So the Tail goes on
By Stephen Dunne
The Sullivan Bluth Studio came to Ireland initially in 1985 and put the finishing touches to the cel painting of An American Tail. In November 1986 they set up permanently in Dublin, and have since made The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go To Heaven, both fully produced in Ireland. Don Bluth is responsible for the creative/animation side of the company, together with producers John Pomeroy, Gary Goldman and Dan Kuenster. Morris Sullivan is the Executive Managing Director and is responsible for the business management of the company. The studio, a six-storey, forty-two thousand square foot building, stands on the edge of the river Liffey and adjacent to the scenic Phoenix Park, the largest suburban park in the world. The Studio has twenty-one departments and employs over 350 people in jobs ranging from animation to administration.
Whilst visiting the studio I met producer Gary Goldman, who couldn’t have been more informative if I had interrogated him rather than interview him. I asked Gary if he thought Sullivan Bluth Studios has an advantage over the early days of the Walt Disney Studio since there are four people with an artistic directive input into the studio whereas Walt Disney was the main input in his studio. Gary did agree but informed me that Don Bluth is the main artistic input although the burden on Don is lessened since Gary, John Pomeroy and Dan Kuenster give each other ideas and constructive criticism. It is Don who has the creative task of converting the story script into visual form. Page upon page of description and dialogue are illustrated with sketches. This series of sketches, each depicting a scene in the film, is mounted on large boards. Story meetings are held where Don, Gary, John and Dan go through the story-boards. They decide whether scenes will get the required reaction or atmosphere. By the time a scene goes to animation enough people will have looked at it to ensure it has achieved the required effect. This pre-editing is essential, particularly on costly features like All Dogs Go To Heaven, as it would be very wasteful to edit later on.
Meanwhile, the equally important sound-track is being prepared by the editorial department. Initially they record the voices, temporary sound effects and music. The track is then synchronised with shots of the story sketches to form a story reel which is the most elementary form of the final film. Throughout the entire production the editorial department will be engaged on collecting and assembling the sound and picture reels until they evolve into the finished film.
The sound department boasts the most modem facilities such as Tascam audio equipment capable of recording half-inch eight-track (multi-track) and quarter inch two-track (reproducer/re-recorder). The room is also designed for narration and recording of sound effects. The studio uses Magna-Tech sound transfer equipment, capable of transfering quarter inch, eight track tape cassette and disc. They can make 35mm to 35mm (one-to-one) transfers and duplicates of 35mm three track masters. They can also create original sound effects with the aid of an in-house sound effects library and sound modification equipment.