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Morris F. Sullivan, 1916 - 2008

Opened animation studio with 3 top Disney artists

September 02, 2008|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Morris F. Sullivan, who ran a financial consulting firm before helping to establish an animation studio in Ireland populated by ex-Disney artists, died Aug. 24 of complications related to old age at his Toluca Lake home, his family said. He was 91.

In 1979, three of Disney's top animators -- including Don Bluth -- left the company with a group of artists who felt production values were being compromised for the bottom line. The maverick studio they set up in Van Nuys was struggling financially when a golf partner persuaded the semi-retired Sullivan to step in.

The animators screened their 1982 film "The Secret of NIMH" for him, and Sullivan responded: "I'm your guardian angel. I'm going to make this work for you," Bluth told The Times in 1989. "He came along at a time when we were desperate, and he saved us."

Sullivan became owner-president of what was eventually known as Sullivan Bluth Studios, which produced "An American Tail" in 1986. The studio soon moved to Ireland, where animated features could be made for less.

"My father was somewhat of a natural risk-taker," said Terry Sullivan Maphis, one of his daughters. "He orchestrated the move to Dublin . . . to capitalize on the Irish government's special tax subsidies to filmmakers."

Sullivan Bluth was a major influence in the development of Ireland's animation industry, according to Dublin's National College of Art and Design.

At its peak, the studio employed about 400, and its feature films included "The Land Before Time" (1988) and "All Dogs Go to Heaven" (1989).

The company struggled after a major investor withdrew financing, and Bluth and another animator left to set up an animation studio for 20th Century Fox.

Sullivan Bluth closed in 1995.

Morris Francis Sullivan was born Dec. 8, 1916, in Seattle to Frank and Pauline Sullivan. His father owned a lumber company.

Sullivan majored in business finance at Seattle College and married in 1941. He moved to La Crescenta in 1948 and -- after the ninth of his 10 children was born in 1954 -- to a bigger house in what is now La Canada Flintridge.

In 1960, he founded M.F. Sullivan and Co., a corporate mergers and acquisitions firm, in downtown Los Angeles.

His wife, Rose, died in 1971 and a daughter, Maureen, died in 1998.

He is survived by nine children, David, Kathleen, Patrick, Michael, Kelly, Mary, Tim, Terry and Dan; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, 10850 Moorpark St., North Hollywood.

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valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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