8. Norman Ferguson

Although many things make up animation, it’s all about the timing and the performance.  You can be the finest draftsman in the world, animate with all these refinements, and draw beautiful, perfected drawings but that doesn’t mean you’re a good animator.  It’s actually better to go with someone who doesn’t draw well in the common sense of the word but can draw characters that think, have weight, show expression through movement, and most of all put on a performance on the screen that the audience gets a big kick out of. To do this it’s been proven that it is a good idea fro animators to work very rough and loose so they can get the expression and feeling to the strongest possible zinth.  The one who turned the criteria for good drawing and performance in animation upside down is without question Norman or as everyone also called him “Fergy” Ferguson, number 8 on our countdown and the honoree of today’s post.

Norman Ferguson in many ways revolutionized and redefined what a good animator is and his outside of the box style and technique changed the direction of the art form forever.  His work was the first stuff at Disney to have the characters really think, never have the screen go dead and the character stop moving, use timing to show the emotions and personality of the character, and most importantly to focus and go to the next level with the acting, performance, and feelings of the scene.   Fergy’s work was very rough and loose oftentimes appearing like a huge mess and only having a few lines but underneath the mess was a character with true emotions, thought process, acting, performance, and accuracy in timing and movement. “Fergy wasn’t the artist but he was a sharp performer and showman- hard to know if his drawing was there or wasn’t there- he had his own kind of symbol,” praised honoree Marc Davis. “I liked the way he drew,, it was very rough but oh my, was it accurate,” remembered great animator Shamus Culhane.  “At first it didn’t look like anything but when you looked through the barbed wire that he concocted, there was a really good drawing in there and funny.” Fergy will always be remembered for his brilliant animation of Pluto in the flypaper sequence of Playful Pluto and his other animation of the dog in several other pictures but he did many other great animated performances including the Big Bad Wolf in the Three Little Pigs, the deep-voiced owl judge in Who Killed Cock Robin, the evil Witch in Snow White, the mischievous Honest John and Gideon in Pinocchio, the bodacious Hippo in Fantasia, the outspoken King in Cinderella, the crafty Walrus and Carpenter in Alice in Wonderland, and the charming Nana in Peter Pan.  However his place in Disney greatness is often debated and underappreciated.  While some think of Norm as an untouchable legend and extraordinary animator at the highest caliber of the art form others try to put his limitations as a draftsman against him and see him as nothing more than someone who could be great early in the development of Disney animation but not someone who has skill enough to be at the top of the all time greats.

William Norman Ferguson was born on September 2, 1902 in Manhattan, New York, making him the oldest honoree besides Ub Iwerks. Very little is known or has been written about his backstory and younger years but evidence points to the fact that he didn’t have a ton of money growing up and was at best lower middle class.  However one thing that is known about his time growing up and had an immense impact on his career was his fascination and influence in vaudeville.  Back in the early 1900s vaudeville was to people what television and movies are to many of us today.  It was the go-to entertainment of the nation and it was a huge phenomenon. Young Fergy was very intrigued at the performances he saw on stage and found the great personality, acting, and over-the-top exaggeration done by the performers as something very entertaining and interesting. This made him develop a mindset where he say everything as if it were up on a stage and performed to a live audience, which dominated his Disney work years later. “Fergy’s taste didn’t run to the intellectual,” wrote Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. “He loved old vaudeville comedians and this was probably his chief form of entertainment growing up. He saw everything as if it were on stage, rather than in terms of the involved movements some animators were able to do after studying live action.” Probably when he was around 1923 Fergy entered the professional world as a cameraman at the Paul Terry studio on the Aesop’s Fable Series, then the premiere cartoon series in the country. While in later years Terrytoons would grow notorious for the lack of quality, inspiration, and talent the studio had as well as the severe low budgets and stuck in the past nature of the cartoons (e.g.- Farmer Alfalfa was the studio’s biggest star in the 20s as well as the 1950s, it took until the early to mid 40s for the studio to even make a color cartoon, etc.) back then the industry was dry and lacked much inspiration so the Aesop’s Fables were actually quite high for their time.  However, a mysterious coincidence would change the young man’s life forever.  “I was staying late to finish shooting a scene when I discovered some of the drawings were missing,” told Fergy over and over again. “There was no one else around to complete the animation and no one to call, so I had to fill in. then Terry discovered my talent and offered me a job drawing. If this is all there is to animation, I guess I’ll switch over- it beats being on camera.” For the next couple of years he was a premiere animator at the studio and did a lot of footage.  However soon noise came about the excitement and innovations at the Disney Studios out in Los Angeles, the studio that had recently broke new ground with the first sound cartoon Steamboat Willie that starred Mickey Mouse.  In 1929 East Coast animators started moving out to Disney and other Hollywood studios, starting a huge exodus of talent from New York to California that would by the mid to late 30s result in almost all the top animators and quality cartoons being made out west.  Fergy was one of the first to go with the trend and after moving out in August 1929 started at the Disney studio.

