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Before Ron Husband At Disney, There Was Floyd Norman - The 1st Black Disney Animator

by Sergio
October 4, 2013 8:49 PM
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Floyd Norman

Earlier today, I wrote a piece about a new animation project that is going to be directed by former Disney animator Ron Husband, and I called him the first black animator for Walt Disney. Well… OOPS!

I didn’t say that just guessing about it. Everything I’ve ever read about Husband calls him the first AA animator who ever worked for Disney, and I’ve been hearing about him for years.

Well it turns out that Husband was the second AA animator who worked for Disney. The first was Floyd Norman.

Born in 1935 in Santa Barbara his love of animation first came when his mother took him to see Disney’s Bambi and Dumbo..

By the time he was a high schooler, Norman knew his goal was to be an animator at Disney studios.

After graduation, the story goes like this – “with the help of a friend Norman got an appointment at Disney and he walked into Disney studios, portfolio in hand, for an interview."

But instead of getting a job he was told to go to school, which Norman said later was the best advice someone had ever given him.

He entered the Art Center College of Design and two years later he got a call to come work for Disney. He dropped out of school and started working at the studio the following Monday.

He worked on various features, including Sleeping Beauty, The Sword in the Stone, and The Jungle Book and several short subjects.

He left Disney after Walt died in 1966, and with Ron Sullivan formed AfroKids Animation Studio, and among the other things they created were the first Fat Albert television special, which aired in 1969 on NBC (the later more well known Fat Albert series was made by Filmation Associates and not AfroKids).

But starting in the early 1970’s, Norman returned to Disney to work on project such as Robin Hood and more recently, he has worked on motion pictures for Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios as well, working as a story artist on Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc. Mulan, Dinosaur and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He continues to work for Disney as a freelance consultant on various projects.

So there you have it. Sorry to overlook you Mr. Norman. The error was mine alone and I hope you will forgive me.

And if anyone out there knows anything about other early African American animation pioneers, let us know.

Here’s a recent video with Norman talking about his experiences at Disney:

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  • Roof Pounder | October 7, 2013 10:59 PMReply

    As a longtime fan of "old school" Disney, I have always wanted to meet Floyd Norman. I got to visit the Disney Studio in 2009 and walked around inside the very buildings where those classic films were made. It was a thrill to walk in the same halls once occupied by Mr. Norman and his colleagues. A few years ago, Mr. Norman wrote a very interesting and insightful forward to Jim Korkis's book, Who's Afraid of Song of the South, about what is arguably Disney's most controversial film.

  • AARL | October 7, 2013 1:35 PMReply

    Hear directly form Floyd Norman at his author's discussion and book signing.
    The Animated Life of Floyd Norman
    Author's Discussion and Book Signing
    Wednesday, October 23. 7:00 p.m.
    Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History
    As a part of Alien Encounters Atlanta 2013, and in collaboration with The Wren's Nest, Emory University and Morehouse College, the Auburn Avenue Research Library will host legendary animator, Floyd Norman, who will discuss his nearly fifty year career as an animator at Walt Disney Studios and his work with Pixar Animation Studios. This event will also focus on Mr. Norman's lifelong commitment to cultural diversity as an African American animation artist, his role as co-founder of the AfroKids Animation Studio, and his contributions to the animated classics Sleeping Beauty, Toy Story 2, and the original Hey! Hey! Hey! It's Fat Albert television special. This community discussion will be facilitated by Dr. Stephane Dunn, Co-Director of the Cinema, Television, & Emerging Media Studies Program at Morehouse College. Copies of Animated Life: A Lifetime of Tips, Tricks, Techniques and Stories from an Animation Legend will be available for purchase.

  • ken d | October 6, 2013 9:06 PMReply

    Sort of like saying everyone on an airplane is a pilot.

  • Louella Parsons | October 9, 2013 3:58 PM

    "Sort of like saying everyone on an airplane is a pilot."

    In grammar school, this is what children call a "fallacy" or false analogy."

  • Louella Parsons | October 5, 2013 10:12 PMReply

    The first African American to work for Disney animation was Floyd Norman.

    The first African American to work with Walt Disney in animation was Floyd Norman.

    Just being specific.

  • Jia Tao | October 5, 2013 1:35 AMReply

    I love Disney animations. Although I am no longer a little girl, whenever I went to Disneyland, I always felt lighthearted and amazing. It seemed that I had went back to my happiest days of my childhood. It is not exaggerative that I was growing up with Disney Cartoons. After reading this article, I have a preliminary impression of Ron Husband and Folyd Norman. That is great.

  • Jai Husband | October 4, 2013 9:06 PMReply

    Hey Sergio. The discrepancy with the "first" title that goes back and forth between my dad and Floyd is rooted in animation terms. My dad was the first African American character animator, while Floyd was the first African American story artist. Most people outside the industry just refer to everyone who works in animation as animators, but within the industry we make that distinction, and that is why you here them both being refer to as first. You weren't wrong when you referred to my father at the first African American animator, you were just being specific.

  • Sergio | October 4, 2013 10:02 PM

    O.K. I see. Commoners like us just think anyone who worked at Disney is an animator

    And now that I have you tell us more about your feature project with your dad.

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