First reported on the Filmation Facebook page without many details, Hal Sutherland, who co-founded Filmation Studios with the late Lou Scheimer, passed away on January 16th, 2014. His daughter Lisa, in an email to a friend of her father’s, has since confirmed that her father’s death was due to health complications related to his gallbladder. He was 85 years old.
Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1929, Sutherland was raised by his grandmother who encouraged his development as an artist. As recounted in a 2011 interview with StarTrek.com, she fashioned him a drawing surface by placing a board across the arms of stuffed chair. Fascinated by the horse-drawn wagons that regularly passed his home and inspired by illustrations in the Saturday Evening Post, his artistic influences formed at an early age.
After making his way to California, his talent and knowledge of the equine form landed him a job at the Disney Studios in 1954, working on Samson, Prince Phillip’s horse in the animated film Sleeping Beauty. After layoffs at Disney he would bounce around from studio to studio, working on a variety of television and film productions and picking up close associates along the way, most notably, animator Lou Scheimer at Larry Harmon Pictures, and Norm Prescott, a former disc jockey turned music composer, at True Line. Sutherland and Scheimer would form their own studio, Filmation Associates, in 1962, which would struggle until Prescott connected them with a producer from Action Comics interested in creating an animated Superman cartoon for CBS’ children’s lineup.
The project proved successful and lead to the production of a collection of Saturday morning staples, many episodes of which were directed by Sutherland. These included The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, Archie’s TV Funnies, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids as well as the acquisition of the animation rights to popular live-action shows like Gilligan’s Island, Lassie and The Hardy Boys. The company was sold to TelePrompTer Corporation in 1969, requiring Sutherland and his partners to stay on for an additional 5 years.
In the final year of his contract, he would direct the first sixteen episodes of Star Trek: The Animated Series, which would go on to win an Emmy and continue to resonate with Star Trek fans around the world for decades to come, as he mentioned in the StarTrek.com interview:
“The Star Trek series has continued showing through the years to new and older audiences throughout the world, I recently received a letter from the Ukraine asking for a pair of autographs for a fellow and his brother who are still viewing the shows. It’s so amazing that the popularity is still there and seemingly everywhere. [Conventions] around the world are also fascinating [for me] to attend, with chances to meet childhood fans that are now grown and entertaining their own children with these shows that are still available on TV. Their thanks for the work we did back then is very personal and rewarding.”
In 1974, Sutherland relocated with his family to Washington State where he went into semi-retirement to pursue his painting career. Returning to Filmation on occasion as a consultant, he served as production director for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe in 1983, and directed a handful of episodes for shows like The Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty, and Flash Gordon, and in 1987, the theatrical feature film Pinocchio and The Emperor Of The Night.
The Filmation library has changed hands several times in the last three decades before being obtained by DreamWorks Animation in 2012 as part of the acquisition of Classic Media.