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Toon Tuesday : Here's to the real survivors

Toon Tuesday : Here's to the real survivors

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There's a popular television show called "Survivor." I've never been able to watch this show or even take it seriously. It's difficult to consider the consequences of surviving on a desert island when craft services is located nearby.

However, I did see some real survivors a few weeks ago as I walked down the hallways of Walt Disney Animation Studios. I was delighted to see a number of familiar faces back at work. Nearly five years had passed since I last saw these artists, and now they were back at the drawing boards.

If you're an old guy like me, you're not surprised by the resilience of the artists in the cartoon business. My lessons began back in the 1950s when I was set straight by the old guys at Disney. The animation veterans who had weathered many a storm in their long careers. Truth is, working in animation is nothing less than a roller coaster ride. You can count on the ups and downs, the good times and the bad. Expansion and contraction is simply part of the business. Those smart enough tend to bail out early. However, the rest of us -- the crazy ones who truly love animation -- learn how to survive through the difficult times.

Animation was riding high at Disney during the production of the feature film, "Sleeping Beauty" back in the 1950s. Along with the feature, Walt still maintained his shorts units, and television had entered the picture providing even more work. A young animation artist actually had a medley of artistic choices at the Walt Disney studio. If one gig didn't suit you, there was always another unit more to your liking.


We started on the same day, but Rick Gonzales survived layoffs and cutbacks at Disney.
He found a new career as a top layout artist and character designer at Hanna-Barbera
and Ruby-Spears. Oddly enough, he ended his career at Disney.

However, the financial failure of "Sleeping Beauty" totally gutted the Disney staff. All us young kids in my Disney "class" thought we had a lifetime job. The pixie dust was suddenly brushed from our eyes as the first round of "pink slips" were handed out. The old timers took it in stride -- but we were devastated.

The survivors of the "Sleeping Beauty" layoff went on to do "101 Dalmatians" which turned out to be a huge hit. However, the success of "Dalmatians" didn't prevent the next round of layoffs, and the Disney staff was further decimated. You can imagine how grim this looked to the young artists like myself. What chance did we have of climbing the ladder when Industry veterans who had labored at the drawing boards for decades were suddenly shown the door?

The survivors of Disney and the recently closed MGM Animation / Visual Arts Studios kept on truckin'. Some went to work in small commercial houses, and others joined the new Bob Clampett studio in Hollywood. Most of the artists headed for 3400 Cahuenga Blvd. and the new Hanna-Barbera Studio where television animation launched animation's next boom.

When Filmation's doors closed in the late 1980s, it was just in time for Disney's next animation boom. Scores of artists left their Granada Hills digs and headed for Glendale where they would find employment for another ten years or so.


 Dave Michener and I also started the same day back in 1956. Dave survived for years,
and topped off his career as an animator, storyman and eventually a director
on Disney's "The Great Mouse Detective."

After years of expansion, Disney's animation beast had grown to an unmanageable size. Adding to the chaos was management's wrongheaded perception that traditional animation was dead. Michael Eisner shut down Disney's Orlando facility, and hundreds of the Burbank studio's workers were also sent packing.

The Walt Disney Studio learned the hard way that simply producing your movie in CGI did not guarantee an instant hit. Hardheaded studio bosses who jumped on the digital bandwagon found themselves faced with the necessity of producing a good movie. Could the abandonment of traditional animation been a stupid idea after all?

I confess I'm delighted to see many of my animator friends back at the drawing boards. Many of them have spent the last few years animating on the computer because it was necessary in order to have a job. Now traditional animation is back in the mix. And those who can do both have increased their job security. Something one should consider when it comes to survival.

That's why I love animation professionals. We are indeed survivors. We can take it and keep coming back for more. We can be cut back, downsized, and humiliated by idiot managers who pontificate from balconies like third world potentates. The managers do their thing, and then they move on their next overpaid gig. But long after they're gone and forgotten, the animators will still be around.


 Finally, we have this guy getting booted off the island. He's really no
"Legend." Just an old survivor.

We're the real survivors -- and damn proud of it!

Did you enjoy today's "Toon Tuesday" column? Well, this is just one of the hundreds of amazing tales that this Disney Legend has to share. Many of which you'll find collected in the three books Floyd currently has the market. Each of which take an affectionate look back at the time that Mr. Norman spent working in the animation industry.

These include Floyd's original collection of cartoons and 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 two follow-ups to that book, "Son of Faster, Cheaper" & "How the Grinch Stole Disney." Which you can purchase by heading over to Afrokids.com.

And while you're at it, don't forget to check out Mr. Fun's Blog. Which is where Mr. Norman postings his musings when he's not writing for JHM.

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  • I commend Floyd, and all of the other animators, for their perseverance in such a difficult industry. I have witnessed first hand the ups and downs of this industry. It really is a roller coaster of a ride.

    However I have to disagree with his statement about managers. Most managers are not overpaid and they certainly don't plan on firing people. Making an animated movie is an extremely complicated process and it requires the contribution of everyone, from animators to managers, to make it happen. Management itself gets downsized as well. If there are less artists then there needs to be less management. Its easy for those getting laid off to rail at those making the decisions. Why me? Why not him? Why not you? Ultimately the failure of a studio never falls to just one person. Sometimes bad managers interfere with processes they don't understand. Sometimes the reins are handed to an incompetent director or producer. Sometimes an artist needs to recognize that they just aren't producing the same quality and output that other artists are.

  • The "survivor" that amazes me is Glenn Keene. How long has he had a steady gig? Hasn't he been at Disney since the late 70s, early 80s?

    I look forward to Rapunzel!

    Long live Glenn Keene!!

  • There's a real parable behind this.

    The management acts like their short-term moneymaking schemes will be the new "permanent" policy of whatever studio they are ruining, regardless of how many people are driven away. That was the impression Disney was building in 2004. But after Michael Eisner's departure, a lot of these suits had the pendulum swung back into their faces, while the same crop of artists that they deemed disposable are now back where they belong.

  • Great story, although I found the picture of Floyd munching on Mickey a bit...disturbing. :P BTW, Floyd, what happened to your webpage? Last few times I tried to visit there, I could only see an error message...

  • Interesting story! Now that is TRUE SURVIVAL!

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