Animation Studios of the Past: Part 3

It's time for another installment of Animation Studios from the Past! Last month we covered United Productions of America (UPA), Amblination, and Pacific Data Images (PDI). This month we'll discuss 3 studios that have not all folded into DreamWorks, only one!

1. Will Vinton Studios

Will Vinton Productions (later changed to Will Vinton Sudios) was formed by Will Vinton in 1976 after he and his partner Bob Gardiner parted ways after working on short film named Mountain Music. Vinton created the studio to focus and capitalize on animation technology. Throughout the years Vinton created and helped produce notable characters such as, The California Raisins and M&M's. His studio also provided animation affects for The Adventures of Mark TwainReturn of Oz, and The PJs. In the late 1990's, Vinton was in need of more funds to create feature films, and caught the attention of investor Phil Knight, owner of Nike.  As the studio began to take to more projects then they had money for, Knight gained more control he demanded his son Travis Knight be hired as an animator.  Travis, after a failed career as a rapper (name was Chilly Tee wanted to try his luck as an animator.  In 2002, Phil Knight became the majority shareholder at Will Vinton Studios and dismissed Will Vinton from the studio. In 2005, Will Vinton Studios was renamed to Laika Studios.  You might know Laika from its feature films “Kubo and the two Strings”, “The Boxtrolls”, “Paranorman”, or "Coraline”.  Travis is now the President and CEO, who directs some of the films, and even still animates on some of them.

2. Fleischer Studios

In 1921 brothers Max Fleischer and Dave Fleischer founded Inkwell Studios (changing to Fleischer Studios in 1929) in New York. Unlike other animation studios at the time, Max and Dave focused on human characters, rather than animal characters. Their most notable characters include, Koko the Clown, Betty Boop, Bimbo, Popeye the Sailor, and Superman. As a reflection to the Depression, most of their images and environments were grittier and urban. While creating their first feature film for Paramount in the late 30's, the brother's relationship began to deteriorate due to the pressure of finishing the studio's first feature film. In the early 40's profits began to fall, and Paramount was having to advance money to the studio. in 1941, when profits continued to dwindle, Paramount assumed full ownership of Fleischer Studios.

3. Classic Media

Classic Media Characters

Classic Media's history is a bit of a purchasing rollercoaster, try and follow! Eric Ellenbogen and John Engelman founded Classic Media in 2000 and acquired UPA's catalog at the same time. Classic Media then bought Harvey Entertainment in March 2001. In May of 2001, Classic Media and Random house won a joint bid on Golden Books, and Classic Media acquired Golden Books entertainment assets. In 2003, Classic Media bought Big Idea Entertainment who was filing for bankruptcy at the time. In 2006, Classic Media was bought by their UK rival, Entertainment Rights. In 2009, Boomerang Media bought Entertainment Rights. Then in 2012, DreamWorks Animation acquired Classic Media from Boomerang Media. Finally, in 2016, DreamWorks Animation was acquired by NBCUniversal through Universal Studios, which is all owned by Comcast. Did you get all that? 

Animation Studios of the Past: Part 2

A few months ago we posted about the history of a few animation studios that even with successful projects and stable times, have since folded or been bought out by larger studios or corporations. We'd like to continue this series and showcase a few more studios that once upon a time were profitable and prosperous before their closure. Interestingly enough, all these companies in some way or another, folded their assets or staff into DreamWorks Animation, who as of Monday, is now owned by Universal. 

United Productions of America (UPA)
United Productions of America (better known as UPA), started at the beginning of the 1941 Disney Animator strike. The American animation studio began with industrial and World War II training films. UPA, active from the 1940's to the 1970's, eventually began developing and creating shorts, most notably Mr. Magoo. UPA, unlike Disney, believed animation did not have to be as realistic as possible, and could be more creative. Although their original goal was to expand the boundaries of animation, unfortunately they began accomplishing quite the opposite. After 20 years of low budget and poorly made cartoons, the animation studio started to dwindle. In 2000 UPA was sold to Classic Media, and in 2012, Classic Media was bought by DreamWorks Animation.

Amblination, founded in 1989 was an animation production division of Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment. The studio, known for their quieter atmosphere and slower pace only produced 3 films. In 1997, while working on their 4th film, an adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats the studio was shut down due to underperformance at the box office (Cats was never completed). Many staff members went on to work at DreamWorks Animation. Amblination's most notable film was An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, the character Fievel was even featured on Amblination's company logo.  

Pacific Data Images (PDI)  
PDI, a computer animation production company, was founded in 1980 by Carl Rosendahl with a loan of $25,000 by his father. In 1981, he was joined by Richard Chang and in 1982 by Glenn Entis. Richard and Glen worked on the in-house computer animation software that PDI would use for the next 20 years. PDI's goal was to deliver "Entertainment using 3D computer animation". In 2000, DreamWorks bought PDI, releasing feature films such as Antz and Shrek. By 2005, PDI had created over 1000 projects and grown to about 400 employees. In 2015, due to a larger restructuring effort within the company, DreamWorks dismantled their PDI division. All 3 founders have since gone off to pursue their own ventures. 

Stay tuned for more Animation Studios of the Past posts in the near future!