When Don Bluth was a little boy, he was not a dinosaur fan. But all that changed when the animator joined with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas to create the new animated feature "The Land Before Time."
The film was produced by Bluth and collaborators Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy."I had to do lots and lots of research because I never was fanatic about dinosaurs as a kid," Bluth says. "But in many ways it became a fictional fantasy because it's about these young children who are taught to hate each other, anyone who is different from him. When they are separated from their parents these five little children have to learn to get along with each other for survival. So there is a bit of a moral in it, too."
Bluth, a one-time Disney animator, left the Walt Disney studios in 1979 to make his own cartoons, the classical kind with smooth animated movements, subtleties of shading and carefully crafted story lines.
Bluth's first feature film, "The Secret of the NIMH," didn't do very well at the box office. "At first I felt so bad for a while. I thought I'd made a bad picture. Then I decided that it just hadn't been marketed well. It takes a very good marketing program to sell a film like that."
But, in a way, that movie did pay off. Director Steven Spielberg contacted Bluth. "Steven called and said he thought `NIMH' was a beautiful film and said that he would like to do a picture with me," Bluth remembers.
It took them two years to find a story they both liked, but together Bluth and Spielberg created "An American Tail," released last year. "And that movie made more money in its initial release that any animated film in history," Bluth says.
"An American Tail" cost $9 million. It took in $50 million at the box office. In a way, that movie's success saved classical animation. It proved that the high cost of such painstaking handwork can pay off. The phenomenal success of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" cinched that.
"That was a huge risk," Bluth says. " `Rabbit' cost $50 million, while most live action films cost between $12 million and $15 million. And it was technically exquisite."
Costs of creating animated cartoons continue to skyrocket. Each second of film takes between 12 and 24 drawings. Approximately 1 million drawings are required from the movie's inception to its completion. Most animation is now of the Saturday morning variety, with fewer movements, simplified drawings, little shading and stylized backgrounds.
But Bluth wants none of that. To preserve his brand of classical animation, two years ago he moved his studios to Ireland. The reason was simple: Ireland made them an offer they couldn't refuse.
"We considered all sorts of places - Australia, London - English-speaking countries. But Ireland gave us grants and beautiful equipment, we're in a six-story building and they only charge us 10 percent, instead of 50 percent, corporate tax. They were anxious to have us because they know that movies are a visual medium and they want a visual medium to come from Ireland."
Bluth took considerable artistic license when it came to color. "No one really knows what color the dinosaurs were, but when you see a gray object, it can seem to change color with the light..."