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Michael Hirsh was born in Belgium in 1948. He arrived in Toronto at the age of three, and a decade later the family relocated once more to New York City. While a student at the Bronx School of Science, Hirsh became interested in filmmaking and spent much of his time back in Toronto at York University, working with various partners on a number of live action and animated films. One of those partners was Patrick Loubert.
After graduating, Loubert and Hirsh worked briefly for Cineplast, creating animated sequences for Sesame Street. In 1971, they founded their own company, Laff Arts, which became Nelvana one year later with the arrival of English animator Clive Smith. Nelvana’s earliest years were spent producing short ‘filler’ films (2-4 minute films that could be used to complete an hour of programming when a feature or series film was short) for CBC in addition to whatever contract work they could find. In 1977, the fledgling company produced A Cosmic Christmas; this caught the attention of George Lucas, who hired them to produce a ten-minute animated segment for a Star Wars television special. He subsequently hired Nelvana to co-produce (with his own Lucasfilm Ltd.) two ABC-TV series, Ewoks and Droids. Gradually, the partners at Nelvana evolved into their roles: Loubert became a key administrative figure and co-CEO; Smith became the director of Nelvana’s most important films, and Hirsh asserted himself as Nelvana’s co-CEO and major spokesman for the organization. Nelvana’s period of artistic success ground to a sudden halt when the heavy metal-influenced feature Rock & Rule became a financial debacle; though the film has gone on to achieve cult status, Nelvana could have folded as a result of the film’s failure.
Hirsh persuaded the owners of The Care Bears franchise to have his studio produce their feature film and television series, and The Care Bears effectively saved the company. Nelvana went on to produce some of the most popular children’s series of the 1980s and 1990s, including My Pet Monster, The Adventures of Tintin, Rupert the Bear, Pippi Longstocking, Babar, Franklin, as well as the live action T & T (starring Mr. T.).
Nelvana now has hundreds of employees all over the world, and the company’s backcatalogue includes over 1400 productions. It also now produces both 2D and 3D animation, and its productions are seen in 180 countries. Nelvana was sold to Corus Entertainment in September 2000, and Hirsh resigned his position as CEO in October 2002. Since that time, Hirsh has served as CEO of Cookie Jar Entertainment; he also serves as CEO of the company’s education division, which includes Carson-Dellosa Publishing and HighReach Learning.
Michael Hirsh is the coauthor of The Great Canadian Comics. He lives in Toronto.
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Nelvana website http://www.nelvana.com/
The Cookie Jar Company website http://www.thecookiejarcompany.com/index.php
Hirsh, Michael and Patrick Loubert. The Great Canadian Comic Books. Toronto: P. Martin Associates, 1971.
Hume, Christopher. “Nelvana exhibition traces a very animated 25 years.” Toronto Star, July 18, 1996, G.10.
Marotte, Bertrand. “Private equity may get its hand in the Cookie Jar.” The Globe and Mail, April 26, 2007, B.6.
Won, Shirley. “Hirsh wants Cookie Jar full of ‘brands’.” The Globe and Mail, July 14, 2006, B.3.
Znaimer, Libby. “Just an average animated day: Doodlebops creator is always on.” National Post, May 20, 2006, FW.9.