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Toon Tuesday : The Failure Factor

Toon Tuesday : The Failure Factor

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A couple weeks ago, we had a visit from John Lasseter and two hundred of his wizards from Pixar Animation Studios. The Pixar team was getting a special tour of both the Burbank and Glendale facilities of the Walt Disney Company. It was good to see so many old friends & colleagues again. And I couldn't help be reminded of how far Pixar had come since my stint with them in the nineties, back when the studio was still a little start up with a staff of less than three hundred people.

However, Pixar wasn't always a dominant player in the animation business. Much like Walt Disney's Laugh-O-Gram days in Kansas City, the guys at this studio were not an overnight success. At one time, they even had to stare failure in the face.

 Walt Disney's Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City (Which is now being
renovated). Failure sent Walt Disney west. And the rest is history

I had the opportunity to visit Walt Disney's Laugh-O-Gram Studio a few years ago, and I couldn't help wonder what would have happened if that failure in Kansas City hadn't sent Walt packing, off to try his luck in California? Disney had to leave this disaster behind and maintain his optimism for a new beginning out west. Likewise, Pixar's first story pass on "Toy Story" was a bit of a disaster as well. But John Lasseter and his crew rose to the occasion and turned the film around in record time. I know. I saw those incredible story reels back in 1994. And I was simply blown away by Pixar's story-telling prowess.

Of course, Walt Disney was well acquainted with failure and spoke about how he had learned from the failures in his life. As a matter of fact, Walt said that "everyone should experience failure early in their career." The Old Maestro certainly knew the failure factor, and the positive things one can learn from falling flat on their face.

No article on failure would be complete without me talking about one of my own. Some years ago, I worked for a small film production house in Hollywood that produced animation as well as live-action. On this occasion, a rather demanding client needed an animated sequence produced for his live-action movie. Since all our producers were busy on other jobs, the responsibility for producing this sequence fell to me. Undaunted, I assembled my crew. And although there were some technical glitches, we managed to complete the movie on schedule.

 I enjoyed my time at Pixar, but we had our stumbles as well.
Seems success seldom comes without a few failures

That film was screened for the client late one Friday afternoon. And to say the client was unsatisfied would have been an understatement. In truth, the client just hated this film. And as producer, director I was the one who took the heat, and rightly so.

As you can imagine, this "failure" went home that Friday evening almost in tears. However, there's a silver lining to every cloud. The next morning, I received a call from my boss. And I expected another chewing out. I was taken aback to find the boss surprisingly upbeat, and not at all angry with me. It appears that the boss had had more than a few "failures" of his own, and none of this surprised him. His manner completely lifted my spirits as he said to get the crew together Monday morning and begin work on the problems.

The next week, we went back to work generating more artwork and shooting the whole thing on an improved camera system. The new screening for the client took place at CFI in Hollywood. And when the screening ended and the doors opened, all we could see were smiling faces. The clients were not only satisfied - - they were delighted. Like so many others before me, I had fallen on my face ... but still managed to recover. Walt Disney clearly knew what he was talking about.

Seems I've plenty of company when it comes to falling on your bottom. Disney Animation Studios isn't short on stories of its own. "The Lion King" was a mess before it became Disney's biggest animated hit. "Aladdin" had to reboot while in story development. And even "The Jungle Book" was restarted from scratch when Walt became dissatisfied with Bill Peet's adaptation of the Kipling novel.

 Bill Peet was Disney's story master. But Walt's dissatisfaction with Bill's dark
take on this Rudyard Kipling tale meant that we'd eventually have
to overhaul the entire storyline for this animated feature

So you see, failure is not an ending. It's sometimes a new beginning. No less a success than Walt Disney had to learn that lesson. And it's one that we would do well to learn as well.

Speaking of learning ... If you'd like to learn more about Floyd Norman's experiences in the animation industry, this Disney Legend currently has three books on the market. Each of which feature a collection of his infamous cartoons that take an affectionate look back at his time in Toontown.

These volumes include Floyd's original collection of cartoons & stories -- "Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation" (which is available for sale over at John Cawley's cataroo.com) as well as Norman's two follow-ups to that popular paperback, "Son of Faster, Cheaper" & "How the Grinch Stole Disney." Which you can purchase by heading over to Afrokids.com.

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  • Good points there Floyd.  Failure IS a part of learning, improving...  The desire not to fail drives us.  The key, is to learn from the failures and keep moving forward.  Dwelling on the past is time lost.


  • I say, "You shouldn't judge a man by how many times he falls down, but how many times he gets up again."

  • Exactly how long did Floyd Norman work at Pixar?

  • Impeccable timing, Floyd. Thank you.

  • Producer, Ralph Guggenheim asked me to come up and help out on "Toy Story2" back in 1997. Producer Darla Anderson and director, Pete Doctor were nice enough to let me to join the fun on "Monsters, Inc."

    I came back to Disney in early 2000.

  • Great article as usual Floyd.

    Congratulations on officially becoming a Disney Legend!!!!!!!

  • Interesting article about something everyone goes through in life--failure!

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