Some animated filmmakers take special pride in declaring they do not make films for money. They’re artists, after all. They’re not filmmakers selling out for a profit. Let’s not kid ourselves because animated feature films was always about making money. It’s just that in the old days we simply weren’t that blatant about it. For us filmmakers, doing a good job was reward enough. Plus, if we were lucky enough to continue on and be blessed with another project, that was considered icing on the cake. Today, it’s about a whole lot more than simply making a motion picture. It’s all about making money. That’s because a hit animated feature film will pretty much guarantee a sequel and that sequel will engender another film. We’re no longer making movies - we’re building a franchise. And, nothing delights a corporation more than a product that will make them money forever.

It’s not that I have anything against sequels, mind you. I’ve worked on a few myself and one of them was especially good. On occasion, a sequel based on a darn good idea is more than welcome and that can be a win win for all concerned. These days, I’m afraid the opposite is true and more than a few sequels are simply cash grabs. I suppose one can hardly blame the studios. They’re just trying to squeeze the maximum out of their already sizable investment. Even in the old days, Walt Disney knew he had to make money. However, the Old Maestro had an agenda. Sizable profits simply enabled Walt to pour more cash into innovative new projects. Walt Disney wasn’t about profitability - he was about creativity. The gobs of money his films earned allowed that marvelous creativity to continue.

I’m an animation guy from another time and I continually grow weary of the “profit reports” from each new animated film being released. I would welcome a discussion about the new film and its effective production values or compelling storyline. Sadly, the discussion always begins with opening weekend box office numbers and how many millions the movie earned. What’s even sadder is, the impressive numbers really don’t mean much to the people who created the film. If you’re really, really lucky you might garner a bonus. However, unless you backed the movie with real hard cash you can pretty much forget about that new sporty Mercedes or the Malibu beach house. Animated feature films make bank these days. Yet in spite of the massive profits, Animation studios continue to struggle to stay alive. And, more than a few never make it. In the past few years I’ve seen a progression of savvy studio managers fall on their face. Why? Because it is tough working in a business where nobody really knows what they’re doing. In time, your luck and your money eventually runs out and you have to look for a real job.

If you think this is a diatribe against the studios, think again. We workers want studios to be successful. A healthy, profitable studio means more jobs for all of us and we take no delight when a production house begins to stumble. I’d also like to return the discussion to creating better product because if the product sucks there will be no profit and all will suffer. Perhaps it is time to get our minds off profits and focus instead on creating something special. The Old Maestro, Walt Disney was certainly aware of that. Create something unique and special and the dollars will follow. Perhaps it is time for studio bosses to start thinking like creators again. We already have more than enough studio bosses thinking like Wall Street brokers.

Yeah, I know animated films have to be profitable these days. However, I could do with a little less worship of the almighty dollar.

Yeah, I know animated films have to be profitable these days. However, I could do with a little less worship of the almighty dollar.

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AuthorFloyd Norman
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I’m afraid the eagerly anticipated Ward Kimball biography is probably never going to happen. The book has been written, of course. It’s simply not published. Sadly, I doubt it ever will be. With that in mind, let's take a moment to remember my favorite Disney Legend. I remember speaking with Ward Kimball’s son, John not long ago. We spoke about the amazing diary his dad kept and the stories it contained. I can imagine many of these insights were going to be revealed in the Kimball biography. Regretfully, that book has been “put on ice” and now it's anyone's guess how long it will be before we'll have the opportunity to read this long awaited book.

I still remember the day I learned of Kimball's retirement from the Walt Disney Studio. The word hit like a ton of bricks. Somehow, it just didn't seem right that Kimball would leave the Disney Company. Sadly, since that time I've gotten used to Disney icons suddenly departing the studio. However, back then we rushed upstairs for an explanation. The answer was simple. Kimball said the job just wasn’t fun anymore and he had made up his mind. You would have thought the studio would have begged him to stay, but such was not the case. It would appear that before long all the legendary artists and animators would be gone. And, the fact they’d given their talent and energy to the studio over the years hardly seemed to matter. However, I digress.

Once Ward retired from the company in 1973 he continued to enjoy and develop his interest in trains. Ward collected trains since he was a boy and he shared the interest with his father and uncle. In 1938, Ward and his wife Betty bought their first, second-hand, full sized steam locomotive from the abandoned Nevada Central Railroad. Among Kimball's collection of full-size trains were a Baldwin coal-burning 2-6-0 (1881), a plantation wood-fired Baldwin 0-4-2T (1883), and a passenger coach. Kimball's railroad hobby was a break from work at the studio, and over time Ward's hobby grew into the Grizzly Flats Railroad. Believe it not the engine house was located right behind his home in San Gabriel.

