First African-American Disney animator to hold masterclass at Shenandoah University

Floyd Norman, Disney’s first African-American animator, will speak at Shenandoah University at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 1, in Halpin-Harrison Hall, Stimpson Auditorium (1460 University Drive, Winchester, VA 22601). This event is free and open to the public; no registration is required.

Norman will share his story about his pioneering work in the world of animation, and this presentation will allow participants to engage in thought dialogue about how they may enter into the field of animation and/or careers related to the arts, entertainment, media management, design, film and animation.

Later that evening, Norman will be on-hand at Alamo Drafthouse Winchester for a 7 p.m. screening of his documentary, “Floyd Norman: An Animated Life,” about his experiences as the first African-American animator at Disney, and his impact upon the animated world. A question and answer session will follow.

The screening is presented as a part of Alamo Drafthouse Winchester’s annual Black History Month series, which benefits the Winchester Branch of the NAACP, and is one of many screenings presented by the Winchester Film Club. Shenandoah University – along with the Winchester Branch of the NAACP and the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley – have partnered with Alamo Drafthouse Winchester for this screening.

Hired as the first African-American at Disney in 1956, Norman would later be hand-picked by Walt Disney to join the story team on the “Jungle Book.” After Walt Disney’s death, Norman left Disney to start his own company – Vignette Films, Inc. – to produce black history films for high schools. He and his partners would later work with Hanna Barbera, animate the original “Fat Albert Special,” as well as the titles to “Soul Train.”

Norman returned to Disney in the 1980s to work in their Publishing department. And in 1998, he returned to Disney Animation to work in the story department on “Mulan.” But an invite to the Bay area in the late 1990s became a career highlight. Norman was now working with another emerging great: Pixar and Steve Jobs, on “Toy Story 2” and “Monsters Inc.”

Life as an animator is a nomadic one, but Mr. Norman spent the majority of his career at Disney. He views it as his “home.” Retired by Disney at age 65 in 2000, the documentary focuses on Norman’s difficulty with a retirement he was not ready for. Not one to quit, Mr. Norman chose to occupy an empty cubicle at Disney Publishing for the last 15 years. As he puts it, “[He] just won’t leave.” A term has been coined by Disney employees – “Floydering.” While not on staff, his proximity to other Disney personnel has led him to pick up freelance work. He continues to have an impact on animation as both an artist and mentor. As Mr. Norman says, “[He] [plans] to die at the drawing board.”

For more information about the 2 p.m. event held at Shenandoah University on Feb. 1, contact Harry F. Byrd, Jr. School of Business Assistant Professor of Management Montressa Washington, Ph.D., at

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