We recently had the pleasure of sitting down and speaking with Disney Legend, Floyd Norman, in celebration of his film, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, coming out on Diamond Edition Blu-ray, Digital HD, and Disney Movies Anywhere today. Floyd was just starting his animation career when he was assigned to the film, and it represented not only a master class in the craft, but also a new venture for the company.
Animation is truly Norman’s passion–he started at the studio when he was still a teenager in 1956. “Every time you start a film here at Disney, you always want that film to be special, and it is, it is. We didn’t know at the time we were creating a Disney classic. We just wanted to make a film that was entertaining.” Though the animation team wanted the film to be special, they knew ultimately whether or not it would end up a classic wasn’t entirely up to them. “The public decides whether your film is a classic or not! They’re the final arbiter. We worked just as hard, say on any other Disney film, but it wasn’t until the film was completed and was shown to audiences that we realized we had something special. ”
Norman worked on the film for two and a half years; we asked him what his favorite moments from the production were. “I loved being on the film at the very beginning before the film had really started production, we were just in development, and just watching things come together. I found that exciting. The art directors were working on developing the visual style. Walt [Disney] was busy casting voices. We eventually settled on Rod Taylor as Pongo, and Ben Wright as Roger Radcliff, and of course the wonderful Lisa Davis as Anita.” He recalls the excitement of being on the film from the very beginning. “That’s probably my favorite time. More so than the film’s ending. When a film wraps up, that’s great. The real excitement is when you start the job, to be there at the beginning. You’re just getting started, and so you’re going to create this magical world, this wonderful story.”
The set was not only bustling with animators and voice actors, there were real dalmatians as well! “As animators, as artists, we have to have reference for what we draw, and you’re not gonna do your job well if you don’t know your subject. So we brought in dalmatians, both full grown and puppies, to study, because we had to know the animals’ anatomy. We had to know their mannerisms, their behavior, how they moved, how they ran, how they jumped. So all that’s very important in doing our job. And that makes the dogs believable. When you see dalmatians on screen, they look and behave like real dalmatians, because the animators are so attentive to all these things that are gonna make our characters true, living, breathing.”
Walt Disney Animation Studios has always been on the cutting edge of utilizing new technologies to advance their field, and although that’s partly due to advances like the invention of Xerox, Floyd noted that it was also important to everyone working on One Hundred and One Dalmatians to advance to craft. “On the artistic side, it was a real break from what we had been doing in our animated films. Up to that point, a lot of the Disney films usually had a European base, a European fairy tale. So they were kind of very traditional Disney, maybe somewhat stodgy, but with Dalmatians we broke free. Our directors introduced a bold new styling which was more contemporary, more vibrant, more experimental. Our character designers could move in a whole new direction. Our character stylists could introduce a whole new pallet. Colors were bold, brighter. It just had a different sensibility, design-wise. So for all the designers it was very exciting. It was quite a change.”
Everything about the film was more contemporary, from the subject matter, to the animation style that Norman helped design, which was inspired by a brand new decade: the 1960s. “The animation was going to be more robust and energetic, the design style was more contemporary, using bold new ideas and new color palette. It had a freshness that I think audiences just connected with. We saw this as a new Disney. It was like the next step in animation’s evolution. So that alone, the art style, was very exciting.”
Part of the art of Disney Animation is giving animals familiar human characteristics. While you may have thought this was a choice made by the film’s director in fact, it’s “because of the personalities that the animators give the [characters]. They truly bring them to life. So they are an animal, but even more so than just an animal, an animal with real personality.” According to Norman, this is because animals are just more fun to draw than people. “They’re a little more, if I can use the word, they’re a little more animated! I love drawing the animals. They are indeed more fun to draw.”
His advice to others who want to follow in his footsteps is simple. “Work hard. You can’t be casual about it. You have to really take it seriously. So I would tell young artists to learn your craft. Learn how to draw. If you want to be a background painter, learn how to paint. All that’s important. With that foundation, then you can make the next step.” It’s the same advice the “old-timers” gave him when he first started. “ I’ve always considered my job here at Disney my real education.” Norman told us. “I’d been to art school and I had learned the basics, I had learned the fundamentals, but my real training began once I got the job. It was here where I would really get my education, and learn how to become a Disney artist, and worthy of being called a Disney artist.”
While it isn’t easy, “animation’s hard work. Not for the faint of heart!” Norman warns us, his career is proof that with perseverance, anything is possible.