Sacked in the Seventies

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.