Many years ago, before management morphed into a collection of corporate wimps, bosses would sit down for a final meeting with a dismissed employee. It was often a painful transition but almost always it was an important one. In truth, it was probably beneficial for both employee and employer. Success and failure on the job could be discussed, and in many ways valuable lessons were learned by both.

Of course, this never happens today. Faceless corporations are more concerned with covering their asses than having the courage to face an employee that's being shown the door. And, I have no agenda here. Some employees need to be sacked because they clearly demonstrated their failure on the job. In other cases, competent workers have to be let go through no fault of their own. A change in company direction or a lack of financial resources may dictate such a decision. In any case, the person in charge has an obligation to face the staffer being dismissed. It was never a pleasant task, yet it was always a necessary one. It was a crucial part of doing your job as a manager. It was your responsibility as the person in charge.

I've never hidden my feelings for the nefarious department known as Human Resources. And, it's not necessary to explain why corporations feel they're necessary. That's a subject for another time. More than a few friends have told me about their “exit interview” after working for decades at a particular company. The young HR person behind the desk had no idea who the person was or what they did while employed by the company. They simply followed company policy as they sifted through the folder on their desk. The former employee was being “processed out,” and it was as cold, and simple as that. Having had the same experience, no one had to convince me that this is the way it works.

In times long past, when men were men and women were women, we faced up to our responsibilities no matter how difficult the task might have been. If you were the boss, that meant you gave the decision to hire new staffers, and should things not work out, it was your responsibility to dismiss them as well. That's what being a boss meant. It wasn't all good times and fun. it was unpleasant things as well. If you're a boss, it is your responsibility to let your employee know why they're being dismissed. if it's no fault of their own, but simply a company situation - let them know that. Let them know you were impressed by the fine job they’d done and hopefully the two of you might work together again. On the other hand if the employee failed to meet expectations - they should know that as well. You have a responsibility to let them know that. It's in their best interest, of course. If they're not aware of their failings, they'll simply repeat those same mistakes on their next job and that's not a good thing. If you're the boss, and you take your job seriously, then do the job of being a boss.

Should you think this is a tirade against private business, please think again. I've had the opportunity to run my own business and I can honestly say it was a great learning experience. More importantly, it provided the opportunity to see business from the perspective of both employer and employee. And, for that, I've always been grateful. I don't hold a degree from either the Stanford or Harvard business school, but I have learned a thing or two about business. Probably a good deal more than some of the clueless mangers I've worked for in recent years. I'd like to see managers take responsibility again and I'd like to put an end to the pointless HR exit interview and return that responsibility to the top managers where it belongs. That's why they pay them the big bucks, right? In this world of limitless litigation, I doubt we'll ever see change. We will continue to do business as usual and companies will be the worse for it.

Some employees don't deserve to lose their jobs. However, there are plenty others that do.

Some employees don't deserve to lose their jobs. However, there are plenty others that do.

Posted
AuthorFloyd Norman
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When I was a kid one of my earliest memories was being ushered into a darken theater where Walt Disney’s “Bambi” was being screened. The images onscreen seemed to glow magically and I was instantly swept into a wondrous world of talking animals living in a glorious watercolored forest. Even though I was a child I knew the images onscreen were not real. No matter. I was totally entranced by the magical world Walt Disney and his remarkable artists had given us.

Yesterday, I spent part of my afternoon sitting in front of a camera on set introducing scenes from the amazing Walt Disney motion picture that began its story development journey decades ago. Walt Disney was a master story teller and when he sat with his story team at the old Hyperion Studio in Los Angeles, there was a good deal of work ahead. I’m fairly well acquainted with the story development process and well aware that in scripting an animated feature film it’s easy to venture off in the wrong direction. Sometimes we get so involved in a clever bit of business we stray too far from our main storyline or we begin to neglect our lead character. Walt Disney had a laser like focus when evaluating a storyline and when things began to go off track he knew immediately when to make a change. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to view deleted sequences from the classic Disney film I saw as a child and share all this with the audience. I won’t be telling you about the material we shared just yet, but you’ll be seeing it soon enough when the new storyboarded sequences are made available.

