The Animated Feature We Never Made

Let's return to the wonderful world of traditional animation and a long forgotten studio that once had big dreams. The project was an animated motion picture loosely based on Mark Twain's character, Huck Finn. The studio was the brain child of an enormously talented designer and a Newport Beach businessman. Before you scoff at this odd pairing I can only say stranger things have happened in this crazy business.

We had just moved a series of storyboards from our Studio City facility to a larger production studio located in Burbank. The series of storyboards were carted over to the valley for a big meeting with our principal investor. There must have been a dozen or more boards delivered for this meeting. Since I had my camera handy, I snapped photographs of each of the boards in the presentation. It's probably difficult to see here, but these presentation boards were beautiful. The first series of boards show the film's opening. The camera begins its pan through a rich marshland setting up the locale for the film story. With its display of rich fauna and flora you can see this opening could easily have been a Walt Disney motion picture. Naturally, in many ways, this film was heavily influenced by Disney.

Huck's Landing was slated to be a traditional hand drawn animated movie with all production done here in the United States. Yes, I know it sounds like a fantasy, but we had already ordered hundreds of animation desks for our future employees. It's difficult to explain the enthusiasm for the film that existed at the time. Dozens of eager young men and women anticipated working on the movie that would take hand drawn animation to the next level. Over in Burbank, Disney's animation division appeared to be comatose and cross town rival, Don Bluth seemed to be having difficulty coming up with financing for a second film. Supposedly, our movie had backing, and that explained why we were busily staffing up.

However, it gets better. While it's true we were planning on producing our film on a lean, mean budget, that didn't exclude entertaining some rather provocative ideas. We had sought the services of special effects guru, Peter Kuran (just off the Star Wars movie) to generate tone mattes for our animation. In another bold move, we experimented with compositing hand drawn animation into physical backgrounds. Keep in mind this was years before digital. I'm speaking of an analog process where the human touch would be evident. Think of the work Max Fleischer did in the thirties using scale models in the “Popeye” cartoons. Now, move that inventive process up into the eighties. “Huck's Landing” would have set a new standard for animation. Plus, our talent pool reads like a who's who of animation today. Kathy Alterie as art director and our animators included Duncan Majoriebanks, Bruce Smith, Chris Bailey, Glenn Chaika, Chuck Harvey, Mike Snow and Chris Wahl. Our background team included Mike Humphries and Ron Dias. Of course, we had Gary Trousdale, Scott Shaw! and Pat Ventura on our story team. And, those are only a few of the names we acquired.

I could tell you a whole lot more because “Huck's Landing” is one of the greatest animated stories never told. Perhaps I'll write a book on the subject one day. I've been known to do that sort of thing.