Though I've enjoyed a love of trains a bit myself, I really wanted to talk about animation when I had Kimball to myself on weekend visits to his daughter, Kelly's Highland Park home. This was back in the sixties, and our conversation included everything from animating the crows in Dumbo to Kimball's upcoming stint as a live-action director on Disney's “Babes in Toyland” where Ward would be at the helm of both the live and animated portions of the motion picture. Of course, you Disney buffs know this major role for “Walt's genius” hit a major snag and Kimball was removed as director. That's a pretty big story all by itself and it's a story I'll save for another day. In the meantime, here I am resting on “Chloe.” This smaller locomotive is named after Kimball’s youngest daughter, and she brings back memories of weekend afternoons at the Kimball household back in the sixties. Those were fun times and I’ll always be grateful for the days spent with a pretty amazing animation family.

This is me visiting Chloe. She's just as attractive as I remember back in the sixties. Thanks, Ward.

This is me visiting Chloe. She's just as attractive as I remember back in the sixties. Thanks, Ward.

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AuthorFloyd Norman
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It was Friday afternoon and the executive's office had already been swept clean. Every item of furniture and every scrap of paper had been removed. The executive had been sacked, and because of this company decision there would be no remaining trace he was ever there. I'm surprised they didn't call in an exorcist.

By the way, this was not the Disney Company in case you're wondering. However, I've seen many an employee of the mouse house leave in every way imaginable. I've seen people drive out of the parking lot ecstatic. They were happy to finally be free. On the other hand, I've seen security drag people out as they screamed bloody murder. And finally, some were so distraught after losing their job they went home and took their own life. I can honestly say I loved my job at the Disney Company but there was no way in hell I'd ever consider putting a gun to my head over losing a stupid job.

I confess I miss the old fashion way of losing one's job. Some years ago, I was sacked at a major animation studio. My bosses called me in and told me it was not necessary to stay until the end of the work week. They wanted me out and the sooner the better. I honestly miss the old way of losing one's job. I miss the angry boss screaming in Saturday Morning cartoon style, “Jetson! You're fired!” Today, you'd simply report to Human Resources where an attractive young person would walk you through an “Exit Interview” from a prepared script. And yes, I know all about HR. A family member worked in Human Resources for many years so I know the drill.

Last week, I drew a cartoon that was inspired by another departing Disney cartoon maker. As usual, the departure was amicable and no ill feelings were expressed. It was the usual “love fest” where only good things were said about the company and the employee. This is necessary, of course. In today's world the magic word is litigation, and it's something no company wants to deal with. That means every departing employee is “loved to death” as they depart. It's silly, of course because these releases aren't fooling anybody. It's the usual bogus world we've all come to live in, isn't it?

Luckily, I didn't have a press release when I was sacked from the mouse house back in the seventies. And, had I decided to say anything it would have been a glowing report because I truly love the Walt Disney Company. It's a company that has truly been a positive part of my life even though I can be highly critical of the organization at times. The bottom line is, I really love Disney. And, that even includes the sometimes useless “knuckle heads” who run the place.

Over the past 60 years I've seen my share of Disney executives booted out on their butts. I guess it's the one thing artists and executives share in common.

Over the past 60 years I've seen my share of Disney executives booted out on their butts. I guess it's the one thing artists and executives share in common.

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AuthorFloyd Norman
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Back in another lifetime I used to create a fair number of storyboards for television commercials. One particular TV production house in Hollywood seemed to like my storyboards and continually sent work my way. The producers and directors were great to work with and they even paid me in a timely manner. There was one drawback, however. They wanted every job at the last minute.

Why should I be surprised, eh? That's the television business, after all. Even more so when it comes to advertising. Clients have the habit of making up their minds at the last minute and they want everything done as if the staffers were miracle workers. So, there was nothing left for guys like me to do except work miracles. Lucky for me I was a young man back then with boundless energy. Energy I knew I would need to complete the impossible deadlines.

Here's how it works. I get a phone call early evening from my producer, Chuck who would always need a storyboard by the next morning. Sometimes I would rush to the Hollywood office, but in time we simply went over the script on the telephone. After going over Chuck's notes, I would begin my series of rough storyboards. Since the boards had to be done quickly I would work rough and lose. That was good, however. My storyboards always had energy and vitality. Then, I would usually use markers to complete the storyboards and the color punched things up and gave the work a finished look. After my all nighter I would begin pasting up the storyboards at dawn and by eight o'clock I would begin my long drive to Hollywood to deliver the boards so the client could view them that morning.

Weeks later, I would view the finished television commercial in one of the screening rooms at the studio. I was always amazed at how closely the live-action directors followed my storyboards almost shot for shot. The same staging, composition and even the cutting. In many ways, I almost felt as if I had directed the commercial myself. It appears I was doing all the work while a “director” was being paid the big bucks. Oh, well. Doing television commercials is not as glamorous as working on big time Hollywood feature films and the hours were not always the best. But, looking back on that time I can sure say I had a pretty good time.

I had so much fun storyboarding television commercials when I was a much younger man. Of course, you had to be young to keep up this pace.

I had so much fun storyboarding television commercials when I was a much younger man. Of course, you had to be young to keep up this pace.

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AuthorFloyd Norman