Guess who’s coming to motion? Disney Legend Floyd Norman!
Walt Disney once said, “You can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it takes people to make the dream a reality.”
Floyd Norman is one of the creative geniuses that made a significant impact on the Disney legacy. Inducted into the Disney Hall of Fame in 2007, Floyd has literally become – a legend in his own time.
History has it that Floyd was the first African-American artist at Disney. But that’s not the way he sees it. In the soon-to-be released documentary Floyd Norman: An Animated Life, he recalled,
I wasn’t even aware I was an African-American. I was another artist looking for a job.
Floyd realized he had a talent for drawing as a young child. He was obsessed with drawing. Then one day, as a middle school student, he found a book in the school library on motion pictures. And as they say, the rest is history.
I actually fell in love with how motion pictures were made. So here I am, I have this love of art and this love of motion pictures, and so animation was the perfect blend of the two.
One of the many stories Floyd has to tell was of a Saturday morning visit he made to Disney Studios while in high school. The studio was closed. Perhaps at some level, the security guard at the gate realized that this kid was going to grow up to be something special. He decided to let him in. “I’ll never forget entering the gates of Disney Studios and walking down to the Animation Building,” Floyd recalled. “I didn’t know any Disney artists, but I knew the names – because I had seen these names in the screen credits.”
Said in what can only be termed as his unique ‘Floydesque‘ manner, he goes on to explain, “I didn’t get a job. But they were very encouraging—suggested I go to art school. Might be good to learn how to draw, you know?”
Perhaps it’s his unique flavor of humor, or his self-proclaimed role of being “kind of a troublemaker” that has made me an avid fan of Floyd Norman for many years. All I know is when I asked Floyd Norman if he would speak at motion 2016 – and he replied, ‘sure’ – I was grateful beyond words.
Floyd was hired at Disney in the 50’s – a few years after his Saturday morning high-school visit. This was a time when Disney was not only expanding – it was exploding. Many assume that as an African American artist, Floyd faced many obstacles along the way. But in his mind, this simply was not true.
“I have to be perfectly honest with you,” stated Floyd. “My story is not of overcoming obstacles and roadblocks that would get in my way being black.” He went on to say, “I had a fairly easy journey. I fell in love with a medium that I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I was determined to do that job and honestly nothing got in my way.”
Floyd grew up in Santa Barbara – an affluent community rich with artists, musicians, and writers. He believes that being surrounded by creativity, provided him with a unique advantage.
“I grew up in an art-filled community so everyone I encountered there encouraged me, and instead of being talked out of my career and my dreams, I was encouraged to follow my dreams and that played a tremendous part in my life.”
Floyd’s Disney career, began in the 50’s. He worked on a variety of animated features including Sleeping Beauty, The Sword in the Stone, and The Jungle Book. After Walt Disney’s death in 1966, Floyd left Disney to co-found the AfroKids animation studio with fellow animator and director Leo Sullivan.
Floyd’s next chapter at Disney took place the early 1970s when he returned to work on Robin Hood, Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, Jabberjaw, The New Fred and Barney Show, and The Kwicky Koala Show. For the next few decades, Floyd worked on a wide range of animated features ranging from Alvin & the Chipmunks to Toy Story 2.
Then in 2001 the strangest thing happened. Just as his work on Pixar’s Monster’s Inc. was coming to a close, at the age of 65 – Floyd was asked to retire. Just as he never allowed racism to affect him during pre-Civil Rights America, ‘ageism’ was not in Floyd’s vocabulary. Nor was the word ‘retirement’.
So what do you do when you’re given lemons? You make lemonade of course. Since ‘retirement’ Floyd has worked on several animated features and television productions – and continues to do so today. At 80-years young, Floyd plans “to die at the drawing board.”
I see it clearly now. It’s not just his extraordinary talent, or his refreshing and somewhat irreverent style of humor. Nor is it solely his role as ‘troublemaker’ that has drawn me to Floyd Norman. It’s his infectious gift of ‘positivity’. If only we all could live a life so animated!
motion 2016 takes place June 9-11, 2016 in Santa Fe, NM. Tickets are now available online.