A Look Into the Magical World of Don Bluth Productions
For animator extraordinaire Don Bluth, what became a flourishing career and lifelong passion all started with one film: Snow White. At a young age, Bluth was captivated by the vibrant colors, vivid details and compelling story behind the film, absorbing every last detail. Even as he grew older and attended high school and college, the animation bug never seemed to leave him. Finally, Bluth decided to take a leap of faith and applied to Disney Studios. He worked at Disney for one year before heading back to school, but soon returned and went on to work for Disney for the next nine years. During that time, Bluth learned from the masters of animation, worked on classics like Sleeping Beauty, and found inspiration from the legend himself, Walt Disney. After leaving Disney, he went on to create his own animation studio, Don Bluth Productions. Over the years, the studio has produced best-loved classics such as The Secret of NIMH, The Land Before Time, An American Tail and Anastasia, all of which bring characters to life with exquisitely rendered detail, while also providing an underlying inspirational message. In addition, Bluth animated video games such as Dragon’s Lair, founded the Front Row Theatre in Scottsdale and hosts animation workshops.
When did you know that you wanted to do animation as a career?
I didn’t really know it as a child when I saw my first animated film, but I knew that there was something about the animation that just pulled me towards it. And I think that I was probably born to do animation because I knew at 4 years old that was what I was going to do. I knew back then that I was very attracted to animation, and there was a name that kept being said: that name was Walt Disney. I knew from then on that I wanted to meet him and go work for him.
Can you briefly describe your scope of work in animation?
Well my forte is in drawing, so as a director— I have directed a lot of animated films now—what I usually do is draw the way to go. The way I approach drawing is by starting with the story, the script is everything, so I start with that. I’m a storyboard artist, so I go through and I depict little pictures as clearly as I can about what you are going to see on the screen when it’s all done. I’ve always drawn, my whole life long, and that’s one of the things that I like most about animation.
If you are trying to tell a story that’s an hour-and-a-half long, you have to believe that the characters are real, and that they feel, and that they have something they are after. My role in that process has always been to direct and guide through drawing. I know that during Walt Disney’s reign in the animation world, he brought so many beautiful pictures to life that affected people’s lives and actually formed a lot of the way they thought. So there’s something about the medium that I think is just very inspirational.
Where do you find inspiration for your works?
I find inspiration in real life because it’s all around us. I think that’s the right way to do it, too, because if someone sitting in the audience is watching a character that represents someone from real life, they can identify. So this great parade of humanity that’s around us all the time; that can inspire you.
What led you to break away from Disney and create Don Bluth Productions?
I think what happened was that I saw the films themselves loosing quality after Walt’s passing. It started to look like we were telling the same story over and over again, and then the company started taking out all the special effects that made the animation so beautiful—because when animation is done right, it’s just beautiful. So at that same time, I was trying to learn how to be a really good animator, and maybe a director, but really didn’t know how. So a group of co-workers and I went to my garage after work one day and said lets make a picture, and we started making a short picture; that was how Banjo the Woodpile Cat was created. However, by then we knew enough about animation and it began to feel like having clothes that were too tight, so we needed to move on. Our first picture on our own was The Secret of NIMH.
What has been your favorite project so far?
My favorite project, well there’s actually two. One of them was The Secret of NIMH because it was brand new and we were fresh, innocent and really excited and enthusiastic. The next one was working with Steven Spielberg on An American Tail; that was really great and there are countless stories behind the making of that film.
What still makes you so passionate about animation today?
The whole experience has just been nothing but positive. What I think is the most wonderful thing is that as a child I had the dream of doing it, and as an adult I actually did it. I think of so many people around me that I know who dream dreams but never get to see them. If people could just have their dreams come true then maybe they would be different, and maybe the world would be a different place. It says it in the musical South Pacific, that if you don’t have a dream then you’ll never have a dream come true. So that dream is really important to your happiness, and I think that is so important.
I also think it’s about the spirit of creativity. It’s about inspiring people with a piece of entertainment that can make them have a dream; that can make them actually go out and do what they have to do to be happy. I think that each of us was born with a talent, a song that you need to sing, and if you never get a chance to sing that song the world’s a little less luminous.
You also founded the Front Row Theatre. What inspired you to do that?
I’ve actually been doing theatre pretty much the whole time, —animation is theatre—and this particular theatre that I have here in Scottsdale is fairly new. Before moving to this space, I did theatre in my home for nine years, and we had 45 seats in there and always did full blown plays. So for nine years we did theatre in my living room, until I finally said lets go find a building, and two years ago the Front Row Theatre opened. Since then, it has really grown and has gotten really great—we now have 70 seats and those are starting to fill up every time we do a show, which we have five nights a week with musicals on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Why are we doing it? We are doing it to make people smile and hopefully to inspire them with great works.
Connect with Don Bluth at DonBluthFrontRowTheatre.com