Last But Not Leash

John Pomeroy was an "incurable animation addict" when he joined Walt Disney Productions in 1973, heralded as part of the "new breed" set to replace Walt's original animation veterans. But within six years, the bloom was off the cartoon rose: Pomeroy and a handful of other new breeders walked out and, led by director Don Bluth, set up their own independent production company.

"We felt Disney was cutting too many corners on traditional animation methods," Pomeroy recalls. "So Don and I fused together in the hope of championing the cause of lost animation." They followed through quite nicely with The Secret of N.I.M.H. in 1982, quite impressively with An American Tale in 1986, and quite spectacularly with last year's The Land Before Time.

This weekend, Pomeroy, Bluth and company will be going head-to-head with their ex-bosses by opening their latest venture, All Dogs Go to Heaven, in many of the same cineplexes that will be unveiling Disney's The Little Mermaid.

Made entirely at the organization's new, economically based headquarters in Dublin, Ireland, All Dogs Go to Heaven is sort of a musicalized cartoon remake of Little Miss Marker by way of Here Comes Mr. Jordan, starring a roguish German shepherd (voice by Burt Reynolds), a hyperactive dachshund (Dom DeLuise) and a cute li'l orphan girl.

Pomeroy, one of the film's producers and directing animators, unblushingly calls it "our best yet," thanks in part to newfangled animation technology.

"We'd been delinquent in getting involved with computer animation because our first priority has always been to tell good stories. But we decided to experiment in this film. Our first attempt was a scene involving a rolling Packard, and it turned out very well. Assign that scene to an animator and it'd take two months to figure out the perspective problems. Computers can give it to you in a fraction of the time and cost."

Pomeroy has high hopes for the future of computer animation. "Within a year or two, we'll be able to ink, paint and shoot final color totally on a computer," he predicts. "The depth and amount of realism and clarity will be to the extent that we'll be creating real three-dimensional environments. The only thing a computer will never do is to invent personalities, to create a Bugs Bunny or a Bambi or a Fievel Mousekewitz. That lacework must be woven by hand."

As Pomeroy sees them, animators are actors whose mode of expression is graphic symbols drawn on paper. "The need to invent new symbols is what feeds our creative addiction, and the challenges never end. You never get to the point where you can say, `I've learned all there is to know.' So you're always excited about what you're doing.

"Animation is a powerful film medium that can't be duplicated by a lot of other studios because they simply don't know how to do it. That's why I'm in this business. I know how to do it, I love it, and I don't want to see it die.

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Michael Burkett