Dan McLaughlin, who, for 37 years, headed an animation program at UCLA that was considered one of the finest in the country, died in his sleep on March 15 in West Hills, California. He was 83.
A 1958 graduate of the UCLA Theater Arts Department (now the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television), McLaughlin served as head of the Animation Workshop from 1970 until his retirement in 2007. The workshop was founded in 1948 by former Disney animator Bill Shull. When Shull retired in 1970, McLaughlin assumed that position. In 1971, he founded the school’s M.F.A. Animation Program.
An independent filmmaker, McLaughlin made more than 20 animated films, ranging from the traditional to the experimental, which have earned both national and international recognition. His student film “God is Dog Spelled Backwards” (1967) featured 3,000 years of art in three minutes and was set to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. It achieved national fame in June 1968 on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour when the imagery was accompanied by composer Mason Williams’ composition “Classical Gas.”
McLaughlin’s film “Claude” (1963) was a winner at the Chicago International Film Festival. His credits also include animation for “Sesame Street,” the Amnesty International Human Rights Now 1988 world tour and numerous other feature films.
He also published many articles, including “Animation and Modernism”; “Independent Animation in the Land of the Magic Kingdom: Between a Rock and Hollywood”; and “Animation, Aesthetics and the Computer.”
McLaughlin was also a pioneer in computer animation and interactive media. He introduced computer animation to the workshop in 1968 and interactive animation in 1988. In 1991 he developed AIA, a laser disk multimedia critical analysis system for animation.
He has had retrospective screenings and lectured at many conferences, film festivals and universities including Yale, MIT and LMU. His travels took him around the world from north of the Arctic circle in Norway to Jos, Nigeria, where he designed and directed a national animation studio for the Nigerian government.
He served on the board of directors for the International Animated Film Society ASIFA-Hollywood, a California nonprofit organization to promote and encourage the art and craft of animation, and was a consultant to other schools setting up courses and programs in animation, both traditional and digital.
In 1995, McLaughlin was the recipient of ASIFA Hollywood’s Winsor McCay Award, presented at the Annie Awards, for lifetime achievement in animation. Past recipients of the award include Walt Disney, Chuck Jones, Max Fleischer, Walter Lantz, Tex Avery, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston.