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Don Bluth And Gary Goldman Part Three – Working in Ireland

// Featured, Interviews

Along their long careers the work produced by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman has had an affect on many sectors of the animation industry. It’s well known that the pair’s departure from Disney and their own feature film success ultimately contributed to Disney having to step up their game in order to stay relevant and keep up with Bluth and Goldman’s competition, something the mammoth studio had never really encountered before. Today we discuss another change which sent the studio overseas to Ireland to give them the opportunity to create some of their best ever work including The Land Before Time and leave a lasting legacy on the Irish animation landscape and animation education, which is still felt to this day as the Irish animation industry thrives.

The move to Ireland was essential for their studio to secure funding to continue making films. As the animation funding landscape has changed drastically the pair are now looking for funds for a pitch presentation for Dragon’s Lair: The Movie on Indiegogo which is in its last week of funding.

In part three of our interview we discuss those halcyon years in Ireland.

Can you tell us about working in Ireland?

Gary Goldman – It was a wonderful experience, we took 87 of our artists and technicians, management people, their families and dogs and cats to Ireland – it was like moving an army!

Don Bluth – The reason we moved to Ireland was because An American Tail was about to be released and Universal wanted to see if the movie was a success before they would pay us to make another movie. So the only way we could stay alive as a studio, was to move to Ireland where the IDA (Industrial Development Agency) came forward and offered their support and let us stay in business.

(L-R) Don Bluth, John Polmeroy, Gary Goldman

(L-R) Don Bluth, John Pomeroy, Gary Goldman

GG – Funny story, at the end of The Secret of N.I.M.H John Pomeroy’s wife went to see a phrenologist, and the phrenologist said “You’re an artist” to which she replied “yes I am”, the phrenologist asked if she was on some sort of “crusade” with her artist friends then suggested that “a silver-haired gentleman will take you all away to a faraway island and the company will become very successful”. A few months later a silver-haired gentleman was introduced to us, he looked like a banker, with a pinstripe suit and wing tipped shoes. He came in to meet us, sat down with us and didn’t say more than ten words. We showed him part of The Secret of NIMH, showed him around the studio and in the end he smiled, shook our hands and said that he’d be back. He was our business consultant for the next two years and eventually took us to Ireland.

DB – His name was Sullivan, Morris Sullivan.

GG – A very Irish name!

DB – When we got to Ireland he had made all of the political moves to get us there so we put his name on the studio which became Sullivan Bluth. He just opened so many doors for us. The IDA paid us for each person we trained, so we were able to go to Ireland, keep our crew working and be able to do our second film for Universal which was The Land Before Time. Had we not moved to Ireland The Land Before Time would not have been made.

Publicity Sullivan Bluth Studios on the Liffey

Sullivan Bluth Studios, Dublin, Ireland

My personal favourite so thank goodness for Mr. Sullivan and maybe the phrenologist as well.

DB – I had just remodelled my house and felt really good about it when Morris said “Guys, we’re going to Ireland!”

GG – We balked and he reassured us it would be easy “Don’t worry”, he said “You’ll get on a plane, have a couple of drinks and you’ll be there” (they laugh).

DB – We arrived in Ireland to the worst weather they’d had in 100 years, it was freezing cold and it was a nightime.

GG – Our management team in Ireland had set up a dinner when we arrived at the airport, but no sooner had we sat down all the power went out, we wondered what kind of omen that was!

DB – A lot of people had brought their pets across which had to spend 6 months in quarantine which was awfully sad for them only being able to visit once a week so there was a lot of sacrifice made by the crew to go over there.

Worth it though?

Both – Yes!

GG – It was wonderful, the Irish are great people, I try to go over once every other Christmas to see the ex employees, many of them came back over to Arizona with us to work on Anastasia, Bartok the Magnificent and Titan AE.

DB – It worked in the opposite direction, we brought Irish people back to Arizona with us like we had brought American people over to Ireland.

GG – When we were shut down here in Arizona many of those folks went to work at Dreamworks, Pixar and Disney. It was a unique experience. When we went to Ireland there were people who were good artists and didn’t know anything about feature animation because there wasn’t an industry out there. There was Jimmy Murakami who used to make commercials there when I first met him he introduced us to people who would work with us in future.

DB – Ireland is a very musical place, they get together in the pubs and sing and dance. What was encouraging about Ireland as opposed to some other part of the world, was a spirit that came through the end of the pencil. We always looked for employees that had that lyrical spirit inside of them. They sing, they dance, they party, they have a good time and usually that comes out on the paper.

The Sullivan Bluth Studio, Dublin, Ireland

Sullivan Bluth Studios, Dublin, Ireland

No wonder the Irish animation industry is still thriving to this day.

GG – We set up a course with Sheridan College in Canada, in 1988 we were a little bit behind getting All Dogs Go To Heaven done so I called up the president of the college and asked her if she would allow a dozen students to come over to Ireland and if they were given credit toward their degree for the experience of working with us. We brought twelve over, and four or five stayed. One of them became a directing animator within 14 months. A very talented young man but he’d only had 6 months of school training before then – he never did graduate from Sheridan college. They probably should have given him a honorary degree in the end.

DB – Also at Ballyfermot College we set up a course there that was equal to Sheridan to train people to be animators so people would gain a qualification from Sheridan at Ballyfermot, which was great.

A similar model to what Disney did with Cal Arts?

GG – When I graduated it was called Chouinard. When I graduated from community college in 1969 I wrote to Chouinard and sent them my portfolio, they said they loved it but they were not accepting any new students. They moving to Valencia to become what is now known as Cal Arts.

I’d be remis If I didn’t ask about obvious comparisons your work has led to, such as The Land Before Time and Disney’s Dinosaur.

GG – Everyone says it is the same story, one of our directing animators who worked on The Land Before Time also went to work on Dinosaur.

DB – Who was that?

GG – Ralph Zondag, the co-director.

DB – Oh, he did his own dinosaur picture too didn’t he?

GG – His brother went on to direct a dinosaur picture in London called We’re Back.

How did your own dinosaur story come about?


The Land Before Time (1988)

GG – When we were 8 months into An American Tail Steven (Speilberg) invited us over for lunch to discuss our second picture of the two picture contract and he told us the story that he and George Lucas had long wanted to tell. It was an animated dinosaur picture that was basically and ethnic story, five different ethnicities or dinosaurs who had lost their families and had to work together to find their parents.

DB – George wanted to make that with animatronics.

GG – Or CG.

DB – So the two were not in total agreement when we went into that meeting. That was the project that we had to go to Ireland to do. Steven was adamant that it be animated, because he loves animation. George was kind of stand offish for a long while with that picture. He finally came to agree that it was a good thing but it took him a while to come around.

This is part three of a multi part interview, keep your eyes on the Skwigly Facebook and Twitter feeds to be updated with future parts of the interview as they are released.


If you’d like to help Dirk the Daring on his quest to rescue Princess Daphne you can become a backer of the Dragon’s Lair Return’s crowd funding campaign over on Indiegogo.

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