Don Bluth

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Don Bluth
Donald Virgil Bluth

(1937-09-13) September 13, 1937 (age 81)
Residence Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S.
Alma mater Brigham Young University
OccupationAnimator, film director, producer, writer, production designer, video game designer, animation instructor
Years active1955–present
Employer Walt Disney Animation Studios (1955–1957, 1971-1978)
Filmation (1967-1970)
Known for
Family Toby Bluth (brother)

Donald Virgil Bluth ( /blθ/ ; born September 13, 1937) [1] is an American animator, film director, producer, writer, production designer, video game designer, and animation instructor. He is known for directing animated films, including The Secret of NIMH (1982), An American Tail (1986), The Land Before Time (1988), All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989), and Anastasia (1997), and for his involvement in the LaserDisc game Dragon's Lair (1983). He is also known for competing with former employer Walt Disney Productions during the years leading up to the films that would make up the Disney Renaissance. He is the older brother of illustrator Toby Bluth.

Animator person who makes animated films

An animator is an artist who creates multiple images, known as frames, which give an illusion of movement called animation when displayed in rapid sequence. Animators can work in a variety of fields including film, television, and video games. Animation is closely related to filmmaking and like filmmaking is extremely labor-intensive, which means that most significant works require the collaboration of several animators. The methods of creating the images or frames for an animation piece depend on the animators' artistic styles and their field.

Film director Person who controls the artistic and dramatic aspects of a film production

A film director is a person who directs the making of a film. A film director controls a film's artistic and dramatic aspects and visualizes the screenplay while guiding the technical crew and actors in the fulfilment of that vision. The director has a key role in choosing the cast members, production design, and the creative aspects of filmmaking. Under European Union law, the director is viewed as the author of the film.

In film and television, a production designer (PD) is the person responsible for the overall visual look of the production. Production designers have a key creative role in the creation of motion pictures and television. Working directly with the director, cinematographer, and producer, they must select the settings and style to visually tell the story. The term production designer was coined by William Cameron Menzies while he was working on the film Gone with the Wind. Previously the people with the same responsibilities were called art directors. It is sometimes also described as scenic design or set design.


Early life and Disney years

Bluth was born in El Paso, Texas, the son of Emaline (née Pratt) and Virgil Ronceal Bluth. [2] His great-grandfather was Helaman Pratt, an early leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). He is of Swedish, English, Irish, Scottish, and German descent. [3]

El Paso, Texas City in Texas, United States

El Paso is a city in and the county seat of El Paso County, Texas, United States, in the far western part of the state. The 2018 population estimate for the city from the U.S. Census was 682,669. Its metropolitan statistical area (MSA) covers all of El Paso and Hudspeth counties in Texas, and has a population of 840,758.

Helaman Pratt American Mormon leader

Helaman Pratt was an early leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the U.S. states of Nevada and Utah and later in Mexico.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints nontrinitarian Christian restorationist church

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often informally known as the LDS Church or Mormon Church, is a nontrinitarian, Christian restorationist church that is considered by its members to be the restoration of the original church founded by Jesus Christ. The church is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah in the United States, and has established congregations and built temples worldwide. According to the church, it has over 16 million members and 65,000 full-time volunteer missionaries. In 2012, the National Council of Churches ranked the church as the fourth-largest Christian denomination in the United States, with over 6.5 million members there as of January 2018. It is the largest denomination in the Latter Day Saint movement founded by Joseph Smith during the period of religious revival known as the Second Great Awakening.

As a child in El Paso, he rode his horse to the town movie theater to watch Disney films; Bluth said later, "then I'd go home and copy every Disney comic book I could find". [4] At the age of six, his family moved to Payson, Utah where he lived on a family farm. Bluth has stated that he and his siblings do not have much communication with each other as adults. [5] In 1954, his family moved to Santa Monica, California, where he attended part of his final year of high school before returning to Utah and graduating from Springville High School.[ citation needed ] Bluth attended Brigham Young University in Utah for one year and after got a job at Walt Disney Productions. He started in 1955 as an assistant to John Lounsbery for Sleeping Beauty . In 1957 Bluth left Disney only two years after being hired. Afterward, Bluth spent two and a half years in Argentina on a mission for the LDS Church. He returned to the United States where he opened the Bluth Brothers Theater with his younger brother Fred, though he occasionally worked for Disney.

