An interesting challenge, just as they got started animating The Secret of NIMH’s Tractor Sequence in the Spring of 1980, Don Bluth Productions was sought out by Joel Silver, one of the producers of Xanadu. He called and spoke with Gary about a sequence that he wanted to have done in classical animation. It would be a sequence to show when the lead characters Sonny (Michael Beck) and Kira (Olivia Newton-John) fall in love. The challenge for Joel and Larry Gordon, the producers, was that they had not shot the sequence in live action and they were in post-production, editing and getting the work print ready for scoring, sound design and finally the final mix. Plus, Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra’s contract to write the songs had a clause, that, if Universal and Larry Gordon’s production company didn’t use all of the songs, they couldn’t use any of the songs. So it was sort of a panic moment for them. Gary was invited to come over to where their post-production unit was located, to show him what they had in mind. Joel took Gary into an editing room where they had some 35mm film footage of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland (1951). They simply played the song, “Don’t Walk Away” to a random sequence of that animated film on an editor’s Movieola. It didn’t make any sense story-wise, but it could be a less-expensive solution than setting up again for a live action shoot with the main cast members, at a time when the shooting process had wrapped and people had moved on to other projects.
Joel gave Don the pitch of the concept on the phone for the animated sequence, about the young couple falling in love. Then left it up to Don to do whatever he wanted to make it entertaining. Don did the storyboards for the two minute seven second song and Gary invited Joel over to have Don walk him through the story panels. Joel was thrilled and basically said, “Let’s do this!!
While the Bluth production crew continued on The Secret of NIMH, Don took Heidi Guedel (an animator) to assist him on the rough character animation and Dorse Lanpher with Bruce Heller to do special effects animation at Don’s house, then they hired a few more animation artist to work in Don’s home in Culver City. They hired a cook who came early every morning to provide Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. They worked seven days a week. Don animated 10 feet of animation per day. As they finished the rough animation, and key clean-up, they would bring the scenes in to the studio to complete the animation processes from scene planning, rough animation, cleanup inbetween animation, backgrounds, animation checking, color model, Xerox camera, ink and paint and final color camera in the studio.
At the premier of the film in New York City, Joel Silver called Gary at 11:30 that night, after the showing (They were still at work at the studio) to tell them that the biggest reaction in the film was the animated sequence. He was thrilled. And, they did it without missing a beat on their The Secret of NIMH schedule. Whew!!