‘Fat Albert,’ ‘Transformers’ animator Leo D. Sullivan dies at 82

Emmy-winning Sullivan contributed to cartoons including "Fat Albert," "Transformers," and "My Little Pony."

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Leo D. Sullivan, the pioneering Black animator and co-founder of the first Black-owned animation production company, has died at age 82. 

Sullivan’s wife, Ethelyn, told The Hollywood Reporter that he died Saturday of heart failure at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Medical Center.

Leo Sullivan dies at 82
Leo Sullivan during a 2017 interview with Punch Animation, Inc. (Credit: Screenshot YouTube)

Over the course of a career spanning 50-plus years, Emmy-winning Sullivan contributed to cartoons including “Fat Albert,” “Transformers,” and “My Little Pony.” He also created the classic locomotive opening to “Soul Train.” In addition to producing commercials for Jamaican advertising agencies, Sullivan also managed supervisors for animation studios in Asia, according to THR.

As Cartoon Brew reports, Sullivan is quoted as once saying, “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.’”

The Texas native began his career as an assistant to producer Bob Clampett and ran errands for Snowball Studios in the early ’60s. Sullivan was ultimately promoted to cel washer on Clampett’s “Beany and Cecil” series, according to Cartoon Brew.

He took his knowledge and skills to major studios such as Hanna-Barbera, Warner Bros., Filmation, DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, DIC Entertainment and Marvel Productions, according to THR.

In 1966, Sullivan co-founded Vignette Films with Floyd Norman, Richard Allen and Norm Edelen. The company was a first-of-its-kind Black-owned animation house that specialized in educational films about Black historical figures. They also produced the 1969 Bill Cosby special, “Hey! Hey! Hey! It’s Fat Albert” for NBC.

“It was Leo Sullivan’s confidence that took us to the next level,” Norman wrote in his memoir “Animated Life,” Cartoon Brew reports. 

“It was also during this time that I learned that my partner Leo was an excellent movie producer. Actually, it would not be exaggerating to say he’s better than most. During this time, it was highly unlikely that a Black man would ever be given such a position in a major studio,” Norman continued. 

Sullivan’s credits also include work on “The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle,” “The Flintstones,” “Flash Gordon,” “Scooby-Doo,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Tiny Toons,” “Pac-Man” and “I Am the Greatest!: The Adventures of Muhammad Ali,” per THR.

His accomplishments included publishing a video game that paid tribute to the heroic Tuskegee Airmen; developing and animating a character called Walt for the California Science Center’s BodyWorks exhibit; and teaching at the Art Institute of California-Orange County, according to THR.

Sullivan was twice honored by the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.

Recently, he launched a multimedia foundation that provides training in animation and gaming to underserved youth, according to THR.

Sullivan leaves behind his wife, son Leo Jr., and daughter Tina.

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