Payson, Utah City in Utah, United States

Payson is a city in Utah County, Utah, United States. It is part of the Provo–Orem Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 18,294 at the 2010 census. The current mayor is Rick Moore, who in the 2009 election was the first write-in candidate to defeat an incumbent mayor in the state of Utah.

Santa Monica, California City in California

Santa Monica is a beachfront city in western Los Angeles County, California, United States. Situated on Santa Monica Bay, it is bordered on three sides by the city of Los Angeles – Pacific Palisades to the north, Brentwood on the northeast, West Los Angeles on the east, Mar Vista on the southeast, and Venice on the south. The Census Bureau population for Santa Monica in 2010 was 89,736.

Springville High School (Utah)

Springville High School is one of the two high schools that serves and is located in Springville, Utah, United States.

Bluth returned to college and got a degree in English Literature from Brigham Young University. Bluth returned to the animation business and joined Filmation in 1967 working on layouts for The Archies and other projects. He returned full-time to Disney in 1971 where he worked on Robin Hood , Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too , The Rescuers and directing animation on Pete's Dragon . His last involvement with Disney was the 1978 short The Small One . Then he made and produced his first short film, Banjo the Woodpile Cat , which takes place in his hometown Payson, Utah during the 1940s as Banjo travels to Salt Lake City to find the urban world.

Filmation Former American production company

Filmation Associates was an American production company that produced animation and live-action programming for television from 1963 to 1989. Located in Reseda, California, the animation studio was founded in 1962. Filmation's founders and principal producers were Lou Scheimer, Hal Sutherland, and Norm Prescott.

The Archies fictional music group

The Archies is an American fictional garage band founded by Archie Andrews, Reggie Mantle, Jughead Jones, Veronica Lodge, and Betty Cooper, a group of adolescent characters of the Archie universe, in the context of the animated TV series, The Archie Show. The group is also known for their real world success, through a virtual band.

<i>Robin Hood</i> (1973 film) 1973 American animated film produced by Walt Disney Productions

Robin Hood is a 1973 American animated romantic musical comedy film produced by Walt Disney Productions and released by Buena Vista Distribution. Produced and directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, it is the 21st Disney animated feature film. The story follows the adventures of Robin Hood, Little John, and the inhabitants of Nottingham as they fight against the excessive taxation of Prince John, and Robin Hood wins the hand of Maid Marian.

Independent years

Early critical success

On his 42nd birthday in 1979, Bluth, Gary Goldman, John Pomeroy, and 9 fellow Disney animators, set out to start his own animation studio, Don Bluth Productions. [6] [7] He drew a few (uncredited) scenes for The Fox and the Hound but left early in production. Bluth was disheartened with the way the Disney company was run. He wanted to revive the classical animation style of the studio's early classics. [8] To this end, his studio, Don Bluth Productions, demonstrated its ability in its first production, a short film titled Banjo the Woodpile Cat , and this led to work on an animated segment of the live-action film Xanadu (1980).

Gary Wayne Goldman is an American film producer, director, animator, writer and voice actor, he is well known for working on films with Don Bluth such as Anastasia, An American Tail, and The Land Before Time. He was an animator at Disney before working at Sullivan Bluth Studios with Bluth.

John Foster Pomeroy is an American animator who has worked for several major studios, including Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sullivan Bluth Studios. He has also worked as producer, and screenwriter on several animated feature films.

<i>Banjo the Woodpile Cat</i> 1979 short film directed by Don Bluth

Banjo the Woodpile Cat is a 1979 animated short film directed by Don Bluth. It follows the story of Banjo, an overly curious and rebellious kitten who, after getting into trouble for falling from a house to see if he could land on his feet, runs away from his woodpile home in his owners' farm in Payson, Utah by catching a truck to Salt Lake City. Produced in a shoestring budget, and created in Bluth's garage, the film took four years to make and it was the first production of Don Bluth Productions, later Sullivan Bluth Studios. It premiered theatrically in 1979, and at the USA Film Festival one year later. It was released on DVD in 2009.

