Animation has come a long way since the turn of the 20th century. Initially confined to hand-drawn shorts played in theaters, animation has expanded into feature films, TV shows, and everything in between. The rise of computers also expanded the creativity and diversity of animated films, and dozens of production companies were opened to take advantage of it.
Unfortunately, the business world is a cutthroat place where big companies regularly gobble up small ones. Over the years, many fine animation companies have come and gone, but their legacy lives on through the films and shows they produced and the new generations of animators they inspired.
Blue Sky Studios
After MAGI/Synthavision, the company that produced the effects of TRON, collapsed, many former animators decided to team up and start their own businesses. Thanks to the rise of Pixar, Blue Sky Studios was taken over by 20th Century Fox after closing its own animation department. With support from Fox, Blue Sky released Ice Age and would prove to be another contender alongside DreamWorks and Pixar in the world of CGI children’s films.
Blue Sky would struggle over the next decade with a series of peaks and valleys. They saw success with films such as Peanuts movie information and Ferdinand, but many of their sequels failed to live up to public expectations. After Disney bought Fox in 2019 and the COVID outbreak, the company was finally liquidated in 2021.
Founded by Japanese animator, Toru HaraTopcraft took on many Toei animation animators who felt the studio had hit its peak in the early 70s. They would team up with Rankin/Basss to produce a number of nonstop moving films, including The Hobbit, Flight of the Dragonsand The last unicorn. They also worked with Hayao Miyazaki release Nasuka and the Valley of the Wind.
In 1985, the studio went bankrupt and its staff split into two halves. Half, including Hara, went with Miyazaki to form Studio Ghibli, one of Japan’s most successful animation companies. The other half formed Pacific Animation Corporation to continue working with Rankin/Bass until Disney bought them out and turned the company into Walt Disney Animation Japan.
Sullivan Bluth Studios
After parting ways with Disney, the host Don Bluth created his own company to produce The NIMH Secret and video games dragon’s lair and Have space. After the video game crash of 1983, Bluth convinced a semi-retired businessman Morris Sullivan to help him set up a new studio. Sullivan also convinced them to move to Dublin, Ireland to take advantage of government grants.
Sullivan-Bluth Studios would produce seven of Bluth’s ten theatrical releases and help revive the Irish animation industry. However, financial problems and the rise of the Disney Renaissance forced Bluth to sell his films to other studios, which took away creative control from him. Eventually, he and his fellow animator Gary Goldman returned to America to form Fox Animation Studio, which closed within a few years.
In the mid 80’s, Steven Spielberg was interested in dipping his toe into animation. He teamed up with Don Bluth to go out an american tale and The land before time, and partnered with Disney on Who framed Roger Rabbit. After Bluth severed ties with Spielberg, he opened Amblimation in 1991 to continue making animation projects.
Unfortunately, Spielberg struggled to find talented animators and writers to fill Bluth’s shoes, and Disney owned the ’90s. Amblimation released three theatrical films before closing in 1997 due to poor box office performance. Spielberg would migrate its animators to the newly formed DreamWorks, and among the unfinished ideas they brought with them was Shrek.
Hanna Barbera Productions
No one believed that animation could meet a fast-paced television program for very long. Fortunately, Bill Hanna and Joseph Barbera, the creators of Tom and Jerry, pioneered new animation techniques to reduce costs, such as repeating pans for backgrounds and collars and ties for their characters to make animating heads easier. . Although the quality of the animation suffered, they were able to put more emphasis on voice acting and fast-paced dialogue.
Hanna-Barbera’s catalog includes dozens of recognizable cartoons that still have a place in pop culture, including The Flintstones, the Jetsons, and Scooby-Doo. They even managed to produce a few films, like Charlotte’s web. Unfortunately, the company could not survive its acquisition by Turner Entertainment and Warner Brothers, and it was replaced by Cartoon Network.
Although Hanna-Barbera pioneered the release of animations for the television format, she soon found competition in Filmation. They approached animated shows with a “people before art” mentality, meaning they refused to outsource their animation, even though it would be cheaper. They compensated for this with strong writing and the majority of their products focus on adventure and high fantasy.
Although Filmation had many hits in the 60s and 70s, their best-known shows are Man and the Masters of the Universe and She Ra: Princess of Power. In the ’80s, people were more interested in buying Filmation’s catalog than making new cartoons, and it was dismantled. Its last production was an unofficial sequel to Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs called Happy forever.
Animation of the Turner function
Although Turner Entertainment has released a few animated films, particularly after acquiring Tom and Jerry, they did not have their own animation division. This changed in 1991, after the acquisition of Hanna-Barbera’s film divisions. The new Turner Feature Animation was then directed by David Kirschnera producer and screenwriter who had worked on An American Tale.
Over its six-year history, Turner Feature Animation has released two films, The page master and The cat does not dance. Although these films were creative and well-animated, they did not turn a profit. After Cats bombed the box office, Warner Bros. incorporated Turner Feature into its own animation branch, known today as Warner Bros. Animation.
Bill Kroyer started working at Disney in the 80s, but soon left to found his own animation studio with his wife, Susan Kroyer. Although the studio was only open for eight years, it was considered a pioneer in the combination of hand-drawn animation and CGI animation. Their first short film, technological threat, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1989.
The short life of Kroyer Films saw them animate the title sequence of Honey, I reduced the children and National Lampoon’s Christmas Holidays, and providing computer animation to films like Tom and Jerry, the movie. They also hosted and produced Ferngully: the last rainforest. Even after the studio closes, Bill and Susan will be honored for their work in 2017, when they receive the June Foray Award from the International Animation Society.
During the Animation Renaissance of the 90s, Disney decided to open a new studio to focus on making movies related to their television shows. After the disappointing box office of The Downunder Lifeguards, they also commissioned the studio to create all future sequels to their animated canon. Although a few were released theatrically, most would be straight to DVD.
Disneytoon Studios production values varied from film to film. Sometimes they could release something that almost rivaled the main Disney movies, like A wacky movie, while at other times they would do something that looked like a TV special, like Aladdin: The Return of Jafar. Unfortunately, the studio closed in 2018, following a restructuring of Disney’s animation departments.
Richard Williams Productions
Learn from the best animators from the Golden Age of Animation, Richard Williams soon opened his own animation company. He made his debut in credits animation in the 60s, then won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short in 1972 for his adaptation of A Christmas Carol. The studio’s most famous project was Who Framed Roger Rabbit, where Williams and his team revolutionized live-action/animation hybrid movies with their attention to detail.
Throughout it all, Williams worked hard to animate his masterpiece, The thief and the shoemaker,which he financed by accepting these projects. Unfortunately, William’s streak of perfection, over-budget, and over-delivery caught up with him, and he was kicked out of his own film. After Thief was released in a heavily edited state to critical and financial failure, Williams closed his animation studio and devoted the rest of his life to teaching.
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