Rest In Peace: Leo Sullivan, Trailblazing Animator and Co-Founder of Hollywood’s First Black-Owned Animation Studio Passed Away. He was 82

leo sullivan

Leo Sullivan, a trailblazing Black animation artist and co-founder of Hollywood’s first Black-owned animation studio, passed away at the age of 82 on March 25, 2023. He passed in Los Angeles due to heart failure, as confirmed by his wife Ethelyn. Sullivan was a pioneer in the animation industry, working as an animator and producer for over six decades.

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Born in Lockhart, Texas, in 1940, Sullivan’s family moved to Los Angeles in 1952 where he began his career working as a cel washer on Clampett’s Beany and Cecil series. Clampett then promoted Sullivan to an inbetweener on the same series, and this marked the beginning of his career as an industry artist. Over the years, Sullivan worked for all the major studios of the era, including Hanna-Barbera, Filmation, DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, DiC Entertainment, and Marvel Productions. He contributed to countless animated shows, including The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, Mighty Mouse, Fat Albert, Super Friends, The Transformers, My Little Pony, Tiny Toon Adventures, and Animaniacs.

In 1966, Sullivan co-founded Vignette Films, the first Black-owned animation production company, along with Floyd Norman, Richard Allen, and Norm Edelen. As the first Black-owned animation production company, Vignette produced educational films about Black historical figures like George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington and worked on various Hollywood TV productions throughout the ’60s, including the primetime TV special Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert (1969), the Soul Train series opening, and writing on sketch comedy series like Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and Turn On.

Sullivan also worked on the producing and management side of the business throughout his career. In the ’70s, he ran the animation department at the L.A. commercial studio Spungbuggy Works. Sullivan did commercial work for ad agencies in the Caribbean, managed several animation studios in Asia, published a video game that honored the heroic Tuskegee Airmen, and developed and animated a character named Walt for the California Science Center.

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Sullivan provided mentorship and education to many artists. Wherever he was in a hiring capacity, he would take chances on young artists who were starting their animation careers. He often spoke to grade school students about pursuing a career in film, and he also sponsored field trips for children to attend movie theaters. Additionally, he taught animation at the Art Institute of California in Orange County.

In 2016, Sullivan and Norman reteamed to launch Afrokids.com, a label dedicated to empowering families and building children’s self-esteem and cultural heritage through educational and entertainment media.

Sullivan’s impact on the animation industry and his dedication to diversifying it will always be remembered. His passion for animation and his willingness to mentor the next generation of artists will continue to inspire and influence many aspiring animators.

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