Floyd E. Norman shares his memories of discovering Animation
Introduce a whole new generation to your favourite characters from the ultimate family fairytale, Sleeping Beauty. This enchanting Disney masterpiece is yours to own on Disney Blu-ray™, DVD and Digital Download.
The story begins with the birth of Princess Aurora (voiced by Mary Costa), the precious daughter of King Stefan and his wife. To celebrate the arrival of the Princess, three good fairies – Flora, Fauna & Merryweather bestow gifts of magic on Aurora, but an evil sorceress named Maleficent places a curse upon the little Princess – that she will die on her 16th birthday after touching the poisoned spindle of a spinning wheel. Merryweather tries to undo the damage by casting a spell that will allow the Princess to awake from an ageless sleep with a kiss from her one true love.
A breathtakingly beautiful and timeless fantasy, Sleeping Beauty was initially released in 1959 and took nearly a decade to produce. Sleeping Beauty holds the throne as Disney’s final animation that was lovingly and attentively hand-crafted using ink. The haunting stereophonic musical score, based on Tchaikovsky’s titular ballet earned the film a prestigious Academy Award®.
With Maleficent a new studio film about the ultimate villain starring Angelina Jolie hitting cinemas 28th there has never been a better time to revisit this must-have classic. Own a piece of the magic on Blu-ray and DVD this summer.
To mark the Blu-Ray release of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (one of our personal favourites), The Fan Carpet‘s Paul Risker had the honour to speak with the celebrated Disney animator Floyd E. Norman.
In an immersive conversation, Floyd shared with us his memories of discovering animation as a child, working for Walt Disney, and offered us his thoughts on the changing landscape of film and animation from a handmade craft to a digital art form.
Why a career in animation? Was there that one inspirational moment?
I share this with a lot of my friends and colleagues in the business. I grew up watching Disney films, as did most of us. Our parents took us to the cinema where we saw these marvellous animated films in which these drawings came to life on screen before us, and we just decided that we wanted to make them our life’s work. So I fell in love with animation as a child, and there was no doubt what I was going to be doing my whole life. ??During the course of your career, how do you view the changes that have occurred within the landscape of film and animation???It has changed; there is no doubt about that. But because the technology is always changing animation has continually been in transition. It began in the 1930s long before I ever got to Disney, where it was being made up as they went along. Back in the thirties Walt Disney and his early artists didn’t have much to go on in terms of making animated films. It had been done before but it had never been done to the extent that Walt was looking to take it. So they began to try things; to experiment, innovate and that innovation has continued throughout my career, and it continues on to this day.
In the old days animation was a handmade product, where every drawing and painting was done by hand. Today we have the use of digital technology which has totally changed our production pipeline. Though that said the storytelling is still pretty much the same. ??Do you miss the handmade process, or do you perceive the new technology to be a positive step forward for animation???Well I think with change there is always that trade off – that give and take. In many ways the tools of today are amazing, and we can do things that could not have even been imagined twenty years ago. On the other hand we have lost that human touch and personal sensibility that the artist brings to a motion picture. So even though I welcome and embrace the new technology, in some ways I have misgivings about it. It’s just as in life things change and you have to recognise that things will be continually changing.
I have always tried to make those adjustments, and whilst I love the old fashioned handmade product, what we do today with digital technology is truly amazing. In the end I have just had to learn to live with both. ??So despite the technical innovations the creative process at its most fundament does not change? Rather it is the execution of the ideas that changes???In this business things are always changing. There is always innovation and there is always invention. In live action in the old days you would go out to a sound stage where everything was shot on film. The cameras were huge; they were the size of refrigerators. Now with the digital technology, the high resolution cameras are almost tiny. They are so small the filmmaking requires less light, and so you don’t require the huge lights that we once had. So watching the technology change in live action as well as animation, I recognise that the technology will always be changing. But for the storytellers, for those of us who have to write and tell the stories that will never change, because audiences still want a good story.
