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Mr. Fun Strikes Again! A (Somewhat Biased) Review of Floyd Norman’s 'Son of Faster Cheaper'

Continuing our excerpts from the Inspired 3D series, Keith Lango presents part two of a two-part tutorial on lip-sync and facial animation.

All images © Floyd Norman.

Back When Cartoonists Roamed the Earth

As hard as it is to believe, waaay back in prehistoric times (in other words, pre-1980s), animation studios were actually fun places to work. Employment may have been seasonal, but animation had yet to be shipped overseas. Folks worried about meeting their production quotients instead of worrying about their livelihood being eliminated altogether. The bosses were capable of performing nearly every task in the studio, from creating characters to cutting film. The cartoons themselves werent always masterpieces, but their creators had a great time making them.

Practical jokes abounded, inter-department romances werent uncommon and producers, directors and animators often favored three martini lunches. In addition to all of this extracurricular activity, the halls of Hollywoods animation studios were usually festooned with gag cartoons about the bosses, the characters and the cartoonists drawn by the cartoonists themselves.

The best of these were often far funnier than the animated cartoons we were being paid to cobble together. And the undisputed master of these wall-gags was then and now a wonderfully clever fellow named Floyd Norman.

Of course, even a guy like Floyd cant be everywhere at once. But over the last 40+ years, his cartoon commentaries not always a gag, not quite an editorial, but always funny and insightful have graced the hallways of Walt Disney Productions, Pixar, Hanna-Barbera Productions, Film Roman, Ruby-Spears Productions and many others even the near-mythical Tom Carter Productions! (Floyd partnered with Leo Sullivan also had his own animation studio during the 1960s, Vignette Films.)

The Amazing and Amusing Mr. Fun

Ive been fortunate to know Floyd for 25 years. We first met at Hanna-Barbera in 1978 when we worked together on The New Fred And Barney Show. (See? I warned you they werent all gems!) I was initially assigned to be Floyds partner as a layout supervisor on the show. But actually, Floyd (and most of HBs layout department) were kindly, gently, patiently trying to teach this greenhorn comic book artist how to draw layouts for animation. I was impressed by the talent, know-how and experience of Mr. Fun (as some of us in the layout department dubbed Floyd), but what really blew my mind was his astoundingly quick wit. Whether it was a delivery truck that just demolished HBs parking lot guard shack or Iwao Takamotos latest presentation art revisions or Bill Hannas inevitable end-of-season layoffs or one of Joe Barberas wacky show-pitches everything around the studio was potential material for Floyds cartoon observations. Once such news reached Floyds ears, it would take only minutes for him to whip up a funny-and-right-on-the-money cartoon commentary on the situation, one that he would then pushpin to the outside of our cubicle wall.

Thats why there always seemed to be a crowd of appreciative cartoonists gathered around our work area to peruse Floyds latest observations. (The fact that Mr. Fun usually brought in a box of donuts every morning didnt hurt, either.) Once, Floyd even got his talented hands on a batch of publicity photos of Mr. Hanna and Mr. Barbera, posed together and separately next to empty chairs (with cartoon figures intended to be added later.) Needless to say, Mr. Fun had lots of fun with that material!

Floyds gentle but incisive humor has had its fans outside of those of us working in the trenches of the cartoon studios, too. More than once, after hours, Bill Hanna was discovered chuckling at Floyds cartoons about him as the Raider of the Lost Art (of Animation). Even Michael Eisner has enlisted Floyd to add his humorous touch to special corporate presentations.

Floyd, Walt and the Pin-Up Queen (Among Others)

Last year, when ASIFA-Hollywood presented Floyd with its Lifetime Achievement Award, Lilo & Stitchs Chris Sanders mentioned many of Floyds career milestones. Sure, the man knew and worked directly for Walt Disney. Floyd storyboarded the classic Kaa sequence in Disneys The Jungle Book. He worked on story development and gags for Pixars Toy Story 2 and Monsters, Inc. Floyds written and drawn comic books, comic strips and childrens books. He was among the first to produce educational cartoons about black history. Hes directed, animated and designed. Floyds worked on such familiar cartoon characters as The Flintstones, Garfield, Scooby-Doo and even Katy Keene the Pin-Up Queen, as well as real-life personalities like Muhammad Ali and Bill Cosby. Hes been inducted (with Leo Sullivan) into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. (Floyds also a snappy dresser, can play the clarinet and knows more about Macintosh computers than any cartoonist should.)