Variety September 19, 1979:

Disney Loses 11 Animators, All To Work For Bluth Prods.

Walt Disney Prods. lost a large chunk of its animation team last week when seven out of 16 animators and four out of 26 assistant animators quit to form an indie animated pic production company.

The new company, Don Bluth Prods., will produce full-length animated pix in association with Aurora Prods., a new company itself formed by three former Disney execs.

Bluth Prods.' first feature will be an animated feature based on the Newberry award-winning novel "Mrs. Frisby And The Rats Of Nimh," a $7,000,000 project stated for a mid-1982 completion.

Bluth, one of the departing animators, said that some more members of Disney's animation dept. may leave the company shortly, but the company said it knew of no other departures.

Ron Miller, Disney's exec v.p. for creative affairs, said the exiting 11 animators had been working on an animated featurette, "Banjo," on their own time at Bluth's house.

Miller said that the animation exodus may push back the planned Christmas 1980 opening of "The Fox And The Hound," to the following summer. Ed Hansen, manager of the animation dept. said it was too early to say what effect the departures could have on future animation projects. Still, Miller said, "those animators that remain are still the creative backbone of the company."

Hansen acknowledged that the departure of the 11 animators would hamper the company's animation for a while. "But the enthusiasm of the people here can carry anything through," he said. "The talent is here, but experience is hard to find."

Miller said the departure of the 11 animators and assistant animators -- about 17% of the total department -- "was possibly the best thing that could happen to our animation group. The timing was bad though."

He said that there had been "creative differences" and other conflicts among the people in the animation department. Disney's animation group consisted of 16 animators, three effects animators, 26 assistant animators, 21 breakdown and in-betweeners, and four trainees.

Miller stated that they gave no specific reason for their departure. "Some of them I respect," he said. "Some I wouldn't have back. Some will be back."

Aurora Prods. was begun recently by Rich Irvine, president of Disney's educational Media co., Jiim Steward, ex-v.p. of corporate relations, and Jon Lang, former L.A. manager of Buena Vista Distribution, the Disney distrib arm.

Irvine, president and chief exec of Aurora, and Stewart, exec v.p., are exec producers on "Mrs. Frisby." Bluth will produce and direct the story based upon the novel by Robert C. O'Brien.