The studio's first feature-length film was The Secret of NIMH (1982), an adaptation of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH , the 1972 Newbery Medal winner. Bluth employed 160 animators during the production and agreed to the first profit sharing contract in the animation industry. [7] Though only a moderate success in the box office, the movie received critical acclaim. Later, with the home video release and cable showings, it became a cult classic. [9] Nevertheless, due to its modest box office take, and an industry-wide animation strike, Don Bluth Productions filed for bankruptcy. [8]

<i>The Secret of NIMH</i> 1982 American animated fantasy adventure drama film directed by Don Bluth

The Secret of NIMH is a 1982 American animated dark fantasy adventure film directed by Don Bluth in his directorial debut. It is an adaptation of Robert C. O'Brien's 1971 children's novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. The film was produced by Aurora Productions and released by MGM/UA Entertainment Company for United Artists and features the voices of Elizabeth Hartman, Dom DeLuise, Arthur Malet, Derek Jacobi, Hermione Baddeley, John Carradine, Peter Strauss and Paul Shenar. The "Mrs. Frisby" name in the novel had to be changed to "Mrs. Brisby" during production due to trademark concerns with Frisbee discs. It was followed in 1998 by a direct-to-video sequel called The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue, which was made without Bluth's involvement or input. In 2015, a CGI/live action remake was reported to be in the works.

<i>Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH</i> novel by Robert C. OBrien

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is a 1971 children's book by Robert C. O'Brien, with illustrations by Zena Bernstein. The winner of the 1972 Newbery Medal, the story was adapted for film in 1982 as The Secret of NIMH.

Newbery Medal annual award for writing a childrens book published in the United States

The John Newbery Medal, frequently shortened to the Newbery, is a literary award given by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), to the author of "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children". The Newbery and the Caldecott Medal are considered the two most prestigious awards for children's literature in the United States. Books selected are widely carried by bookstores and libraries, the authors are interviewed on television, and master's and doctoral theses are written on them. Named for John Newbery, an 18th-century English publisher of juvenile books, the winner of the Newbery is selected at the ALA's Midwinter Conference by a fifteen-person committee. The Newbery was proposed by Frederic G. Melcher in 1921, making it the first children's book award in the world. The physical bronze medal was designed by Rene Paul Chambellan and is given to the winning author at the next ALA annual conference. Since its founding there have been several changes to the composition of the selection committee, while the physical medal remains the same.

His next film would have been an animated version of the Norwegian folk tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon but was never made when the financial resources were drawn back. [10]

In 1983, he, Rick Dyer, Goldman and Pomeroy started the Bluth Group and created the groundbreaking arcade game Dragon's Lair , which let the player control an animated-cartoon character on screen (whose adventures were played off a LaserDisc). This was followed in 1984 by Space Ace , a science-fiction game based on the same technology, but which gave the player a choice of different routes to take through the story. Bluth not only created the animation for Space Ace, but he also supplied the voice of the villain, Borf. [11] Work on a Dragon's Lair sequel was underway when the video arcade business crashed. Bluth's studio was left without a source of income and the Bluth Group filed for bankruptcy on March 1, 1985. [7] A sequel called Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp was made in 1991, but it was rarely seen in arcades. [12]

In 1985, Bluth, Pomeroy, and Goldman established, with businessman Morris Sullivan, the Sullivan Bluth Studios. It initially operated from an animation facility in Van Nuys, California, but later moved to Dublin, Ireland, to take advantage of government investment and incentives. Sullivan Bluth Studios also helped boost animation as an industry within Ireland. [13] Bluth and his colleagues taught an animation course at Ballyfermot Senior College. [14]

Affiliation with Steven Spielberg

Teaming up with producer Steven Spielberg, Bluth's next project was An American Tail (1986), which at the time of its release became the highest grossing non-Disney animated film of all time, grossing $45 million in the United States and over $84 million worldwide. [15] The second Spielberg-Bluth collaboration The Land Before Time (1988) did even better in theaters and both found a successful life on home video. [15] [16] The main character in An American Tail (Fievel Mouskewitz) became the mascot for Amblimation while The Land Before Time was followed by thirteen direct-to-video sequels.

