Animator. Storyman. Troublemaker.
Floyd Norman is a self-proclaimed cartoonist, having worked in motion pictures, television, comic books and strips since the 1950s. He has served in nearly every department of animation – from cel painter and layout artist, to story director and story artist, and of course, animator.
As the first African American artist and storyman at Disney, arriving in 1956, the start of Norman’s 60-plus year career found him working on classics like Sleeping Beauty (1959), 101 Dalmatians (1961), Mary Poppins (1964), The Jungle Book (1967) and more. On the latter title, Walt Disney handpicked Norman to join the story team. Norman had placed comedic gag drawings about Walt and the company around the Disney offices. Disney saw these gags and recognized Floyd’s sense of humor and know-how for story.
After Disney’s passing in 1966, Norman left Disney studios to start Vignette Films, Inc., a production company focused on telling stories about African American history-makers. These movies appeared across the United States in high schools and colleges. This company was one of the first of its kind and the company’s multi-year success as a viable commercial entity was an amazing feat in the pre-Civil Rights U.S. The company also worked on fun studio projects; they created the Soul Train main title animation, they animated the original pilot for Fat Albert and animated for Sesame Street, among other notables.
In the 1970s, Norman joined Hanna Barbera, where he worked alongside the two Saturday morning cartoon pioneers to animate and write some of TV’s most notable shows including, Scooby Doo, Josie and the Pussy Cats, Captain Caveman, to name just a few.
Norman would return to Disney in the 1970s to work on numerous animated films including Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) and ROBIN HOOD (1973), among others.
In the 1980s, Norman would join Disney publishing. He wrote and illustrated a number of Disney children’s books, as well as illustrate the daily “Mickey Strip,” for which he worked on 6 days a week — for 6 years.
Norman would return to Disney animation in the 1990s to work in the story department of several features including Mulan (1998). Norman would begin work with Pixar in their story department on such movies as Toy Story 2 (1999) and Monsters, Inc. (2001). He helped create numerous classic sequences for both films.
The Disney studio would honor Norman in 2007, naming him a Disney Legend. This top honor is only bestowed to the best and brightest of the Disney organization.
Other honors include his induction into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1979 and the Winsor McCay Award in 2003. He was presented the Lifetime Achievement in Animation in 2015 from the International Family Film Festival, the Legacy Award by the AAFCA in 2017 and the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Cartoonists Society in 2019.
In 2016, Norman’s singular career was the focus of the feature documentary Floyd Norman: An Animated Life. The movie premiered on Netflix and was in consideration for the 2017 Oscars. It won numerous awards at film festivals including the San Diego Comic Con International Film Festival and the Bentonville Film Festival, which was created by actress Geena Davis to bring attention to diversity in film and TV production.
At 84 years old, Floyd Norman is the picture of perseverance. Not one to retire, he continues to have an impact on animation as both an animator and mentor, taking on freelance work in and outside of Disney. As Mr. Norman says, “[He] plans to die at the drawing board.”