From your insiders perspective what is the source of the enduring spirit that has blessed Disney, and allowed them to live on from generation to generation?
Well as storytellers and artists we try to bring a bit of magic into our storytelling; to bring in the fanciful and the whimsical to give people a break from their mundane, daily routine. As a child and even as an adult, going to the movies was always an opportunity to take a break from the real world; to go on an adventure or to another place and time.
Filmmaking and animation in particular affords us that opportunity to create a world, and to a certain extent to have control over that world. But it also allows us to take the audience to a place that they have never been to before. I believe that’s the magic of storytelling, and that’s the special magic of animation filmmaking – where anything you imagine is possible. ??When you catch sight of the Sleeping Beauty poster or even just hearing the words Sleeping Beauty, what memories are conjured up for you???When you work on a film such as Sleeping Beauty, which went on for such a long time – we were drawing and redrawing the fairies for a good two years; as artists you don’t look back on it and think of it so much as all of the hard work you did. Instead you look upon those wonderful days and nights you spent with your colleagues, and you remember the good times. You forget about the difficulty of the job and instead just celebrate the result, and the feeling that you are happy that you were a part of something that will live on and on. Sleeping Beauty has a timeless quality that will be enjoyed today, and fifty years from now. As artists that gives us a good sense of satisfaction.
Film is one of the great collaborative art forms. Looking back on your career, as one of the joys been the collaborative process?
You might say that I have worked as an author, which is a solitary profession and is one where I had to sit down and write a story on my own, or to tell a story and be the only person involved. On the other hand a film like Sleeping Beauty involved around six hundred artists, and so we are talking about a true collaboration where no one person can take credit for the film. So many men and women leant their talents to this film, and it was a collaborative effort on a massive scale. The hope is that out of that we create something that is quite wonderful. ??One of the key theories within film is the auteur theory that states the director is author. In discussing the scale of the collaboration on Sleeping Beauty it affords it an important part in any discussion of the theory and the idea of the director as author.??Even though there are many people involved in the making of a film like Sleeping Beauty, where we had at least three directors and one supervising director, over all the auteur of the film was Walt Disney. He was the one man. It was his movie and he had the final word.
Could you share with us your thoughts on the experience of working under Walt Disney’s vision?
For a young artist it was an opportunity to be in a place that was such a creative enterprise. You had an opportunity to work with, to learn from and to be mentored by some of the finest artists in the world. But you also had an opportunity to work on things that we knew would live on beyond us. So it was an exciting place to be, and it was a creative hub. It was a remarkable time. For anyone who spent time here at Disney it will remain a highlight of their career, because it was such a special place.
I must get in a question about everyone’s favourite pal Mickey Mouse. To work with that character must represent a very special place in your heart?
Well it does because for all of us these characters live. We don’t view them as static images; we view them as real personalities that come to life for us. Of course they have to in order for us to do our job, but there are people out there who are likely to have the same reaction. When I go to the Disney Land theme park I see children and adults alike who see Mickey Mouse come walking down the street, and even though they know it’s a person in a costume that reality is stripped away for them. All of a sudden that is Mickey Mouse and everybody screams “It’s Mickey.” Children scream “It’s Mickey”, and grown-ups scream “It’s Mickey.” So it is kind of a special magic that we all indulge in.??Storytelling and childhood go hand in hand. Animation seems to bring children and adults together, and for us adults transforms us into that impressionable child again allowing us to recapture the joy and pure imagination of childhood.??Oh yes, and that’s why our films continue to do well. Today films that were made ten, twenty, fifty years ago are still being watched by children, by a new generation of viewers. They are watched by the grown-ups, the parents and the grandparents who saw these same films when they themselves were children. People go to the theme park to experience and to relive those childhood memories, and what Disney beings to us all is that connection with our youth, our childhood and our innocence.
Sleeping Beauty is out on Disney Blu-ray, DVD and to download on 2nd June