Donald Virgil Bluth (; born September 13, 1937) is an American film director
, production designer
, video game designer
, and animation instructor, best known for his animated films, including ''The Secret of NIMH
'' (1982), ''An American Tail
'' (1986), ''The Land Before Time
'' (1988), ''All Dogs Go to Heaven
'' (1989), ''Anastasia
'' (1997), and ''Titan A.E.
'' (2000), for his involvement in the LaserDisc
game ''Dragon's Lair
'' (1983), and for competing with former employer Walt Disney Productions
during the years leading up to the films that became the Disney Renaissance
. He is the older brother of illustrator Toby Bluth
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 afterwards 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 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
. 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
'', and ''The Rescuers
'', and directed animation on ''Pete's Dragon
''. His last involvement with Disney was the 1978 short ''The Small One
''. Then he made and produced his first own 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, along with Gary Goldman
, John Pomeroy
, and nine 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, 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). 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 the modest gross 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 1981, he, Rick Dyer
, Goldman, and Pomeroy started the Bluth Group and created the arcade game
'', 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 (none of which had any involvement from Bluth or Spielberg).
Bluth ended his working relationship 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) Although ''All Dogs Go To Heaven'' only had moderate theatrical success, it was highly successful in its release to home video. 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 all 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
the three key ingredients in the big Disney hits: action, romance, and music." ''Anastasia'' established 20th Century Fox
as a Disney competitor until 2019.
Despite the success of ''Anastasia,'' Bluth resumed his string of box office failures with ''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
''. Bluth plans for the film to provide more backstory for Dirk and Daphne and show that she is not a "blonde airhead". The Kickstarter funding was canceled when not enough funds had been 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; the total exceeded $728,000.
On March 26, 2020, it was announced that a live-action ''Dragon's Lair'' film starring Ryan Reynolds
will be released on Netflix
later in the year. Bluth will be listed as a producer.
On September 11, 2020, it was announced that Bluth had launched a new animation studio called Don Bluth Studios with animator and vice president of the company Lavalle Lee, founder of traditionalanimation.com. His goal is to bring a "renaissance of hand-drawn animation", in the belief that there is an audience demand for it. His first project is called ''Bluth's Fables'', an anthology of short stories written, narrated, and drawn by Bluth. The stories will stylistically resemble Aesop's Fables
and nursery rhyme
s. The studio's productions will be live-streamed first, and then uploaded to YouTube
. ''Bluth's Fables'' is done with pencil tests and then traced and colored in Clip Studio Paint
Throughout Don Bluth's career, there were many projects that ended up unproduced or unfinished due to studio closures, Bluth's severed partnership with Steven Spielberg, or the video game crash of 1983
. Many art designs, filmed animation tests and videos of these unfinished projects still circulate online.
The earliest of Bluth's unfinished film projects is a Disney ''Pied Piper of Hamelin
'' short film from the early 1970s.
After ''The Secret of NIMH
'', Bluth began developing an animated feature film adaptation of ''Beauty and the Beast
''. While a few scenes were produced in 1984, the film's production was canceled when Don Bluth and the film's distributor Columbia
heard the news of Disney
beginning work on their own animated adaptation
. Don Bluth Productions also 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 production at the time of its cancellation. Following Don Bluth's partnership with Steven Spielberg, 1986's ''An American Tail
'' was released as Bluth's second film instead. During production of ''East of the Sun and West of the Moon'', Bluth also animated a demo reel
of ''Jawbreaker'', a proposed television series by Phil Mendez of a boy who finds a magical tooth.
The series however, was not greenlit.
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 CG
. Had the movie been made, it would have predated the ground-breaking 1995 Pixar film ''Toy Story
'' by about eight years. The project fell through when surviving Beatles members denied permission to use their images in the animated film. Only a scene of test footage featuring a group of "Beatle's gangsters" survives.
Two more films were planned during Bluth's partnership with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. The first film was an animated adaptation of ''The Velveteen Rabbit
'', a story about an abandoned toy rabbit in pursuit of its child owner. The second film was ''Satyrday'', based on a story by Steven Bauer about a young boy in a fantasy world who defends the moon and sun from evil forces. Some of the film's concepts were later realised as the 2014 French animated film ''Mune: Guardian of the Moon
''.. After his partnership with Spielberg ended, Bluth began planning another film titled ''The Little Blue Whale'' with Carolco Pictures
. The planned film was about a little girl and her animal friends who try to protect a little whale from evil whalers. The project was abandoned by Carolco after the commercial and critical failure of their first animated film ''Pound Puppies and the Legend of Big Paw
Other unrealised projects also included plans for a 1994 animated short film centered around a magical talking pencil starring Dom DeLuise
, animated film adaptations of the books ''Deep Wizardry
'', ''Quintaglio Ascension
'', ''The Belgariad
'', and ''The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
''. The latter productions were canceled following the box office failure of ''Titan A.E.
