Leo Sullivan, First Black-Owned Animation Studio Co-Founder Remembered

The world has lost one of the greatest if not the most important name in animation, Leo Dan Sullivan co-founder of Hollywood’s first Black owned animation studio who has worked in the industry for over six decades. Leo Sullivan is regarded as one of the trailblazing animators who brought positive Black characters to the screen, was Disney’s first Black and co-founded Vignette Films in 1966, 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.

Under the Vignette brand, the company also worked on various Hollywood tv productions throughout the 1960s, including the primetime tv special Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert (1969), the animated intro opening of Soul Train series and writing on sketch comedy series like Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and Turn On.

Throughout his career, he’s worked with some of the largest companies including Hanna-Barbera, Warner Brothers, Campbell/Silver/Cosby (Fat Albert), Filmation, DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, DiC Entertainment, and Marvel Productions. He contributed as an animator, layout artist, and sheet timer 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.

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 spoken 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.

Sullivan and creative partner Floyd Norman teamed on AfroKids.com, whose mission was to build self-esteem and reconnect children to their cultural heritage by teaching life lessons, family values, respect and responsibility. (Sullivan was featured prominently in the 2016 documentary Floyd Norman: An Animated Life.)