Just 30 years ago, in the late spring of 1986, Universal had taken this publicity photo for An American Tail. The film was released in November of that same year. Over 100 artists, technicians and administration are assembled here for the photo. 26 of them were Irish, whom we had recruited in the summer of 1985, from the 100 staff members at the Balgriffin Sullivan Bluth Studios’ Ink & Paint facility, to be trained in other departments at our facility in Van Nuys, California.
Reviewing this image brings back nostalgic remembrances of that time and of some of those who started with us in Don’s garage producing Banjo the Woodpile Cat (1975 to 1979). Many of those same artists had worked with us at Disney on The Rescuers (1977), Pete’s Dragon (1977), The Small One (1978) and on The Fox and the Hound before leaving Disney for the opportunity to make The Secret of NIMH (1982). As we were completing cleanup, special effects animation and Ink & Paint for An American Tail, we had already begun storyboarding, layout and animation on The Land Before Time.
The challenging situation was that the budget offered for us to make this film, was about 35% below our estimated budget for the film. This group of passionate animation professionals helped to push hard in order to meet that budget. We had to make An American Tail in just 22 months. We started production in early January 1985 without an approved script, which in fact, was re-written over the next 4 months. By January 20th, color keys, layouts and animation moved forward with Don’s storyboards on the sequence entitled, “The Pogrom”. Nor was there time for extensive pre-production.
Most all of this crew continued with us as we made the decision to move to Dublin, Ireland. In mid-November 1986, just three days before the premiere of An American Tail, we started moving 87 staffers, their spouses, their children and their pets on a journey to Ireland. Where we would educate Irish artists and technicians in the art and processes of animation production…and continued our efforts to revive classical animation. Within a year, we were 400 strong.
Oh! And, by the way, the dog at the lower right was our gentle German shepherd, known as Burt. He was named after Burt Reynolds, and yes, he went with us to Ireland. He was the model for Charlie in All Dogs Go to Heaven. He came to work with us every day for 13 years. Sadly he passed away during the production of Anastasia in 1996.