Floyd Norman, the first African-American animator to work for Walt Disney Animation Studios, has been named SIGGRAPH 2017’s keynote speaker. The keynote session featuring Norman will be presented as a fireside chat, allowing attendees the opportunity to hear a Disney legend discuss his life and career within an intimate setting. SIGGRAPH 2017 will be held July 30-August 3 at Los Angeles.
Norman was the subject of a 2016 documentary called Floyd Norman: An Animated Life from filmmakers Michael Fiore and Erik Sharkey. The film covers Norman’s life story, also includes interviews with from voice actors and former colleagues.
Norman was hired as the first African-American animator at Walt Disney Studios in 1956 and was later hand-picked by Walt Disney himself to join the story team on The Jungle Book. After Walt’s death, Norman left Disney to start his own company, Vignette Films and produce films on the subject of black history for high schools. He and his partners would later work with Hanna-Barbera to animate the original Fat Albert TV special Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert, as well as the opening title sequence for the TV series Soul Train.
Norman returned to Disney in the 1980s to work in their publishing department, and in 1998 moved to the story department to work on Mulan. After all this, an invite to the Bay Area in the late ‘90s became a career highlight when Norman began working with leaders in the next wave of animation — Pixar and Steve Jobs — adding Toy Story 2 and Monsters, Inc. to his film credits.
Though he technically retired at the age of 65 in 2000, Norman is not one to quit and chose, instead, to occupy an open cubicle at Disney Publishing Worldwide for the last 15 years. As he puts it, “I just won’t leave.”
While not on staff, Norman’s proximity to other Disney personnel has led him to pick up freelance work and continue his impact on animation as both an artist and a mentor. As to his future plans, he says, “I plan to die at the drawing board!
“I’ve been fascinated by computer graphics since I purchased my first computer. I began attending SIGGRAPH when a kiosk was all Pixar could afford,” he says. “Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of working for this fine company and being a part of this amazing technology as it continues to mature. I’ve also enjoyed sharing insights I’ve garnered over the years in this fantastic industry. In recent years, I’ve spoken at several universities and even Apple. Creative imagination and technological innovation have always been a part of my life, and I’m delighted to share my enthusiasm with the fans at SIGGRAPH this year.”
Images courtesy of Michael Fiore Films