Bluth broke with Spielberg before his next film, All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989).[ citation needed ] (Bluth was not involved with the Spielberg-produced An American Tail: Fievel Goes West , released in 1991, nor with any of the numerous subsequent sequels to his other films.) Although All Dogs Go To Heaven only had moderate theatrical success, it was highly successful in its release to home video. [17] Like The Land Before Time, The Secret of NIMH, and An American Tail, All Dogs Go to Heaven was followed by related projects, none of which involved Bluth and his studio. He also directed films, such as Rock-a-Doodle (1992), Thumbelina (1994), A Troll in Central Park (1994) and The Pebble and the Penguin (1995), which were critical and box office failures.

Work at Fox Animation Studios

Bluth scored a hit with Anastasia (1997), produced at Fox Animation Studios in Phoenix, Arizona, which grossed nearly US $140 million worldwide. [18] In his positive review of the movie, critic Roger Ebert observed that its creators "consciously include[d] the three key ingredients in the big Disney hits: action, romance, and music." Anastasia's success established 20th Century Fox as a Disney competitor. [19]

Despite the success of Anastasia, Bluth resumed his string of box-office failures with the post-apocalyptic space adventure Titan A.E. (2000), which made less than $37 million worldwide despite an estimated $75 million budget. [20] In 2000, 20th Century Fox Studios shut down the Fox Animation Studio facility in Phoenix, making Titan A.E. the last traditionally animated film released by 20th Century Fox in theaters until the release of 2007's The Simpsons Movie . [21]

Return to animation

On October 26, 2015, Bluth and Goldman started a Kickstarter campaign in hopes of resurrecting hand-drawn animation by creating an animated feature-length film of Dragon's Lair . [22] The Kickstarter funding was canceled when not enough funds were made close to the deadline, but an Indiegogo page for the project was created in its place. [23] On December 14, 2015, the Indiegogo campaign reached its goal of $250,000, 14 days after the campaign launched, and got more than twice the budget on January 16, 2016. [24] As of June 2016, the campaign had raised $604,108 and as of February 2018 the total exceeded $728,000. [25]

Unproduced projects

An animated short film based on the Pied Piper of Hamelin story was in development, entering pre-production in the early 1970s. Art designs and works were created for the film, but ended up being abandoned for unknown reasons. Some of the artwork can be found online. [26] [27]

In the early 1980s, Bluth Productions started production work on an animated feature film entitled East of the Sun and West of the Moon . [28] [29] Ultimately, the film was never made due to a loss of financial backing, [30] even though the film was heavily into post-production at the time of its cancellation. They decided to make An American Tail as its 2nd animated film, starting production in December 1984 and released in November 1986. [31]

An animated film that Don Bluth started pre-production work with Steven Spielberg. The film would have been an outer space adventure movie. [32] [33]

After acquiring the rights to The Beatles ' songs in the mid-1980's, Michael Jackson approached Bluth with a movie idea called Strawberry Fields Forever. The film would have had animated Fantasia -style vignettes featuring Beatles songs, similar to Yellow Submarine . Not only did Don Bluth agree to it, he also planned on making it entirely in CGI. Had the movie been made, it would have predated the ground-breaking Toy Story by about eight years. From deep within production of the project, the premise became revamped so that characters from Beatles songs (like Mr. Mustard and the Walrus) would act as New York City gangsters. Among other reasons, the main reason why the project fell through was because the surviving Beatles members denied permission to use their images in the animated film. The only surviving part of the film was test footage of the "Beatles gangsters. [34]

Bluth was in production for an animated feature film that involves whales but more of a discovery experience through a whale's eye with a beautiful score and narration.[ citation needed ] While scenes where made in 1991, the film's production was canceled due to problems with studios, resulting in Don Bluth working on other productions. [35]

