disneys art of animation

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If you’ve seen Sleeping Beauty, The Jungle Book or the Toy Story movies, you’ve seen the work of animator Floyd Norman; for decades, he has helped bring Disney and Pixar classics to life.

Now 81, Norman still works for Disney, where he has plied his trade, on and off, since he became the studio’s first African-American animator in the 1950s.

The future animator loved drawing and cartoons from an early age, first falling in love with Disney’s animated classic Dumbo at the age of five. He immediately knew what it was he wanted to do for a living. He landed a job at Disney’s studios in 1956 fresh out of art school. The humble Norman insists he did not break any barriers:

I didn’t break barriers — I was just an artist. Being a woman was a lot tougher. There wasn’t a single female animator there!

 After Walt Disney died, Norman found himself in hot water with the company’s accountants who wanted to fire older workers and replace them with newer ones who would work for less money. He migrated to Hanna-Barbera, working on The Flintstones and Josie and the Pussycats. After the accountants lost much of their influence at Disney, Norman returned to the company. He worked steadily over the years and was present for Disney’s merge with Pixar, doing work on films such as Toy Story 2. Retirement age arrived before he knew it, and Human Resources asked him to retire. He returned to the company afterwards as a contractor but did not leave when his contract expired.

I decided I didn’t want to work at home. I missed the camaraderie of the big studio. I missed talking to people. I miss being around the action. And so … I found an empty office and I moved in. I was probably in violation of some rule or law or whatever, but there I was.

He continued to work in the office, and his colleagues affectionately coined the term “Floydering” — it rhymes with loitering — in his honor.

GREAT MOMENTS IN AMERICAN HISTORY! So many hidden figures in so many fields. Another we didn’t know about. Imagine loving what you do so much that you still want to do it at age 81! Floyd Norman, I salute you.

#BlackPride #BlackExcellence #BlackHistoryMonth

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John Alvin’s poster concepts for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991).

John Alvin is the artist behind the iconic movie posters for such Disney classics as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In addition to his work in animation, Alvin also did posters for live-action films like E.T., Blade Runner and Jurassic Park.

Alvin’s wife, Andrea, has released a GORGEOUS book highlighting her husband’s many illustrated accomplishments – The Art of John Alvin. As Mrs. Alvin frequently assisted her husband with his work, she also has a lot of fascinating back-stories about the paintings. Reprinted below is her account of the creation of the poster for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast:

“There were many concept sketches done of the two main characters in various settings and poses, both by the staff at Disney and by John. John’s method of working on this aspect of a job was to do very rough thumbnails of various ideas. From that point he would do a larger sketch, around 8.5 x 11 inches, with more attention to detail and composition. He would then move on to color sketches and color comps.

“John did not do too many small color comps on this film. Instead, he did several medium size paintings as color comps and at least two paintings that would be considered finishes. One was the couple dancing in front of a stained glass window featuring a rose, and the other was an image of the couple bathed in an ethereal light. The second was the image used on the one-sheet.

“The poster was done before the film was complete and the characters were not completely finalized when John started painting. That was one of the reasons to have them in somewhat of a silhouette. His technique to create the mood was to begin with a dark background and bring the subjects into the light. He applied the paint with an airbrush, building his paint in transparent layers, similar to a watercolorist. Most airbrush artists use a number of elaborate friskets or masks to protect the areas they don’t want painted at that time. However, John felt that light didn’t have hard edges, and so his painting shouldn’t really have hard edges. It was a game for him to see how few friskets he could use in a piece of finished art. He was fascinated by what he called “heavy light”—the light Steven Spielberg had used in E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. That was the look he was trying to emulate in the Beauty and the Beast art.

“The final piece was a hit and John was very pleased with it. The printers had some difficulty reproducing the magentas in the art, but in the end did a beautiful job. It was the beginning of a long and successful relationship with Disney feature animation.”

Amazon Associates link: The Art of John Alvin by Andrea Alvin