It’s not everyday that you get to talk with a living legend, but that’s exactly what happened when I visited Walt Disney Studios during our Into the Woods Media Trip a couple months ago. For the Diamond Edition release of 101 Dalmatians (which hit store shelves on February 10th), we had the pleasure of talking with legendary Disney animator Floyd Norman. Floyd was born in 1935 and is still working for the Disney company today! His first visit to the studios was in 1953, right out of high school. He didn’t get a job then, but instead got a call from Disney 3 years later after attending Art Center College of Design. Can you imagine getting that call? The studio was working on Sleeping Beauty when Floyd started working there, so that was his first feature film. Then, Walt Disney moved him from the animation team to the story department. When talking about the transfer, Floyd said, “When Walt thought you could do something, you just did it”. Wow! He said that Walt really focused on the story department (after all, storytelling was his business). Floyd said that he was “a very lucky kid” in getting that position. “I got to learn from the Master himself”. So, Floyd worked on story sequences for 101 Dalmatians (released in 1961) and The Jungle Book (released in 1967) under the direction of Walt Disney! Now, what you might not know is that 101 Dalmatians was a VERY important film for Walt Disney Animation Studios. The last animated film was Sleeping Beauty. We all know of course that it was/is a great animated movie (I even had the pleasure of seeing one of the original glass pane paintings for Sleeping Beauty in the vaults at the Disney Animation Research Library). But, what you probably didn’t know is that is was VERY costly for the studios to make. It was done entirely by hand, utilizing over 600 artists and taking 5-6 years to complete! WOW!!!!! After that, Roy Disney actually went to Walt and said, “we can’t afford to keep doing this”. Gah! Can you imagine if they hadn’t found a solution?! Thankfully though, there was a magical new invention out from XEROX – the desktop copier.
So through some great idea work and engineering, the XEROX copier was expanded in order to put the drawings on acetate (“cells”). That new technology was a savior, enabling the studio to save a lot of money. Dalmatians was made in only around 2 years (compared to the almost 6 of Sleeping Beauty) and required fewer artists. As part of our time with Floyd, he did some drawing demonstrations for us – including this one of Pongo from 101 Dalmatians. It was AMAZING to see how fast he could sketch out such a great image! We had drawing paper so we could sketch with him! How fun! I’m not sure my version is a recognizable Pongo, but I asked Floyd to sign it for me anyway! 😉
My favorite part about the whole interview though was just listening to him talk about his 50+ year career working for the Walt Disney company. You can just tell when he’s talking and telling stories that he LOVES his job and has loved working for Disney. He said that the work is fun…and really not like a job at all. In fact, Floyd technically retired in 2000 after working on Monsters, Inc. with Pixar. But, he just couldn’t stay away! He’s an official employee again! Here’s Floyd talking about the Disney family!
I could have listened to him share stories all day long! His stories about Walt were my favorite. And, you could tell that they are some of Floyd’s favorites too. In fact, his favorite film that he worked on is The Jungle Book. Why? Because he actually got to work with Walt directly so much on that film (sadly, that was Walt’s last film).
A HUGE thanks to Disney for having me be part of this event. Talking & drawing with this living Disney legend is an experience I will never forget!
For more behind-the-scenes stories from legendary animators, be sure to go pick up your Diamond Edition copy of 101 Dalmatians and check out the “Lucky Dogs” special feature!!