Blitz Games planned a video game adaptation of Bluth's Titan A.E. to be released for the PlayStation and PC in Fall 2000 in North America, following the film's summer release. [36] Development on both platforms had begun in March 1999 under the film's original title Planet Ice, [37] and an early playable version was showcased at the 2000 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. [36] In July 2000, a spokesman from the game's publisher Fox Interactive, announced that development on the title had been halted largely due to the film's poor box office performance which was "only one of many different factors" that led to its cancellation. [38]

A sequel to the 2003 game I-Ninja was planned, which had input from Bluth.[ citation needed ] Work on the sequel started soon after the first game's release, but its studio Argonaut Games had some economic problems and eventually closed down in October 2004. The few aspects remaining from I-Ninja 2's development are some concept drawings. [39]

Originally planned to have worked on in partnership with Namco around 2003. The project was scrapped due to financial problems on Namco's part leading to their merger with Bandai in 2007 and whatever development assets were left over was made into Pac Man World 3 with no involvement from Bluth. [40] [41]

On March 4, 2015, Deadline Hollywood reported that MGM had re-acquired the film rights to produce a new film based on the original novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH . The film would have been produced by Bluth and the team of Daniel Bobker and Ehren Kruger, with screenplay by Ice Age series writer Michael Berg. [42] It was planned as a CGI/live action hybrid "à la The Smurfs and Alvin and the Chipmunks ", and would have been "an origin story in which an imperiled mouse protagonist befriends a comical crew of lab rats as they turn hyper-intelligent. They escape a secret laboratory and become the great minds of vermin civilization, forced to outwit the humans hot on their tails." [43] The studio planned to turn the novel into a family franchise. [42] Since then, there have been no further announcements.

In the 1980s a film version of Dragon's Lair was planned, with Alan Dean Foster involved in shaping the story. The project fell apart due to low interest from other studios. [44] On October 26, 2015, Bluth and Goldman started a Kickstarter campaign to create a teaser for an animated feature-length Dragon's Lair prequel film, their first feature film since Titan A.E. [45] The Kickstarter funding was canceled when not enough funds were made close to the deadline, but an Indiegogo page for the project was created in its place. [46] On December 14, 2015, the Indiegogo campaign reached its goal of $250,000 to produce a teaser, 14 days after the campaign launched, and got more than twice the budget on January 16, 2016. [46] [47] Bluth and Goldman have announced that the film will provide more backstory for Dirk and Daphne and that Daphne will show that she is not a "blonde airhead". [48] Since then, there have been no further production news.

Recent work

In 2002, Bluth and video game company Ubisoft developed the video game Dragon's Lair 3D: Return to the Lair , an attempt to recreate the feel of the original Dragon's Lair LaserDisc game in a more interactive, three-dimensional environment. Reviews were mixed, with critics both praising and panning the controls and storyline. However, the visuals were noteworthy, using groundbreaking cel-shading techniques that lent the game a hand-animated feel. [49] As of 2012, [50] Don Bluth and Gary Goldman were seeking funding for a film version of Dragon's Lair. [51] [52] After apparently sitting in development for over a decade, the project raised over $570,000 via a successful crowdfunding campaign in January 2016. [53]

Bluth and Goldman continued to work in video games and were hired to create the in-game cinematics for Namco's I-Ninja , released in 2003.

In 2004, Bluth did the animation for the music video "Mary", by the Scissor Sisters. [54] The band contacted Bluth after having recalled fond memories of the sequence from Xanadu .

In 2009, Bluth was asked to produce storyboards for, and to direct, the 30-minute Saudi Arabian festival film Gift of the Hoopoe. He ultimately had little say in the animation and content of the film and asked that he not be credited as the director or producer. Nonetheless, he was credited as the director, possibly to improve the film's sales by attaching his name. [55]

On February 3, 2011, it was announced that Bluth and his game development company Square One Studios were working with Warner Bros. Digital Distribution to develop a modern reinterpretation of the 1983 arcade classic Tapper , titled Tapper World Tour .

As an author

Bluth has authored a series of books for students of animation: 2004's The Art of Storyboard, and 2005's The Art of Animation Drawing.

As an educator

In early 2009, Bluth launched his website in which he focuses on animation education through video tutorials, short films, and live video seminars.

