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BY Abu Mubarik, 1:00pm April 20, 2023,

Meet Leo Dan Sullivan, the founder of Hollywood’s first black-owned animated studio

Leo Dan Sullivan. Photo credit: Cartoon Brew

Leo Dan Sullivan was a trailblazer in the animation industry who founded Hollywood’s first black-owned animated studio. He worked as an animator and producer for over six decades before he passed away at age 84.

Sullivan’s career started as an errands boy for Bob Clampett’s Snowball Productions in the early 1960s. He also worked in other job positions at the establishment, but his passion for cartoons soon influenced his career trajectory.

“I would go to the movies and see all these cartoons and I thought it was little people running around in costumes doing it. Then I started doing some research when I was in high school and I said ‘Hey, this is fantastic,’” he told Cartoon Brew.

His career as an industry artist began when Clampett promoted him to an in-betweener on the Beany and Cecil series. He went on to work for major studios of the era, including Hanna-Barbera, Filmation, DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, DiC Entertainment, and Marvel Productions.

What is more, he also contributed as an animator, layout artist, and sheet timer to countless animated shows like The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, Mighty Mouse, Fat Albert, Super Friends, The Transformers, My Little Pony, Tiny Toon Adventures, and Animaniacs, according to Cartoon Brew.

In 1966, he co-founded Vignette Film, the first black-owned animation studio in the United States. He started the production company along with Floyd Norman, Richard Allen, and Norm Edelen. Vignette produced films about black historical figures like George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington. 

The company worked on Hollywood productions like Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert (1969), and the Soul Train series opening. He also wrote sketch comedy series like Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and Turn On.

In 2016, he partnered with Norman to launch Afrokids.com in a bid to empower families, build children’s self-esteem and promote the cultural heritage of minorities through educational and entertainment media. According to him, the inspiration for Afrokids dates back to his early career when he saw characters from underrepresented communities being marginalized in animation.

“I realized that Black characters, different ethnicities, were marginalized. Sometimes marginalization comes in subtle ways,” he told Cartoon Crew. “And I said, ‘Somebody needs to change that.’ But most of the people in the industry who happened to be African American or from other cultures sort of had to go along with what was dished out to them in order to make a living. The only way to escape that is to go out on your own and see if you can build something that is more in line with what could build up our people.”

His trailblazing career as an industry artist saw him win several honors. He was honored twice by the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, he also won an Emmy for his work as a timing director. 

Leo Dan Sullivan passed away in Los Angeles on March 25 2023 from heart failure. He is survived by his wife Ethelyn O. Stewart, their son Leo Jr., and daughter Tina.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: April 20, 2023


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