DRAWN TO IT

IN MORE THAN 50 YEARS AS AN AN­I­MA­TOR, FLOYD NOR­MAN HAS GONE FROM PEN AND PAPER TO COM­PUT­ERS. BUT THE STORY, HE SAYS, IS STILL THE KEY

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - LETTERS / CONTENTS - WOR DS A N D R EW F E N T O N

From Sleep­ing Beauty to Toy Story 2, Floyd Nor­man has made his mark.

FOR

chil­dren grow­ing up in the 1940s, watch­ing car­toons meant a trip to the cin­ema. Sit­ting in the flick­er­ing light a young Floyd Nor­man re­mem­bers be­ing en­tranced as the colour­ful draw­ings burst into life. The pos­si­bil­i­ties seemed to be limited only by cre­ativ­ity and imag­i­na­tion. “I fell in love with an­i­ma­tion,” says Nor­man, now 75. “It just fas­ci­nated me that any­thing you could imag­ine, you could draw. For me it was more than just en­joy­ing a good car­toon, I re­alised this was some­thing I wanted to do with my life.”

Nor­man made his own dream come true, join­ing Dis­ney in 1956 as a 19-year-old, and go­ing on to work for Hanna-Bar­bera and Pixar as well. From hand-paint­ing to com­puter graph­ics, and Sleep­ing Beauty to Scooby

Doo and Buzz Lightyear, he’s just about seen it all. Back in the 1950s, he was the first African Amer­i­can to work at the “house of mouse”, al­though he never felt like he was break­ing down bar­ri­ers. “I just saw my­self as an­other ea­ger young kid want­ing to break into the busi­ness.” Nor­man be­gan his ca­reer on Sleep­ing Beauty as the low­est of the low – an “in-be­tweener”. That’s the painstak­ing and time-con­sum­ing job of draw­ing all the in­ter­me­di­ate stages be­tween the key poses cre­ated by the ac­tual an­i­ma­tor. “It’s kind of te­dious, it’s not al­ways a good deal of fun and it’s cer­tainly not an­i­mat­ing,” he says. “But that’s where you learn your craft.”

Nor­man was lucky to join when he did – when the bud­gets were big and the staff num­bers were ex­trav­a­gant. Sleep­ing Beauty was al­most a decade in pro­duc­tion and cost $6 mil­lion – twice the cost of Dis­ney’s other fea­tures. Its un­der­per­for­mance at the box of­fice con­trib­uted to Dis­ney’s first an­nual loss.

Some­thing had to change, and 500 or so Dis­ney an­i­ma­tion staff were given their march­ing or­ders be­tween Sleep­ing Beauty (1959) and 101 Dal­ma­tians (1961). Nor­man sur­vived but the small staff and bud­get meant the pro­cesses needed to be rad­i­cally re­shaped. “We had to find a way to make a film that was sim­pler and more cost ef­fec­tive, so we adopted an art style that would ba­si­cally save on money,” Nor­man says. The op­u­lent and de­tailed style of Sleep­ing Beauty was ditched for a much sim­pler and ba­sic style in­flu­enced by the car­toons of St Trinian’s cre­ator Ron­ald Searle. Much of the hand paint­ing and ink­ing was re­placed by Xerox ma­chines. Back­grounds were also sim­pli­fied. While Dis­ney wasn’t too pleased with the “sketchy” look the cut­backs pro­duced, it helped keep the com­pany afloat – and the story was af­ter all the key to a good film.

Both Sleep­ing Beauty and 101 Dal­ma­tians are head­ing back into the so-called “Dis­ney vault” to­day. That means the DVD copies cur­rently on shelves are the last that will be avail­able un­til the film is re-re­leased in seven years’ time. Dis­ney came up with the “vault” con­cept in the 1940s and it works a treat – Sleep­ing Beauty’s reg­u­lar re-re­leases in the­atres has seen its life­time in­fla­tion­ad­justed box of­fice gross reach $478.22 mil­lion.

Nor­man says Walt Dis­ney was an “al­most fa­therly fig­ure” to the staff. A 1950s kind of firm-but-fair fa­ther. “We had a great deal of re­spect for him even though he was a tough boss and could be a hard taskmas­ter,” he says. “I wouldn’t say that meant he was an un­kind man. I felt him to be very kind, gen­er­ous and un­der­stand­ing, but a man who would scold you if you weren’t de­liv­er­ing your best.”

Nor­man was pro­moted to story artist (es­sen­tially a cross be­tween a screen­writer and an­i­ma­tor) af­ter long­time story artist Bill Peet fell out with Walt over The

Jun­gle Book. “Peet walked off the film,” Nor­man says. “That meant Walt had to pull a new story team to­gether and I was part of that team. Walt was some­one who kept an eye on ev­ery­one and he knew who could do what and for some rea­son he thought I had a flair for story.”

It was to be the last Dis­ney film over­seen by Walt – he died a year be­fore its re­lease. Nor­man left shortly

af­ter­wards and founded his own stu­dio, AfroKids, which pro­duced the Hey! Hey! Hey! It’s Fat Al­bert for NBC (not to be con­fused with the se­ries that screened in Aus­tralia). In the mid-1970s he joined Hanna-Bar­bera, work­ing on TV car­toons such as The Smurfs and Scooby

Doo. The cost-cut­ting on Dis­ney’s 101 Dal­ma­tians was noth­ing com­pared to life at Hanna-Bar­bera. Nor­man wrote a book of car­toons about the ex­pe­ri­ence, called

Faster! Cheaper!

TV bud­gets were tiny. To give some idea, when Wil­liam Hanna and Joseph Bar­bera were knock­ing out Tom and Jerry the­atri­cal shorts for MGM in the 1950s they had a bud­get of $35,000 per seven-minute film. When they started work­ing in TV the same length car­toon had a bud­get of $3000. That meant very sim­ple char­ac­ter de­sign, re-us­ing bits of footage (es­pe­cially back­grounds) and only an­i­mat­ing a part of a char­ac­ter at a time, like the mouth or an arm. It was fa­mously de­scribed by Chuck Jones at Warner Broth­ers as “il­lus­trated ra­dio”. “We sim­ply didn’t have the time or money,” says Nor­man. “If you’re work­ing for TV you re­ally have to trim your costs. But I had al­ways en­joyed their char­ac­ters – they were a lot sim­pler and a good deal more fun”.

Nor­man re­turned to Dis­ney in the 1980s, work­ing on comics and chil­dren’s books for 10 years be­fore re­turn­ing as a story artist on fea­ture films in­clud­ing

The Hunch­back of Notre Dame, Mu­lan and The Tig­ger Movie. He re­grets turn­ing down an of­fer to join the fledg­ling Pixar in the early 1990s. “At the time they had not made one film yet and I wasn’t about to take a gam­ble so I passed,” he says. “Once I saw the film

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