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A Conversation With The New Don Bluth

After Titan A.E.'s quick demise at the box office and the even quicker demise of Fox's state-of-the-art animation studio in Phoenix, Larry Lauria speaks with Don Bluth on his future and that of animation's.

Don smiles for the camera while Mrs Brisby (The Secret of NIMH) relaxes between takes. Courtesy of Don Bluth's Toon Talk.

Don smiles for the camera while Mrs Brisby (The Secret of NIMH) relaxes between takes. Courtesy of Don Bluth's Toon Talk.

A few months ago, I interviewed Fox Feature directors, Gary Goldman and Don Bluth for Animation World Magazine. The topic of the conversation was the upcoming release of Titan, A.E.. Part one, the interview with Gary Goldman was run in the June issue. Part two, the interview with Don Bluth, was never printed because the events which transpired at Fox Feature Animation made the interview irrelevant.

Bill Mechanic, head of the Fox Studio, and the Fox organization parted ways; Fox Feature Animation was shut down; Don Bluth and Gary Goldman were gone; and Titan, A.E. (which debuted at number five at the box office in its first weekend of release) was sent into animation oblivion.

The closure of Fox Animation has sent shockwaves throughout the industry. One major newspaper even wrote an article inferring that "2D animation was dead" ... or extremely sleepy.

Recently, I tracked down Don Bluth and Gary Goldman at the Bluth Group in Phoenix. I spoke with Don about their future plans.

Titan A.E. © 2000 Twentieth Century Fox.

Titan A.E. © 2000 Twentieth Century Fox.

Larry Lauria: How's everything going?

Don Bluth: I think it's going very, very well. For us, it's basically finding new ground to plough. What really helps us is the contacts we've made over the years. Right now, I'm kind of excited -- more than I've been in a long time.

LL: Is there any particular area you are interested in pursuing -- whether it's feature animation or the Internet?

Don at work. Courtesy of Don Bluth's Toon Talk.

Don at work. Courtesy of Don Bluth's Toon Talk.

DB: It's probably a combination. I know we [Gary Goldman] will stay in the feature business. We do have a couple of things we are developing. Foremost, is a Dragon's Lair feature -- which we have been scripting now for maybe six months. It's a comedy and very funny. So we're pursuing that right now with everything we've got.

LL:

Gary Goldman mentioned something about lessons?

DB: I'm going to go out on the road. I'm going to go to Los Angeles, Chicago and New York starting the first three weeks in November. I'm going to do some seminars out there, but, they're not quite a seminar. They have a lot of stuff in them. It's more like -- a little show -- like a musical show. I talk about all the things I've learned in animation and things that I think might help other people who are the future of animation. I'm going to do that for three months and see what happens. If it works really well, and I understand what the audience is trying to learn, I will use it as a precursor to go online and do classes on the Internet.

Dragon's Lair. ©1983 Bluth Group Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Dragon's Lair. ©1983 Bluth Group Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

LL: Who would it be directed toward -- students in junior high, high school and college?

DB:

Yes, students, all of the above. People who are aspiring to be in animation. There will be two Websites, DonBluth.com, and in a few weeks, Toontalk.com. Toontalk is more like the instructional area. It is where we concentrate on the learning experience, the teaching. There will be a room in Toontalk, where, if you join that room -- which will cost you a monthly fee -- it's the Academy of Animation. There we will do most of the lessons and show most of what we are doing. Hopefully, we will be able to stream a lot of animation. You can see it live, respond live and ask questions live.

LL: Have you had much feedback regarding The New York Times article?

DB: Not a lot.

LL: Have you seen it?

DB: No.

LL: They kind of made it sound like 2D animation was dead. I don't know if you read that...

DB: What do you think? Is it?

LL: Oh no, I don't think it is at all.

DB: Do you know anyone doing it?

LL:

Anyone doing what...2D?

DB: Yes, 2D.

LL: Not strictly 2D! I think it's one of those things where you use the right tool for the right job. Sometimes the 3D stuff works really well, but I don't think you get the exaggeration, or at least, I haven't seen the exaggeration in the 3D stuff that you can get with the 2D.

DB: Well you know, when it all comes down to it, it probably has to do with what the audience will pay a ticket to see. What they're willing to pay a ticket to see nowadays, seems to be either Disney -- which a lot of it is 2D -- or 3D animation. If you look at the history just recently, the pictures that have been pulling in box office -- we're talking about Antz, A Bug's Life, Toy Story 1 & 2, Dinosaurs. All those are pulling in money. Talk about the 2D animated films that have been out there, like Iron Giant, Prince Of Egypt, Titan...all the 2D films are not really pulling in the money, so I imagine that is where The New York Times is getting the idea.

LL: Well, they really made it sound like a very dire situation for anyone who does 2D animation.

DB: If you were to stand up right now, Larry, at a podium and tell everyone there's a great future in 2D animation -- exactly how would you sell your case?

LL: I'd say, if you want to do the 3D stuff, you have to learn the 2D stuff, first.

DB: Correct! But they say, 'I don't want to do the 3D stuff. I want to do the 2D stuff.' Can you build a case?

LL: I actually think -- and this may change in the next couple of years depending on the bandwidths of the Internet -- that the Internet can be a great place for 2D animation.

