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Parts of The Don Bluth Archive Are Viewable Online

In 2005, Don Bluth and producing partner Gary Goldman donated their animation archives to Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). The substantial collection includes all the artwork they had saved beginning with Banjo the Woodpile Cat in 1979, as well as administrative and legal documents, scripts, unproduced concepts and publicity materials.

SCAD is currently on a years-long mission to process and catalog the material so that it will be accessible to researchers and students. They’ve posted a generous sampling of the materials on the Don Bluth Collection website including pencil tests from Space Ace, storyboards from The Secret of NIMH, and character designs from Thumbelina. Even if you’re like me, and find Bluth’s work to be mechanical and generic, it’s hard to deny the immense value of preserving an archive of this scale and making it available to future generations.

(via Michael Sporn’s Splog)

  • Scott550

    I’d rather look at some of this work than watch any of his awful cartoons! Except for rock-a-doodle, which crossed the line from just bad to truly, classically, hilariously AWFUL.

  • Yeah, SCAD takes great pride on their Don Bluth collection.
    I’ve never known anyone to call Bluth’s work “mechanical” before, but to each his own.

    • AmidAmidi

      The mechanical quality to which I refer to is that I’ve never felt Bluth’s drawings exhibit any thinking or feeling in them. There is immense technical knowledge in the drawings, but little that reveals the artist responsible for the drawings.

      • I found in watching Thumbelina (which I’m not saying was a particularly good movie…), there were many artistic “signatures” in the movement. Particularly in the similarity between the movement of Thumbelina’s hands and face and Anastassia’s. There’s certainly a clear style which I, in some ways, find to be more malleable and emotive than many Disney movies. (Though I’m not saying Thumbelina was a particularly good movie. It’s just that I didn’t think it’s downfall was the animation. I think the problems were with music, character design, and plot.)

        • Scott550

          it was all rotoscope, and not particularly good rotoscope at that. The animation in that cartoon was particularly awful throughout. Charo the dancing frog with big cans? And thumbelina was more of a man than the prince.

          • D. Strong

            It was NOT all rotoscope and i find your slanderous remark appallingly offensive.

      • Funkybat

        I feel like there are two eras of Bluth films. The early stuff, NIMH, Dragon’s Lair, up through All Dogs Go To Heaven are well animated and largely entertaining. Later on in the 90s almost everything coming from Bluth seemed to be technically polished but very rotoscope-reliant to the point of losing the essence of life that all traditional animators strive for. It was almost a 2D version of the “uncanny valley.” It didn’t help that most of the stories were forgettable or worse.

        The music video Bluth did for the Scissor Sisters managed to capture much of the early spark of his Dragon’s Lair/Space Ace-era work, so he’s still got it in him, it’s just disappointing how dry the 90s films felt.

      • Patrick C

        I find it truly astonishing that you poke at Bluth for “Mechanical qualities” (agreed, mind you) yet you’ve all the time in the world for Dick Williams- a mechanical animator if there ever was one. I see little difference between these two: both are products of an animation industry that prized animation technique and artistry over story (and before anyone gets up on their Roger Rabbit high-horse, let me remind you dick had nothing to do with the story. He was, to all intents and purposes, as involved in the story as Stan Winston was with the story of Jurassic Park). He and Bluth both thought animating anything made it watchable. They were both wrong. They both should rightfully take their places as pioneers of the art, misguided and flawed though they may be. But we should never forget that Disney was considering shuttering their money-loosing animation devision, when Bluth and Spielberg made, what was at the time, the highest grossing animated film ever produced. Without which, Disney Might never have had their second “Golden Age”

  • Natalie Belton

    Don Bluth gets bashed here a lot on Cartoonbrew. Sure, he made some really awful stuff during the early ’90s (A Troll in Central Park being the worst offender), but some of his earlier work truly did help animation get out the ‘Dark Age’ and into the Renaissance era. His American Tale and Land Before Time gave Disney so much competition that they even outgrossed the company’s films from the same year (The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver and Company). Personally, I believe that The Secret of NiMH was Bluth’s best work, as it was somewhat unconventional for an American animated film, had some of the best animation of its time, and lacked the sappiness of some of his less memorable films.

    • Scott550

      I’ll give him credit for having fled Disney and let truly talented film makers and storytellers make some of Disney’s best films.

      • zac leck

        The way your comment is worded is a little ambiguous. Was it meant to be a slight against Bluth, like because he left and was out of the way some ‘truly talented film makers’ were able to make some of Disney’s best films? Cause that would be bullshit, Disney was at it’s worst when Bluth left.

