, "then I'd go home and copy every Disney comic book I could find". At the age of six, his family moved to Payson, Utah where he lived on a family farm. Bluth has stated that he and his siblings do not have much communication with each other as adults. In 1954, his family moved to Santa Monica, California, where he attended part of his final year of high school before returning to Utah and graduating from Springville High School. Bluth attended Brigham Young University in Utah for one year and after got a job at Walt Disney Productions. He started in 1955 as an assistant to John Lounsbery for Sleeping Beauty. In 1957 Bluth left Disney only two years after being hired. Afterward, Bluth spent two and a half years in Argentina on a mission for the LDS Church. He returned to the United States where he opened the Bluth Brothers Theater with his younger brother Fred, though he occasionally worked for Disney.
Bluth returned to college and got a degree in English Literature from Brigham Young University. Bluth returned to the animation business and joined Filmation in 1967 working on layouts for The Archies and other projects. He returned full-time to Disney in 1971 where he worked on Robin Hood, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too, The Rescuers and directing animation on Pete's Dragon. His last involvement with Disney was the 1978 short The Small One. Then he made and produced his first short film, Banjo the Woodpile Cat, which takes place in his hometown Payson, Utah during the 1940s as Banjo travels to Salt Lake City to find the urban world.
Early critical success
On his 42nd birthday in 1979, Bluth, Gary Goldman, John Pomeroy, and 9 fellow Disney animators, set out to start his own animation studio, Don Bluth Productions. He drew a few (uncredited) scenes for The Fox and the Hound but left early in production. Bluth was disheartened with the way the Disney company was run. He wanted to revive the classical animation style of the studio's early classics. To this end, his 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 film was The Secret of NIMH (1982), an adaptation of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, the 1972 Newbery Medal winner. Bluth employed 160 animators during the production and agreed to the first profit sharing contract in the animation industry. Though only a moderate success in the box office, the movie received critical acclaim. Later, with the home video release and cable showings, it became a cult classic. Nevertheless, due to its modest box office take, and an industry-wide animation strike, Don Bluth Productions filed for bankruptcy.
His next film would have been an animated version of the Norwegian folk tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon but was never made when the financial resources were drawn back.
In 1983, he, Rick Dyer, Goldman and Pomeroy started the Bluth Group and created the groundbreaking arcade game Dragon's Lair, which let the player control an animated-cartoon 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, but he also supplied the voice of the villain, Borf. Work on a Dragon's Lair sequel was underway when the video arcade business crashed. Bluth's studio was left without a source of income and the Bluth Group filed for bankruptcy on March 1, 1985. A sequel called Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp was made in 1991, but it was rarely seen in arcades.
In 1985, Bluth, Pomeroy, and Goldman established, with businessman Morris Sullivan, the Sullivan Bluth Studios. It initially operated from an animation facility in Van Nuys, California, but later moved to Dublin, Ireland, to take advantage of government investment and incentives. Sullivan Bluth Studios also helped boost animation as an industry within Ireland. Bluth and his colleagues taught an animation course at Ballyfermot Senior College.
Affiliation with Steven Spielberg
Teaming up with producer Steven Spielberg, Bluth's next project was An American Tail (1986), which at the time of its release became the highest grossing non-Disney animated film of all time, grossing $45 million in the United States and over $84 million worldwide. The second Spielberg-Bluth collaboration The Land Before Time (1988) did even better in theaters and both found a successful life on home video. The main character in An American Tail (Fievel Mouskewitz) became the mascot for Amblimation while The Land Before Time was followed by thirteen direct-to-video sequels.
Bluth broke with Spielberg before his next film, All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989). (Bluth was not involved with the Spielberg-produced An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, released in 1991, nor with any of the numerous subsequent sequels to his other films.) Although All Dogs Go To Heaven only had moderate theatrical success, it was highly successful in its release to home video. Like The Land Before Time, The Secret of NIMH, and An American Tail, All Dogs Go to Heaven was followed by related projects, none of which involved Bluth and his studio. He also directed films, such as Rock-a-Doodle (1992), Thumbelina (1994), A Troll in Central Park (1994) and The Pebble and the Penguin (1995), which were critical and box office failures.
Work at Fox Animation Studios
Bluth scored a hit with Anastasia (1997), produced at Fox Animation Studios in Phoenix, Arizona, which grossed nearly US $140 million worldwide. In a positive review of the movie, critic Roger Ebert observed that its creators "consciously include[d] the three key ingredients in the big Disney hits: action, romance, and music." Anastasia established 20th Century Fox as a Disney competitor.
Despite the success of Anastasia, Bluth resumed his string of box office failures with the post-apocalyptic space adventure Titan A.E. (2000), which made less than $37 million worldwide despite an estimated $75 million budget. In 2000, 20th Century Fox Studios shut down the Fox Animation Studio facility in Phoenix, making Titan A.E. the last traditionally animated film released by 20th Century Fox in theaters until the release of 2007's The Simpsons Movie.