DB: That's where I have arrived myself! But that's the only place I can see it for now. Although I think it goes with the trends and eventually 2D will probably swing back and become popular again. Everybody will watch 3D animation until they get tired of it and then they'll say, 'Oh, let's look for something that's a relief from this.' But it's probably going to be a little while.

Right now, we are not on top. 2D is not on top. It's definitely 3D on top! Even if you look at the signs -- what did Fox just do? They put their 2D studio out of business and invested -- invested a lot of money -- building a whole new studio with a three picture deal in New York to do 3D animation.

LL: What do you think of the animation art form today?

DB: A lot of the animation that I see nowadays, in 3D and 2D, is very stiff-looking to me. It doesn't look very fluid and it definitely doesn't have the "soul" in it. It looks like it moves about, but that's the extent of it. I really don't see a great artistry there right now. Maybe this has happened as a reaction to all the studios entering the business. It's turning into an industry instead of an art -- where everything is measured in terms of time and money. The artist's part somehow got eclipsed in the middle of all of that.

Space Ace. ©1983 Bluth Group Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Space Ace. ©1983 Bluth Group Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

LL: Will the Bluth Group develop other properties besides Dragon's Lair and Space Ace?

DB: Yes.

LL: You said in The Times article, you were bound and determined to do your own characters from now on.

DB: You know what? The business hasn't worked out that way. I've always tried to protect the employees. To protect them, you really have to give everything away.

And this is definitely true: if you're not in the distribution business, you're not in the motion picture business. And if you think you are going to be an independent animator and go out there and form your own company and be independent -- and make money at it -- you've got a great realization coming at you.

The only way it could happen is if you get into the distribution business -- which could be the NET! You could possibly distribute something on the Net, even a motion picture. If people have the ability to have it streamed to their TV sets, if that happens, you can by-pass the major studios and you can get your own picture distributed...THEN YOU ARE IN THE BUSINESS!! As long as you have to go to the major studios and have to ask them if they will give you a distribution deal to get to the theatres -- they will take everything that you have and you will get nothing.

Layout artist Larry Leeker listens while Director/Producer Don Bluth explains some finer points in laying out the scenes for The Secret Of NIMH. Courtesy of Don Bluth's Toon Talk.

Layout artist Larry Leeker listens while Director/Producer Don Bluth explains some finer points in laying out the scenes for The Secret Of NIMH. Courtesy of Don Bluth's Toon Talk.

LL: What will you do when your next project is ready to go into production? Will the Bluth Group become an independent studio?

DB: It is right now! When we go into production, we will go in under our terms or we won't make the film. We have two projects in the works right now besides Dragon's Lair. Both of the parties involved have agreed that if we can't get the distribution deal we want then we will go to the Web. By the time we finish a picture (in two years), the Web will be fully capable for the distribution of feature films.

LL: Are a lot of folks from the former Fox Studio waiting for your projects?

DB: The "folks" -- as you put it -- are gone.

LL: What will you do?

DB: You just start over. You go out and find young talent who are interested in doing animation, you bring them into the mix and train them. I mean, that's what Gary and I have done most of our careers anyway -- is train people. So, you train them, and then you take another shot at making a feature. Only this time, hopefully, you just don't throw the feature at the studio, you go out a little differently in your distribution process.

Fox laid off three hundred or so of the three hundred-and-eighty people at the studio a full year before Titan was released.

Titan A.E. © 2000 Twentieth Century Fox.

Titan A.E. © 2000 Twentieth Century Fox.

LL: So you had about seventy people left, correct?

DB: That's right, there's no way in the world they could have made a feature with seventy people. A year ago everyone should have known that it was over...with Fox it was over.

It's very weird because all the people who make a picture put their hearts into their disks. They work really hard, and they think, "We're really going to make something really wonderful." They tried so hard. Then, the ruthless part of this is, the people who have control of the distribution - that's the ruthless part.

LL: I used to tell my students, don't ever forget that it's a business.

DB: Yes, but they will...

LL: Where do you see yourself in a year?

DB:

Within a year, funded and building a feature again.

Don Bluth.

Don Bluth.

LL: What do you say to the Don Bluth and Gary Goldman fans out there?

DB: I think animation [2D] is here to stay. I don't think it'll go out of fashion entirely. But the only way to stay in the feature animation business -- is to be sure that there's a market for it. The only place I know where you can support that market, is probably on the Net. The world will change within the next year and there will be a lot of things going on the Net.

The best thing about animation to me is that it [both 2D and 3D] requires that you find the most exciting ideas and things going on inside of your own self and figure out a way to get those ideas out through an exit portal -- through the end of your pencil -- so that it makes some sort of statement, so that you're not just animating an assignment within a studio. Lots of times at a studio, a film is made by committee, and the committee endeavor is not very good. Although they say there were two directors on Titan, I'd say there were twenty. With that many people, you don't get the best artistic endeavor.

Animation will not go away -- but you need to school yourself, educate yourself, and in educating yourself make sure you have something to say.

LL: Thanks for your time Don.

DB: You're welcome.

Join Larry Lauria in his "Animation Tools and Techniques" discussion forum now!

Larry Lauria is an animator/educator with 25 years in the industry. When not working on his current millennium animation project, 2KJ, Larry keeps himself busy working as a freelance animator and classical animation instructor. He can also be found designing animation curricula, or traveling around the world giving animation workshops and master classes. His Website "The Toon Institute" is part of the AWN family.

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