Legendary animator, producer and director Arthur Rankin Jr., who delivered some of the most enduring and well-loved TV holiday specials of all time, has died at age 89. The acclaimed creator passed away at his home in Bermuda following a bout of illness, according to The Royal Gazette. Since the early 1960s, Rankin and his partner Jules Bass have created classic stop-motion animated specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town and many other broadcast record-setting gems.
Born in New York in 1924, Rankin was a self-made filmmaker who began his entertainment career as art director at ABC in the late ’40s before founding Videocraft International (later Rankin/Bass) in 1960. The duo revolutionized the industry opinion of stop-motion craft with the release of Rudolph. Rankin also wrote, produced or directed over a dozen feature films as well as traditionally animated TV series ThunderCats and SilverHawks, among 1,000-plus other productions for television. Rankin is also credited as a pioneer in using celebrity voices in animation, casting such 20th century entertainment giants as comic actor Danny Kaye, dancing star Fred Astaire and horror master Boris Karloff in his productions, often creating character designs that resembled the stars.
In the later decades, Rankin/Bass created celebrated adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings stories, as well as The Last Unicorn and The Flight of Dragons. Rankin’s most recent notable credit is as producer of the 1999 animated take on The King and I.
Rankin is survived by his Greek-born wife Olga and sons Todd and Gardner.