Floyd E. Norman is an American animator, writer, and comic book artist. Over the course of his career, Norman has worked for a number of animation companies, among them Walt Disney Animation Studios, Hanna-Barbera Productions, Ruby-Spears, Film Roman and Pixar.
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Floyd Norman is an animator, storyman, and troublemaker. But more importantly he is an official Disney Legend, honored by the company in 2007 with this title. Norman is the first Black artist at Disney, and has had a storied career working on Disney classics, as well as famed Saturday-morning cartoons, Pixar feature films, and more. At 81 years old, Norman is the focus of a new feature documentary out in theaters starting this Friday August 26th. "Floyd Norman: An Animated Life", reveals how Norman continues to impact animation and stir up "trouble" after the company forced him to retire at age 65. It's a tale of perseverance, and a love letter to the history of animation, as seen through the life of a one-of-a-kind man. Check out the trailer at
Filmmaker Michael Fiore owns and operates Michael Fiore Films; a boutique production company that develops, finances, and creates high-concept filmed content for the best-of-the-best in the Film, TV, and Ad worlds. Fiore has worked as a writer/director and producer/editor for industry notables like Joel Silver (Prod. "The Matrix"), Jonathan Liebesman (Dir. "TNMT"), and Tom DiCillo (Dir. "Living in Oblivion") among others. Fiore has another movie coming out later this year, in December, titled "Keep Watching" from Sony Screen Gems. That film stars Bella Thorne and "Walking Dead" star Chandler Riggs.
Filmmaker Erik Sharkey is no stranger to the world of documentary. Sharkey's last feature documentary "Drew: The Man Behind the Poster" follows the creative endeavors of the legendary movie poster artist Drew Struzan. Prior to that documentary, Sharkey had directed a fun comedy titled "Sexina" starring the original Batman, Adam West. Sharkey is a born-and-bred New Yorker, with the accent to prove it!
What is the best story you have about your job ?
For me, the best thing about doing story is... it never gets old. Every new assignment is a challenge.
When did you become the first African-American to work there and how many are there now? Was it due to biases in the industry at the time or a result of a lack of animation interest in that community?
I was the first black artist to work at Disney simply because I applied for the job and was able to qualify. Nobody was being kept out. If you were talented and ready to work, that was what mattered. Not the color of your skin. Keep in mind, Walt Disney Productions had minorities working at the studio as far back as the thirties. I know. I met a number of those artists during my career.
What kind of storytelling advice did you learn from Walt Disney when you worked for him? I always got the impression that when it came to gags, Walt always stressed motivation and context--is that true?
Walt Disney taught me how important it is to connect with your audience. He taught me the importance of having characters you can like. Characters you fall in love with. If you don't connect with the character...the story doesn't matter. Walt often said, not to become overly focused on story. I know that sounds odd because today we hear that story is everything. Well, honestly story isn't everything. It's important, of course. But, as entertainers we should be focused on our storytelling. HOW you tell the story is what's important. The story could be very simple...however, you must tell that story in a compelling way.
Walt Disney was a great gag man. He loved gags. His daughter, Diane Disney Miller told me that. To the best of my knowledge, Walt never analyzed gags. Not in front of me anyway. He knew I was a gagster. He knew I did funny stuff. I never analyze why stuff is funny...it just is. Sure, I guess motivation and context are important. I'm sure it plays a part in the way I craft a gag.
What one piece of advice would you give an aspiring Disney animator or artist?
Go to school if you can. It can be expensive these days. However, you can educate yourself. There's a good deal of information available these days. When I was young it was difficult to get information about the animation business. Today, with the Internet it's a lot easier.
Who is your favorite artist?
Either by talent or by personality.
Probably Disney animator, Ward Kimball.
Also how does Disney come up with the elaborate ideas for their movies ?
Well, there's a wealth of stories out there. existing material and room for new ideas. Looking for stories is fairly easy. There's just so much stuff out there.
What are your artistic influences outside of animation?
I tell my students to study everything. Not just animation. Study music, science, and every discipline you can think of. Never stop learning. This information will inform everything you do in filmmaking.
Who is your favorite character you've animated?
The only Disney character I've ever officially animated was, Robin Hood. I've spent most of my time as a story artist and a writer. I still love animation, however.
What is the biggest hurdle you had to overcome in the workplace and how did you find the courage to tackle it?