It’s interesting for an old storytelling guy like myself to know that the same mistakes we make today were made back in the thirties as well. Like the old seasoned Disney veterans, we’ll tend to get caught up in an interesting bit of storytelling that is not crucial to the main plot. I’m sure you’ve notice sequences in today’s animated films that make you wonder, “why did they put that in there?” Or, why was that bit of business needed? It has nothing to do with the character or the main storyline. Lucky for the story team on “Bambi,” the story artists had a master story editor like Walt Disney to keep them on track. Walt Disney always believed in a lean, clean storyline and I learned this firsthand when working with The Old Maestro on “The Jungle Book” back in the sixties. Walt Disney was a master storyteller because he never lost focus. A lesson todays young story tellers might want to consider.

Though his storytelling teams were the best in the business, Walt Disney remained the finest story editor I've ever worked with.

Though his storytelling teams were the best in the business, Walt Disney remained the finest story editor I've ever worked with.

Posted
AuthorFloyd Norman

Okay, here’s the rest of my “Robin Hood” story. Months had passed since the completion of “Bednobs and Broomsticks” and I had finally settled in on the new Disney animated feature motion picture. I began by working with John Lounsbery which meant re-working much of the lead character since he had been redesigned by Milt Kahl. Weeks had passed and now I was working with fledgling animator, Dale Baer. Like most young men of the hip seventies, Dale sported a full mane of shoulder length hair. The world was changing and the old men of Disney were having difficulty adjusting to it. The changes in society were beginning to freak out the old guys who were still trying to deal with all the young kids with their long hair, patterned shirts and bell bottomed trousers. The hippy-dippy seventies was hardly a concern for me so I decided to go with the flow. I still remember an afternoon studio screening of Stanley Kubricks, “A Clockwork Orange,” that left the poor veteran Disney animators in a virtual state of shock.

I was happily animating Robin Hood when I received a surprise afternoon call from one of my animation bosses. His name was, Don Duckwall, and for years he had worked in Disney’s accounting department. Suddenly, Don was in charge of Disney Animation. A wise choice, I would assume. Who better to head up a creative artistic department than a guy who had spent his career crunching numbers. I headed up to the third floor of the Animation Building curious why I had been summoned. I had recently done a talk at one of the local schools about Disney animation. Perhaps the boss wanted to thank me for doing such a good job in representing the company. When Don finally returned to his desk I’ll have to confess his conversation had me totally confused. He kept talking about the amazing growth of the animation industry and all of the new studios cropping up all over town. There were incredible opportunities at the new animation studios and who wouldn’t want to take advantage of them? Of course, I sat puzzled. What did all this have to do with Disney - and what did this have to do with me? However, our little talk was hardly over as Don reached for a stack of papers on his desk. It appeared he had been going over the footage reports and mine was hardly impressive. The numbers on the sheet apparently proved that as an animation clean-up artist I was slow as hell. However, what the footage reports didn’t show was the fact that my scenes had all been put on “ones.” I’ll not try to explain animation jargon at this point but let’s just say when a scene is on “ones” it takes twice as long to do. Since the “duck man” was an accountant you would have thought numbers would have easily explained the situation.

Two weeks later I was sitting at my B-wing desk working away when something struck me. Suddenly, it all made sense. Other studio “opportunities” and low footage reports clearly meant one thing. In his own subtle way, Don was preparing to get rid of me, but he had to first build a case against me. Low footage was the perfect excuse. Now, that I was onto Don’s plan, I began to build a strategy. I would not only improve my animation footage - I would double it. I began to work through my lunch and after hours. My reason, you ask? This was to prove my getting sacked from the studio had little to do with my animation footage. Management simply wanted to fire me and needed a viable reason to do it. It was a rather sad and clumsy affair and hardly worthy of the respectable enterprise Walt Disney had built. Finally, what was the reason for this little charade? The company wanted to bring in new staffers who were younger and cheaper. Makes good economic sense, don’t you think? In any case, one would have thought the company that bears Walt’s name would have shown more class.

All these events were a long time ago and I’ve never let this little incident tarnish my image of the company or my respect for those who manage the organization. Tough business decisions have to be made and I’ve no problem with that. What I do expect from management is that they be honest and comport themselves with a degree of dignity and respect.

Young Floyd Norman and daughter, Elaine. Working on "Robin Hood" in the Seventies.

Young Floyd Norman and daughter, Elaine. Working on "Robin Hood" in the Seventies.

