Thursday , May 23 2024

Fan Expo Philadelphia: Don Bluth on Animation

Veteran animator Don Bluth (The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail) reached new ground recently in his career: releasing his first children’s book. He showed the book to fans at Fan Expo Philadelphia, providing a teaser about the character of Yuki, the adventurous young orca. Other books will be coming in the Don Bluth Fables series.

In Yuki, Star of the Sea, a young whale disregards his mother’s reminders to stay in deep waters and he’s separated from his friends. “He gets put in an aquarium. He performs for people and then he’s unhappy. So he has to figure out how to get back home,” Bluth said.

On Exploring Darker Themes in Animated Films

According to Bluth, animated films shouldn’t be a constant train of “feel-good” moments because you won’t learn anything. There’s evil in the world and sooner or later, you’ll encounter a villain or a really bad situation somewhere in your life. “If you don’t show sadness or tragedy somehow in any story, where is the delight of being rescued? So you have to go there.”

A lot of the great stories focus on the importance of family and how that experience enriches us. Bluth observed that some people don’t have families. “That’s very sad. Whenever you meet someone that maybe doesn’t have the luxury or blessing of having a family, be their family for the moment you’re there.”

Sometimes characters or certain animals in his films serve as metaphors. In An American Tail, the emigrating mice believed that America wouldn’t have any cats. “Come to America and everything is fine. Well, you can’t run away from your nightmares. They will follow you.”

On Drawing and Animation

Keeping busy at 86 years old, Bluth teaches online through Don Bluth University. He instructs students about draftsmanship, animation timing, storyboarding, layout, acting, scriptwriting and more.

Aside from technical skills, Bluth believes that good artists need a healthy lifestyle and positive mindset. “Sometimes if you’re misbehaving or you get angry or whatever it is you might be doing with your mental capacity, then what happens is the heavens shut. All that inspiration that could be coming to you has shut off.” 

Artists fall short in other ways, especially when they try to turn art into a “mechanical” process. “Give me 10 rules and I’m an animator. It doesn’t work that way! You have to practice and practice at it. It comes from the heart, something inside of you, not from these science rules. Art is not science.” 

Artists should also pay attention to how their figures move within the frames. “Be very specific. Be sure that you communicate what you’re trying to say. Some people try to say too much. Just [use] one or two ideas that are very clearly said, spoken or drawn.”

On ‘Anastasia’ Moving from Animated Feature to Stage

Bluth directed Anastasia, an animated feature released in 1997. He was impressed with the Broadway production that premiered about a decade later, which has since done a U.S. tour and been mounted in other countries.

“When you change the form, you change the content. Those two go together,” he said. Gone are Rasputin and the little comical bat, for example.

However, using a different medium allowed audiences to explore other emotional aspects of the story. “The stakes are higher. It’s not just about making you laugh. It’s about what people are going through in their own lives.”

Visit the Fan Expo Philadelphia website and our coverage for more fan culture news.

About Pat Cuadros

Pat Cuadros is Pop Culture Editor for Blogcritics Magazine. She frequently covers TV, film and theater. Her portfolio includes interviews with Ndaba Mandela and actors Juliette Binoche, Fran Drescher, Derek Jacobi and Brent Spiner. She's also spoken with notable voice actors Petrea Burchard, Garry Chalk, Peter Cullen and Brian Drummond.

Check Also

Fan Expo Philadelphia: Holly Marie Combs and Rose McGowan on ‘Charmed’

"I want you to know that you're magical. You have powers. You are awesome and you're gonna be okay."