Disney Legend Floyd Norman

Disney Legend Floyd Norman

Born in Santa Barbara, California, the 75-year-old cartoonist/animator/writer studied illustration at Art Center College of Art and Design. Floyd began his Disney career fresh out of art school, as an animator and in-betweener (an artist who creates intermediate frames for smooth transitions between two images).

“I walked through the Buena Vista main gate back in 1956 … I was still in my twenties. This was Walt’s ‘magic factory’ and the place to be if you wanted to meet smart, talented, brilliant people. You could learn everything here – it was like a master class in animation, filmmaking, engineering, and design. And that’s exactly how many people learned their craft … they came here and just started doing it.”

Floyd worked on Disney animated classics like “Sleeping Beauty,” “101 Dalmatians,” and “The Sword in the Stone,” but had no interaction with Walt for almost 10 years. Out of the blue, he was told to work on “The Jungle Book” – as a writer! “It was weird working here and seeing Walt walk by. But when I was drafted into the story department got a chance to work with the boss. Being in meetings and story conferences with Walt was amazing … what better boss could you work for than Walt Disney? He could be scary and demanding, but that’s because he wanted the best. And that was the standard we had to meet. What better standard than the highest one possible?”

According to Floyd, meeting celebrities like Fess Parker (“Davy Crockett”), David Stollery (“Spin and Marty”), Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke was a privilege. “I was just a kid working on ‘Mary Poppins’ in the early 60’s and one day this boisterous redhead came crashing through the door and down the hall. I remember thinking, ‘Who’s this very loud, pregnant woman?'” That woman was “practically perfect” Mary herself, Julie Andrews, who was pregnant with daughter Emma.

“Julie was only there for a meeting because Walt was willing to wait until she had the baby and was ready to return to work.” Almost a year later, Floyd attended the recording sessions where Julie, Dick Van Dyke, songwriters Robert and Richard Sherman, and musical director Irwin Kostal recorded the music for “Mary Poppins” on Stage A. “With musicals, the songs are recorded [with a full orchestra] first. Once that was done, the real work began – making the movie. Every stage on this lot was used to build sets because all the film’s exteriors were shot indoors for maximum control.”

“Mary Poppins” wasn’t Disney’s first foray into combining live action with animation – Floyd mentions the “Alice Comedies” and Virginia Davis. “I met Virginia years ago when we did a personal appearance in Kansas City. She was well into her 80s or 90s, and had worked for Walt as a child in the 1930s. Walt coaxed her family to move to Hollywood because he needed her to do the ‘Alice Comedies’ here. So she moved to work for Walt – imagine the stories she has to tell!”

He goes on to say that despite the limitations of 1940s technology, Walt’s early live-action/animated films (like “Song of the South”) were, “absolutely flawless! Ub Iwerks developed processes that were amazing. They used ‘optical composites’ and everything lined up perfectly … to the envy of every other studio in town.”

When Walt passed away in 1966, Disney films just weren’t the same … nor was the atmosphere around the Lot. Floyd remembers everyone felt “lost” without their beloved leader, and he left Disney to focus on other projects. He returned to Disney Publishing in the 1980’s when Greg Crosby wanted him to write Disney comics. “He couldn’t find anyone who understood the tone, approach, and humor. I thought it was the easiest thing in the world. My childhood was so infused with Disney that I just knew what the characters should do and say – it was like second nature.”

When Pixar began work on “Toy Story 2” and “Monsters Inc.,” it’s no surprise that Floyd’s talents were recruited once again. “Steve Jobs, like Walt Disney, is one of my heroes. He’s very demanding, wants things done his way, and settles for nothing less. Walt was very much that same kind of person. People marveled at everything that came out of his studio, be it a Theme Park, movie, book, whatever. Disney meant top quality – and everyone else followed.”

Which film’s his favorite? “That’s really tough because they all have a special place in your heart – it’s hard to pick. The reason ‘The Jungle Book’ stands out is because I worked on the film with Walt Disney – and that was one time and one time only. That was Walt’s last film … life was simple back in those days. All we had to do was keep Walt happy by making the movie he wanted. That’s all that mattered to me.”

Through five generations of management regimes, Floyd remains extremely humble about his accomplishments. “I’m an apprentice really … still learning how to animate, write, direct, and be a better musician. I’ve spent my life learning how to do things – just like Walt Disney. Up to his last days, Walt was always learning something new because everything fascinated him. It didn’t matter who you were or what you did, he wanted to know all about it. What a lesson for kids – an older man who’s so eager to learn. I find it inspiring.” These days, Floyd keeps artistically fit by writing and drawing daily, whether it’s for his current collaboration with Disney Publishing, his upcoming book, or pure practice. Talk about inspiring!

Source: Disney Blog

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