'' and subsequent closure of Fox Animation Studios
. In 2005, a live-action film of the same name
was released by Touchstone Pictures
Following the success of ''Dragon's Lair
'' in 1983, Don Bluth and Cinematronics
began plans for seven more arcade games: "The Sea Beast", "Jason and the Golden Fleece", "Devil's Island", "Haywire", "Drac", "Cro Magnon", and "Sorceress". Due to the budgeting issues and the 1983 video game crash
, these projects were abandoned. The sequel to ''Dragon's Lair'', ''Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp
'', would be shelved until its eventual release in 1991.
planned a video game adaptation of ''Titan A.E.'' to be released for the PlayStation
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'' development are some concept drawings.
A project called ''Pac-Man Adventures'' was originally planned in partnership with Namco
around 2003, but 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.
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. , 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.
Bluth and Goldman continued to work in video games and were hired to create the in-game cinematics for Namco
'', released in 2003.
In 2004, Bluth did the animation for the music video "Mary
", by the Scissor Sisters
. The band contacted Bluth after having recalled fond memories of the sequence from ''Xanadu
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 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 Boulevard in Scottsdale and converted it into a small theater.
* ''Piper'', an animated short film that is based on the famous ''Pied Piper of Hamelin
'' story. While the production for the short was canceled, a clip of an animation drawing is shown online.*
* ''East of the Sun and West of the Moon
'', An animated film that was going to be made after ''The Secret of NIMH'', but production was canceled when Don Bluth Productions became Sullivan Bluth Studios.*
* ''The Velveteen Rabbit
'', one of the animated films that Don Bluth was going to work with Steven Spielberg
on, where it is an animation adaptation of the story of a toy rabbit trying to become a real rabbit after his beloved human child owner is forced to abandon him.*
* ''Star Baby'', another animated film that Don Bluth was going to work with Steven Spielberg
on. No info on this unmade film has been found yet, but was hinted to be an outer space adventure like movie.*
* ''Satyrday'', another animated film that Don Bluth was going to make with Steven Spielberg
and George Lucas
on. Based on the story by Steven Bauer where a young boy in a fantasy world goes on a quest to get the moon back and save the sun from evil forces. Some of the film's concepts latter went into the French animated film ''Mune: Guardian of the Moon
* ''The Little Blue Whale'', an animated film about a little girl and her animal friends try to protect a little whale from evil whalers. But was canceled by its co-production studio Carolco Pictures
after the commercial and critically failure of its first animated film ''Pound Puppies and the Legend of Big Paw
* ''Kandu: Song of the Ice Whale'', Another animated feature film that involves whales but more of a discovery experience through a whale's eye with a beautiful score and narration. While storyboards were made in 1991, the film's production was canceled due to problems with studios and Don Bluth was working on other productions in the 1990s.
* ''The Magic Pencils'', a canceled animated short film that was going to be about magical talking pencils starring Dom DeLuise
* ''Jawbreaker'', a TV mini-series of a boy finds a magical tooth, while a video showed a clip of what the show is.“Jawbreaker” Story
/ref> The mini-series' production was shut down when Don Bluth started Fox Animation Studios.
Canceled video games
* ''The Sea Beast and Barnacle Bill'', a video game in the same style as ''Dragon's Lair'' and ''Space Ace'', where a 1940s sailor named Barnacle Bill tries to rescue a mermaid princess from a nasty sea beast.
* ''Jason and the Golden Fleece'', another video game in the same style as ''Dragon's Lair'' and ''Space Ace'' that is based on the famous Greek legend Jason.
* ''Devil's Island'', where you play a shipwreck passenger trying to find treasure, rescue a jungle princess and take down a corrupt civilization.
* ''Haywire'', where you play a Charlie Chaplin like character trying to survive and escape a huge factory run by an evil business man.
* ''Drac'', where Van Helsing has to save his girlfriend from Dracula and his monster minions of evil before she becomes one of his brides.
* ''Cro Magnon'', where you play a Cro Magnon caveman as he battles vicious dinosaurs, scary creatures and an evil warlord.
* ''Sorceress'', where you control a sorceress to protect her island from temple robbers and poachers.
''* denotes works completed by Don Bluth Productions/Bluth Group, prior to the foundation of Sullivan Bluth Studios''
* Sullivan Bluth Studios
* Fox Animation Studios
* Rich Animation Studios
* John Pomeroy
* Gary Goldman
* Toby Bluth
* John Cawley, ''The Animated Films of Don Bluth'', 1991, Image Publishing,
* John Grant, ''Masters of Animation'', 2001, Watson-Guptill Publications,
The Dot Eaters entry
on Bluth and the development of ''Dragon's Lair''
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
about his influences and the making of ''Dragon's Lair''
The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum Art Database
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