Book Review - Animated Life: A Lifetime of Tips, Tricks, and Stories from a Disney Legend
Floyd Norman began working at the Disney studios in 1956 as a young animation inbetweener. In 2000 he “retired” – actually, he was laid off for the last time, and since he was 65 then, he chose to regard it as retirement. Yet he didn’t let that slow him down. Since 2000, he has kept busy as a freelancer or an “animation veteran”, including being called back by Disney on several occasions as an instructor. In 2007 he became one of the “Disney Legends”, recognized for helping to make the company what it is today. Today he works at his own pace – including writing this book.
Animated Life: A Lifetime of Tips, Tricks, and Stories from a Disney Legend is really two books, divided nearly in half. The first is Norman’s chatty autobiography, told in short chapters as he bounces from one Disney department to another, becomes an experienced veteran at one department before being assigned to start over in another, has the opportunity to work with Walt Disney himself (“the Old Maestro”, Norman calls him), becomes a writer of Disney picture books for a subsidiary (which is not considered by Disney as still working for the company, although it is all “Disney work” to him), goes to work at the fledgling Pixar Animation Studios before it was a part of Disney, leaves Disney during the 1960s to create a new studio, Vignette Films, to make educational films for the Black community with another Black filmmaker he met at Disney (they are on hand to film part of the Watts riots in 1965 on a camera once used by Roy E. Disney to film the studio’s True-Life Adventures”) – it’s all part of a lifetime working in the animation industry and working for Disney.
This is “Part 1, Inside the Magic Factory”, the first 165 pages. “Part 2, Tips, Techniques, and Animated Observations”, is the equally chatty second half of the book. Norman tells, in conversational style, his experiences and opinions on the various aspects of animation; many of which are applicable to filmmaking in general.
The autobiographical section is both a personal reminiscence and a history of the animation industry in general and the Disney studio in particular from 1956 to today. Norman started in the last days of ink-&-penmanship, and experienced the transition to the Xerox machine and the introduction of the computer. He tells what it was like to work with Walt Disney directly; and incidentally disproves the current picture of Disney as an anti-Semite and a racist. Disney was a tough boss and demanded that his employees be talented men (and women), but otherwise showed no prejudice against Jews or African-Americans. Norman was there when Pixar started up as a tiny subsidiary of Lucasfilms, became an independent company, grew to gain Disney’s old reputation for excellence in animation (in CGI), and was acquired by Disney – or did Pixar take over Disney?