        Bluth’s early films were solid, memorable stories. They don’t necessarily stack up against the best that Disney has ever made, but they were better than what Disney was making at the time.

        Bluth’s studio gave Disney a run for their money and forced them to reinvest in the department that launched the whole Disney empire. So even if all of Bluth’s work was pure garbage, without their competition in the animated feature market Disney would have remained garbage, lost all of it’s artists and collapsed under it’s own weight.

    • I would agree with The Secret of NIMH too, Bluth’s earlier work was what turned me onto animation far from the set path of that ‘other studio’ during that period in animation’s history when it seemed like there wasn’t a light at the end of the tunnel.

    • Personally I can’t decide whether “A Troll in Central Park” or “Rock-a-Doodle” is the worst Don Bluth movie.

      But yeah. For every really bad movie he has, he’s also got a really good one. It’s kind of weird, really. “Secret of NIHM” is great, though on a personal level I favor “Land Before Time”. Recently rescued a copy from the five-dollar DVD bin and Wal-Mart and I squeed with joy.

      • Troll, by a wider margin… It aimed incredibly low at the youngest viewers, and it was a massive bomb

  • Larry Lauria

    I was at SCAD as a Professor of Animation, when Gary Goldman called me and asked me if SCAD was interested in the Bluth Collection. I was leaving the next day for Europe to teach at SCAD’s village, Lacoste, in Provence, France. I said they were interested and put them in contact with the Dean who presided over the Animation Department… then left for months – returning just before Thanksgiving. It was between us and BYU (Don being Mormon). When I returned, the collection was stacked in boxes in the Library behind a class wall. I was allowed access – there were BG’s, layouts, model sheets, animation and effects drawings, development sketches and even invoices, etc.

    At that time, very few professors were allowed access to the artwork. After a inventory it was stored away in the basement. Hopefully, the collection is now back in circulation.

    I left SCAD in 2006, after they took drawing out of the program and made it an elective.


    • To Former Professor Lauria:

      It is in circulation! The Bluth Collection is frequently used as a field trip destination for animation, sequential art, and illustration students. SCAD has spent several million dollars organizing the garbled mess it was given to us in, but we’re making slow progress.
      The two times I’ve had the honor of visiting the collection, close to two dozen gouache-painted pan backgrounds were out for view, as well as animation keys from NIMH, Dragon’s Lair. METRIC TONS of concept art was available for students to rummage through to our heart’s fancy as well. It’s a really enjoyable experience to see all of the process and animation in person, even if you’re not the biggest fan of Bluth.
      (I personally am a fan of several films, however I think it’s all the films prior to the rotoscoping…which I think started with Thumbelina?)

      You’ll also be thrilled to know that as of 2011 animation majors are no longer required to take life drawing. :T They take action analysis instead…with the majority of the professors begging the students to also take life drawing

      • hannah

        i do believe the really dedicated animation students show up to the free open sessions on fridays though. I don’t think taking action analysis with Troy is anything to look down upon either from what i hear. The class sounds really intense.

  • Mister Twister

    Oh God yes!

  • I remember reading about this deal. It’s very exciting to finally even a small sample of their holdings, and I really hope it includes some glimpses at the cut material from ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN and THE LAND BEFORE TIME.

  • hannah

    the library had a presentation in Monty Hall last week and was handing out vintage Dragon’s Lair Buttons and Flip Books as well as NIMH posters donated from the studio. It was only by chance I managed to see them there and I managed to snag some swag, lol. They also have a copy of that rare Bluth biography book you can read in the library. Really cool stuff.

  • I heard Bluth boarded the entire film himself. They have ALL the boards in this collection. AMAZING work by that man.

    For the record, HE was the reason I decided to become an animator

  • Toonio

    Many so called art institutes with animation programs should take note from SCAD. Awesome collection with downloadable content and quicktime files.

    No better way to contribute with the collaborative nature of the industry.

  • Uli Meyer

    I checked a couple of the line tests which seemingly were scanned without the use of a peg bar! Seems a shame to go through all that trouble and then have the drawings jitter about.

    • Megan P.

      The special collections doesn’t have access to the kind of scanning equipment that can be used with a peg bar (and it’s scanned by a low-wage student worker, I might add! She works very hard!). Having access to it in any form, though, is a gift, after all this stuff lived in boxes for a good 20 years in a locked storage shed.