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AuthorFloyd Norman

I’ve had a number of requests for this color sketch of Robin Hood and Maid Marion. I initially chose this particular pose because of its energy. It’s clear that Robin and Marion have been startled by something. I began painting the couple because it had more life than the usual static poses I had been doing. Naturally, this image has been taken from the Disney motion picture. The same film I worked on back in the early seventies. I had never planned to work on Robin Hood but I soon found myself animating on the film. Let me tell you how it all began.

With the sad and unexpected passing of Walt Disney I left the studio to launch my own production company. This was not a snap decision. In truth, I had been planning my departure from the Walt Disney Studios for some time. Still, I was hesitant to leave the creative facility that had been my home for at least a decade. However, the passing of The Old Maestro clearly signaled it was time to move on. With Walt Disney no longer guiding the company I knew we would soon be following a different path. I had little interest in what would soon become the “post Walt Disney Studio,” so I handed in my resignation. I’ll admit it was pretty heady stuff being a part of my own company. Decisions could be made without reporting to a bunch of clueless hardheads in upper management. When I needed to be promoted to animator…I simply promoted myself. After all, I was the boss, or at least one of the bosses. We produced a number of educational films, developed a television pilot and devised movie and television titles and credits for various clients. Suddenly, the seventies were on us and the country experienced an economic downturn. I had recently married and my wife had given birth to twin daughters when I received a call from my old boss, Andy Engman at the Walt Disney Studios. Would I be willing to help out on their new feature, Andy inquired? I could even work at home should that be more convenient.

After a nearly five year absence, I returned to the Animation Building on the Walt Disney Studio lot. I remember walking down the hallway of B-wing and waving to my old pals. Here were, John Kimball, Chuck Williams, Al Stetter and Cliff Nordberg still at the drawing boards. I gotta tell you it felt good to be home again. I began work on the animated segment of “Bednobs and Broomsticks,” a musical that contained a good deal of the Disney talent but unfortunately none of the magic of “Mary Poppins.” Missing was one very important ingredient - and you can probably guess who that was. Soon, my assignment was wrapped, but before departing the Disney Studio, key assistant animator, Dale Oliver wanted to show me something. I made my way down to D-wing where I watched a number of scenes on the Moviola. Scenes animated by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. They were for the movie just beginning to ramp up. A new animated film entitled, “Robin Hood.” “We’d sure love to have you back on this film,” said Dale. “I’d love to return, Dale,” I replied. Several months passed before I returned, but late in 1971 I did make my return to the Walt Disney Studios to work on, “Robin Hood.”

I began working with Disney veteran, John Lounsbery, a mild mannered, soft spoken gentleman. I was mainly redoing scenes that had been completely changed by Milt Kahl. Unhappy with the initial designs, Kahl began redesigning the characters. Known for his skills as Disney’s finest draftsman, Kahl always got his way. John Lounsbery and the other animators pretty much let Milt do what he wanted. After all, who wanted to fight with Milt Kahl? As the film began to make progress, I was assigned to work with a talented young animator named, Dale Baer. Baer had been part of Disney’s training program and showed promise as an upcoming animator. The Disney Studio had been active in wooing young talent to be a part of this program and now it was beginning to pay off. One day, animator, Art Stevens stopped me in the hallway of B-wing and asked pointedly why I wasn’t in the animation program? “I’m too old, Art,” I replied. “Disney only wants young kids, and I’m way to old to qualify.” At the time, I was thirty eight years old.

My story has a happy ending, sort of. Thanks to Dale Baer I was able to animate on “Robin Hood” even though I never garnered a screen credit. In a way, I felt I had accomplished something. I was finally able to create animation on a Walt Disney feature animated film and that’s no small potatoes in my opinion. I was actually beginning to feel good about my return to the animation department of the Walt Disney Studios. Some wondered why this was such a big deal when I had already worked in Walt Disney’s coveted story department. It was a big deal because I had come to Disney many years ago with the dream of becoming a Disney animator. Now, I had finally become one. However, my Disney story takes another twist. One day my bosses, Ed Hansen and Don Duckwall (yes, that’s really his name) called me into the office and fired me. However, this is such a good story, I’ll have to save it for another time.

I enjoyed animating this character back in the seventies. Disney showed their appreciation by booting me out on my butt. You gotta love 'em, don't you?

I enjoyed animating this character back in the seventies. Disney showed their appreciation by booting me out on my butt. You gotta love 'em, don't you?

Posted
AuthorFloyd Norman