As a theater director

In the 1990s, Bluth began hosting youth theater productions in the living room of his Scottsdale, Arizona home. As the popularity of these productions grew and adults expressed their wishes to become involved, Bluth formed an adult and youth theatre troupe called Don Bluth Front Row Theatre. The troupe's productions were presented in Bluth's home until 2012, when their administrative team leased a space off Shea Blvd in Scottsdale and converted it into a small theater. [56]



Other roles

See also

Related Research Articles

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<i>Anastasia</i> (1997 film) 1997 American animated film

Anastasia is a 1997 American animated musical historical fantasy adventure film produced and directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman in association with Fox Animation Studios, distributed by 20th Century Fox, and starring the voices of Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Hank Azaria, Christopher Lloyd, Bernadette Peters, Kirsten Dunst, and Angela Lansbury. The film is a loose adaptation of the legend of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, which claims that she escaped the execution of her family. Its basic plot centers around an eighteen-year-old amnesiac orphan named Anya who, in hopes of finding some trace of her family, sides with con men who wish to take advantage of her likeness to the Grand Duchess; thus the film shares its plot with Fox's prior film from 1956, which, in turn, was based on the 1955 play of the same name by Marcelle Maurette.

<i>All Dogs Go to Heaven</i> 1989 animated film directed by Don Bluth

All Dogs Go to Heaven is a 1989 animated musical fantasy comedy-drama film directed and produced by Don Bluth, and released by United Artists and Goldcrest Films. It tells the story of Charlie B. Barkin, a German Shepherd that is murdered by his former friend, Carface, but withdraws from his place in Heaven to return to Earth, where his best friend, Itchy Itchiford still lives, and they team up with a young orphan girl named Anne-Marie, who teaches them an important lesson about kindness, friendship and love.

<i>Space Ace</i> video game

Space Ace is a laserdisc video game produced by Bluth Group, Cinematronics and Advanced Microcomputer Systems. It was unveiled in October 1983, just four months after the Dragon's Lair game, then released in Spring 1984, and like its predecessor featured film-quality animation played back from a laserdisc.

<i>The Land Before Time</i> 1988 American-Irish animated adventure drama film directed by Don Bluth

The Land Before Time is a 1988 animated adventure drama film directed and produced by Dragon's Lair co-creator Don Bluth and executive produced by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy, and Frank Marshall. The film stars the voices of Gabriel Damon, Candace Hutson, Judith Barsi and Will Ryan with narration provided by Pat Hingle.

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20th Century Fox Animation company

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Sullivan Bluth Studios was an American and Irish animation studio established in 1979 by animator Don Bluth. Bluth and several colleagues, all of whom were former Disney animators, left Disney on September 13, 1979 to form Don Bluth Productions, later known as the Bluth Group. This studio produced the short film Banjo the Woodpile Cat, the feature film The Secret of NIMH, a brief animation sequence in the musical Xanadu, and the video games Dragon's Lair and Space Ace. The Bluth Group went bankrupt in 1984, and Bluth co-founded Sullivan Bluth Studios with American businessman Morris Sullivan in 1985.

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Morris Francis Sullivan was an American businessman who co-founded the Sullivan Bluth Studios with three former Disney animators. Sullivan Bluth Studios employed approximately 400 people at the peak of its success. Under Sullivan's direction, the former animation studio created such films as The Land Before Time and An American Tail.

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<i>Dragons Lair</i> (1983 video game) video game

Dragon's Lair is an interactive movie LaserDisc video game developed by Advanced Microcomputer Systems and published by Cinematronics in 1983, as the first game in the Dragon's Lair series. In the game, the protagonist Dirk the Daring is a knight attempting to rescue Princess Daphne from the evil dragon Singe who has locked the princess in the foul wizard Mordroc's castle. It featured animation by ex-Disney animator Don Bluth.

<i>Dragons Lair</i> franchise

Dragon's Lair is a video game franchise created by Rick Dyer and Don Bluth. The series is famous for its western animation-style graphics and convoluted decades-long history of being ported to many platforms and being remade into television and comic book series.


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Further reading