Return to animation
On October 26, 2015, Bluth and Goldman started a Kickstarter campaign in hopes of resurrecting hand-drawn animation by creating an animated feature-length film of Dragon's Lair. The Kickstarter funding was canceled when not enough funds were made close to the deadline, but an Indiegogo page for the project was created in its place. On December 14, 2015, the Indiegogo campaign reached its goal of $250,000, 14 days after the campaign launched, and got more than twice the budget on January 16, 2016. As of June 2016, the campaign had raised $604,108 and as of February 2018 the total exceeded $728,000.
An animated short film based on the Pied Piper of Hamelin story was in development, entering pre-production in the early 1970s. Art designs and works were created for the film, but ended up being abandoned for unknown reasons. Some of the artwork can be found online.
In the early 1980s, Bluth Productions started production work on an animated feature film entitled East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Ultimately, the film was never made due to a loss of financial backing, even though the film was heavily into post-production at the time of its cancellation. They decided to make An American Tail as its 2nd animated film, starting production in December 1984 and released in November 1986.
After acquiring the rights to The Beatles' songs in the mid-1980s, Michael Jackson approached Bluth with a movie idea called Strawberry Fields Forever. The film would have had animated Fantasia-style vignettes featuring Beatles songs, similar to Yellow Submarine. Not only did Don Bluth agree to it, he also planned on making it entirely in CGI. Had the movie been made, it would have predated the ground-breaking 1995 Pixar film Toy Story by about eight years. From deep within production of the project, the premise became revamped so that characters from Beatles songs (like Mr. Mustard and the Walrus) would act as New York City gangsters. Among other reasons, the main reason why the project fell through was because the surviving Beatles members denied permission to use their images in the animated film. The only surviving part of the film was test footage of the "Beatles gangsters.
Bluth was in production for an animated feature film that involves whales but more of a discovery experience through a whale's eye with a beautiful score and narration. While scenes were made in 1991, the film's production was canceled due to problems with studios, resulting in Don Bluth working on other productions.
Blitz Games planned a video game adaptation of Bluth's Titan A.E. to be released for the PlayStation and PC in Fall 2000 in North America, following the film's summer release. Development on both platforms had begun in March 1999 under the film's original title Planet Ice, and an early playable version was showcased at the 2000 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. In July 2000, a spokesman from the game's publisher Fox Interactive, announced that development on the title had been halted largely due to the film's poor box office performance which was "only one of many different factors" that led to its cancellation.
A sequel to the 2003 game I-Ninja was planned, which had input from Bluth. Work on the sequel started soon after the first game's release, but its studio Argonaut Games had some economic problems and eventually closed down in October 2004. The few aspects remaining from I-Ninja 2's development are some concept drawings.
Originally planned to have worked on in partnership with Namco around 2003. The project called Pac Man Adventures was scrapped due to financial problems on Namco's part leading to their merger with Bandai in 2007 and whatever development assets were left over was made into Pac Man World 3 with no involvement from Bluth.
On March 4, 2015, Deadline Hollywood reported that MGM had re-acquired the film rights to produce a new film based on the original novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. The film would have been produced by Bluth and the team of Daniel Bobker and Ehren Kruger, with screenplay by Ice Age series writer Michael Berg. It was planned as a CGI/live action hybrid "à la The Smurfs and Alvin and the Chipmunks", and would have been "an origin story in which an imperiled mouse protagonist befriends a comical crew of lab rats as they turn hyper-intelligent. They escape a secret laboratory and become the great minds of vermin civilization, forced to outwit the humans hot on their tails." The studio planned to turn the novel into a family franchise. In April 2019, the Russo brothers signed on as producers for the remake.
In the 1980s a film version of Dragon's Lair was planned, with Alan Dean Foster involved in shaping the story. The project fell apart due to low interest from other studios. On October 26, 2015, Bluth and Goldman started a Kickstarter campaign to create a teaser for an animated feature-length Dragon's Lair prequel film, their first feature film since Titan A.E. The Kickstarter funding was canceled when not enough funds were made close to the deadline, but an Indiegogo page for the project was created in its place. On December 14, 2015, the Indiegogo campaign reached its goal of $250,000 to produce a teaser, 14 days after the campaign launched, and got more than twice the budget on January 16, 2016. Bluth and Goldman have announced that the film will provide more backstory for Dirk and Daphne and that Daphne will show that she is not a "blonde airhead". Since then, there have been no further production news.
In 2002, Bluth and video game company Ubisoft developed the video game Dragon's Lair 3D: Return to the Lair, an attempt to recreate the feel of the original Dragon's Lair LaserDisc game in a more interactive, three-dimensional environment. Reviews were mixed, with critics both praising and panning the controls and storyline. However, the visuals were noteworthy, using groundbreaking cel-shading techniques that lent the game a hand-animated feel. As of 2012, Don Bluth and Gary Goldman were seeking funding for a film version of Dragon's Lair. After apparently sitting in development for over a decade, the project raised over $570,000 via a successful crowdfunding campaign in January 2016.
