By Dania W. Frink
“Even though I worked hard at times, it was always magical. I have to confess I enjoyed every minute of it. Even the down times I enjoyed, because we were creating something that would make people smile and lift their hearts. You can’t think of a better job than that.” – Floyd Norman
Floyd Norman is a critically-acclaimed animator, writer and comic book artist. There are countless inspiring aspects of his career: He was the first black animator to work for Walt Disney Studios, his career spans six decades, and his numerable film credits include: The Sword and the Stone, The Jungle Book, 101 Dalmatians, Toy Story 2, Mulan and Monster’s Inc. At 82 years young, he remains as fired up about animation as he was when he first began his career. As part of the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville’s (CCGJ) Vystar International Artist Lecture Series, residents learned that Floyd Norman would be bringing the magic of Disney to Duval this spring.
Mr. Norman’s visit began with a CCGJ-sponsored lunch at Uptown Kitchen featuring a number of Jacksonville-based African-American artists, arts advocates and community leaders. Mr. Norman wasn’t the only creative giant who was present at lunch. He was joined by his wife Adrienne Brown-Norman (a celebrated Disney illustrator and digital artist), and Cecelia Washington-Carr (a Jacksonville native who had a storied career as an illustrator, designer and muralist with Hallmark, Disney and in partnership with Oprah Winfrey). Imagine how inspiring it was for all of the emerging and mid-level artists to learn from the careers of the three pioneers. The conversation effortlessly flowed from industry best practices to navigating and owning one’s career trajectory to Marvel’s Black Panther.
Evoking a bit of serendipity, the conversation also covered the Norman Studios and Silent Film Museum history. Mr. Norman was amazed to learn about this important contributor to the film industry, and jokingly wondered if a familial connection existed.
Later that evening, Mr. Norman took to the stage at Florida State College at Jacksonville’s Wilson Center, to share his life and legacy with a vibrant audience: students, teachers, artists, filmmakers, and much more. The event began with a screening of An Animated Life. This documentary chronicles important aspects of Mr. Norman’s life: his upbringing in Santa Barbara, California; his earliest artistic experiences; his storied career at Disney; entrepreneurial endeavors with Vignette Films, Inc.; and his family life.
Following the film screening, Mr. Norman gave a brief lecture on animation and film career pathways, as well as techniques and industry best practices. A Q&A session wrapped up the evening’s program. Moderating the Q&A was Marq Mervin, a multimedia designer and Professor of Digital Media at FSCJ. What was particularly striking about this selection was Professor Mervin’s longtime admiration of Mr. Norman and shared experiences as African-American male animators.
Following the event, attendees were able to meet and take photos with Mr. and Mrs. Norman. Perhaps the most endearing part of the evening was hearing students express their gratitude for Mr. Norman’s contributions and their desire to pursue creative careers. Additionally, Norman Studios board members had an opportunity to interview Mr. Norman and photograph the event.
While the constant emergence of new technologies can discourage and deter seasoned creatives, Mr. Norman relishes in being a lifelong student. “You either adapt or you die,” he shared. Even as an octogenarian, Mr. Norman has no plans of slowing down – and aims to work for the rest of his life. We are all the better for it!