Because animation takes so many people to create an animated film, one can get "lost in the crowd." It's difficult to stand out when there are so many great artists around you. You have to continually find ways to distinguish yourself from everyone else. What is it that is unique about you? What are your special skills or talents?
When you compare the animation culture now to what it was when you started, what are the three biggest differences?
In many ways animation hasn't really changed all that much. The tools continue to evolve but storytelling remains the same. When I began my career, jobs were few because there were so few studios. Now, there are more studios than ever developing more projects than ever.
I know Walt was a lot less 'hands on' during your time with the company, but do you have any good stories about him?
That's not exactly correct. Walt Disney was very much hands on during my ten years with the Old Maestro. He was everywhere and he was doing everything. For me, my best memories of him is being a great teacher. I learned so much about storytelling from Walt.
What is your favourite thing you have animated or created in your lifetime?
My greatest challenge was working on "The Jungle Book" because I was actually working with Walt Disney. That's a pretty daunting task. My other favorite project was, "Toy Story2." I think that's because we crafted a marvelous story. The film could have been a lackluster sequel. Instead, Pixar made a masterpiece.
What did you think of Jon Favreau's take on The Jungle Book?
I'm a huge fan of Jon Favreau and I loved what he did with The Jungle Book. I only hope there is some way I can work with him on the sequel. There's going to be one, I'm sure.
Hey, Floyd, what was it like working for Woolie Reitherman? And why did some of his films have loose, episodic plot structures?
I truly liked Woolie Reitherman and I loved his animation. I actually enjoyed working with him and he's a talented guy. Having said that, I don't feel story was his strong point and I'm afraid his films show that. I wish his films had not been so episodic and so lacking in structure. However, I wasn't the one in charge. That was Walt Disney's call.
Hi Do you have any directorial advice? :~)
Do you mean, how does one become a director? First of all, become a good storyteller. Learn how to communicate. Learn how to write. Of course, you must know how to tell a compelling story and that's not easy. In my experience, some people simply have the gift of storytelling while others struggle with it. That's just the way it is, I guess.
Hi Mr. Floyd, what is the best thing a director can do for you?
A good director must have a point of view. I hate working for directors who can't tell me what they want. If they don't know the story they're telling... how the heck can I know? I can't read their mind. A good director must have a vision and the skills to articulate that vision.
What are you opinions on industry progression? Computer based animation?
The industry will continue to evolve. It always has... and probably always will. The art will improve and the technology will continue to improve. The the past few years we've made impressive strides in technology. A bit too much, in my opinion. I'd like more of a focus on art and hand drawn animation. I'm afraid we've become a little to focused on technology today. I love technology, but it's not an end all be all. I'd like to see animated films created. Today, too many animated films are manufactured.
In another reply in the thread, Erik mentioned that you helped put the story together for the original Jungle Book. How often did you have a hand in the story as well as the animation?
Michael, are you the guy in the reverse cotton candy eating gif?
Really looking forward to the film guys!
I was lucky to have been a part of the story team on The Jungle Book. Oddly enough it was a job I didn't want. I wanted to be an animator. However, once I got a taste of story I never wanted to give it up. Making an animated film is a team effort. I was lucky to have been part of Walt's guys. I don't regard my contribution as anything more special than the rest of our team.
What is your favourite part of The Jungle Book?
Probably the stuff with Mowgli and Kaa. I guess because Vance Gerry and I came up with all the funny business. I also liked the scenes we did with Kaa and Sher Kahn. Really cool stuff.
Why was Floyd Norman never given screen credit on the Disney animated films he worked during the 1960s?
Don't make it personal. Back in the old days not everybody got screen credit. That's just the way it was. I never expected to receive screen credit on The Jungle Book. Keep in mind, my story colleagues, Al Wilson, Dick Lucas and Eric Cleworth never got a story credit either.
I totally love the sequences with Mowgli and Kaa! The "Trust in Me" sequence is fantastic!
Thanks, Eric. It was fun doing that stuff.
Hey Floyd thanks for making the time to do this AMA!
Ill be honest with you I had not heard of you prior to this and after a quick google I've found you have a hand in a lot of my favorite Disney films. My question is do you think Artists such as yourself get enough credit for what you do?
Thanks a lot. I've enjoyed doing this work throughout my career. Honestly, I don't think guys like me come into this business to gain credit or fame. You do this job because we love it. I hear this from all the men and women I've worked with over the years. Doing a great job is our compensation. Sure, we've gotta earn a living and for the most part we're paid well. However, it's never been about the fame or the money. We simply love this line of work.