In 2009, Bluth was asked to produce storyboards for, and to direct, the 30-minute Saudi Arabian festival film Gift of the Hoopoe. He ultimately had little say in the animation and content of the film and asked that he not be credited as the director or producer. Nonetheless, he was credited as the director, possibly to improve the film's sales by attaching his name.
On February 3, 2011, it was announced that Bluth and his game development company Square One Studios were working with Warner Bros. Digital Distribution to develop a modern reinterpretation of the 1983 arcade classic Tapper, titled Tapper World Tour.
As an author
Bluth has authored a series of books for students of animation: 2004's The Art of Storyboard, and 2005's The Art of Animation Drawing.
As an educator
In early 2009, Bluth launched his website in which he focuses on animation education through video tutorials, short films, and live video seminars.
As a theater director
In the 1990s, Bluth began hosting youth theater productions in the living room of his Scottsdale, Arizona home. As the popularity of these productions grew and adults expressed their wishes to become involved, Bluth formed an adult and youth theatre troupe called Don Bluth Front Row Theatre. The troupe's productions were presented in Bluth's home until 2012, when their administrative team leased a space off Shea Blvd in Scottsdale and converted it into a small theater.
|Sleeping Beauty||1959||No||No||No||Yes||assistant animator|
|The Sword in the Stone||1963||No||No||No||Yes||assistant animator|
|Journey Back to Oz||1972||No||No||No||Yes||layout artist|
|Robin Hood||1973||No||No||No||Yes||character animator|
|Escape to Witch Mountain||1975||No||No||No||Yes||animator: titles|
|The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh||1977||No||No||No||Yes||animator|
|The Rescuers||1977||Yes||No||No||Yes||directing animator|
|Pete's Dragon||1977||Yes||No||No||Yes||animation director|
|Xanadu||1980||No||No||No||Yes||animator: animation sequence unit|
|The Fox and the Hound||1981||No||No||No||Yes||animator|
|The Secret of NIMH||1982||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||story adaptation / layout artist / visual development|
|An American Tail||1986||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||production desinger / storyboard artist / title designer|
|The Land Before Time||1988||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||production desinger / storyboard artist|
|All Dogs Go to Heaven||1989||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||story / production desinger / storyboard artist|
|Rock-a-Doodle||1991||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||story / storyboard artist|
|A Troll in Central Park||1994||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||story|
|The Pebble and the Penguin||1995||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Bartok the Magnificent||1999||Yes||Yes||No||No||direct-to-video|
|Lost and Foundation||1970||No||No||No||Yes||layout artist|
|Train Terrain||1971||No||No||No||Yes||layout artist|
|Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too||1974||No||No||Yes||Yes||story / animator|
|The Small One||1978||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||animator|
|Banjo the Woodpile Cat (for television)||1979||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||screenplay / animator|
|Scissor Sisters - "Mary" (music video)||2004||Yes||No||No||Yes||animation director|
|Gift of the Hoopoe||2009||Yes||No||No||Yes||nominally director / storyboard artist|
|Fantastic Voyage||1968-1969||layout artist||17 episodes|
|The Archie Show||1969||production desinger||special episode Archie and His New Pals|
|Sabrina, the Teenage Witch||1969-1972||layout artist||58 episodes|
|Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down||1970||layout artist||episode "Computer Suitor"|
|Groovie Goolies||1970||layout artist||16 episodes|
|Space Ace||1983||Yes||Yes||Yes||game designer|
|Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp||1991||Yes||Yes||No|
|Dragon's Lair 3D: Return to the Lair||2002||Yes||Yes||Yes||intro and ending: animation director / background artist|
|I-Ninja||2003||Yes||No||Yes||cinematics: director / storyboard artist|
|Tapper World Tour||2011||No||No||Yes||animator|
- Bendazzi, Giannalberto (October 2015). "A Cat in the Heavy Traffic". Animation: A World History: Volume II: The Birth of a Style - The Three Markets. CRC Press. ISBN 9781317519904.
Among the directors of feature films, Don Bluth is noteworthy. Born in El Paso, Texas, on 13 September 1937, Bluth went to Disney in 1956 (...).
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The film developed a cult following which only increased with easy access via video and cable showings.
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That failure [of Secret of NIMH] caused Aurora to back out of producing Bluth's next film, East of the Sun, West of the Moon.
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This game ranks a 24 on a scale out of 100 (100 = most often seen, 1=least common) in popularity based on census ownership records.
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- "Content Pro".
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- Official website
- Don Bluth's channel on YouTube
- Don Bluth on IMDb
- The Dot Eaters entry on Bluth and the development of Dragon's Lair
- Remembering NIMH An interview with Don Bluth Studios about the making of The Secret of NIMH
- Don Bluth & Gary Goldman: Long-running Fun An interview with Don Bluth and Gary Goldman
- Don Bluth Interview Part 1 and Part 2 about his influences and the making of Dragon's Lair
- Don Bluth Biography at Cataroo.com