During the period when Norman Ferguson started at Disney the studio was still very small and making films that were right for the time but didn’t have even a small fraction of the great virtues of the future films. However there was a sense of change going on at the studio and glimpses of potential were already visible: Walt’s storytelling, staging of gags, and inventiveness was already apparent and was distinctly different in those regards from any other cartoons made at the time.  However the characters still weren’t believable and lifelike either physically or emotionally.  The screen oftentimes felt dead and the movements and actions of the characters were well too often interchangeable.  One of the first times the mold was broken was on Fergy’s first important animation in his career: a trio of fish dancing in Frolicking Fish, a black and white cartoon in Disney’s Silly Symphony series.  The dance not only was by far the most precise, thought-out, and believable animation ever done by anyone in the world but it had very different sensibilities and solutions to problems than situations in other cartoons: to avoid making the screen feel dead and the illusion of life be destroyed Fergy made the fish constantly move and have the action go through all parts of the body. When one place stopped moving another started.  “It was the first Disney animation with moving holds, poses that were softened by movement instead of being rigidly and sharply defined,” explained the great Disney director Wilfred Jackson. “He slowed in, moved through. If one part held, some other thing moved. Before that time we’d get into a pose and hold it, we’d move into another pose and hold into it. We saw this and wondered what did Fergy do.” That same year Fergy did another huge breakthrough that showed even more potential for the art of animation: he animated the bloodhounds in the Chain Gang, which would eventually evolve into Pluto.  There are a couple of things that are significant about the bloodhounds. One is, on a technical standpoint, their scene was the first time anyone ever applied weight to their characters and their movements. Weight is very important because even in the case of cartoony characters it makes the animation seem more believable to the audience and enhances the illusion of the character living in a whole that’s real.  Another is that the drawing used for the bloodhounds is in comparison to the animation being done at the time pretty solid in terms of construction and shows caricature beyond just a simple, abstract representation of a dog. Last is that the characters FEEL real and there are real emotions as well as acting used in the sequences. You can tell these bloodhounds are searching very hard, are exhausted to no end, and are frantically sniffing around trying to find a scent. “Fergy was successful in getting a looseness into the bloodhound that exaggerated its ability to sniff and think,” reflected director and producer Ben Sharpesteen. “He succeeded in getting a feeling of flesh into his animation. No one realized what Fergy had done, however, until after the preview.” “The dogs were real, alive,” praised Don Graham. “They seemed to breathe. They moved like dogs, not like drawings of dogs. The drawings explained not so much what a real dog looked like but what a real dog did. “ After the Chain Gang Fergy continued to help develop Pluto’s character and animated the dog several other times.

Although there was a huge amount of admiration and excitement about the work Fergy was doing in the early 1930s his magic didn’t rub off on the other animators that fast and it took a few years for the severe, sometimes disturbing gap between the quality of his work and the quality of everyone else’s. One of the first to come anywhere close to his caliber was Dick Lundy, most famous for defining and creating Donald Duck.  “I was working on a dance and I analyzed it, I animated it the way I thought it was but it wasn’t a dance,” remembered Lundy. “And Fergy said: ‘You want to give the illusion that this is happening; regardless of whether it does to not give it the illusion.’” He soon learned well and became the studio’s second best animator of that time period.  Although Fergy was breaking new ground and taking the art form to the next level, he still had his fatal flaw: he wasn’t a very good draftsman and drew extremely rough.  By 1932 it had come to the point where at first he’d just draw a circle, two lines for the body, and a whole blob of rough lines that had great expression and accuracy.  “He doesn’t know that you can’t raise the eyebrows above the head circle, so he goes ahead and does it and it has a great effect,” commented Fred Moore. Walt wanted Fergy’s animation but with the pictures becoming more sophisticated the rough, loose drawings needed to be cleaned up.  So a solution was devised.  Fergy would animate the scene rough and test it to see whether or not it was working and had the performance level he wanted. Then an assistant would take the drawings and clean them up so on the screen in the final film would be a genius performance done the way he saw it. This would lead to a whole shift in the way animators worked at the studio: the animator would work very rough and loose focusing primarily on the acting, emotions, and movements, then they would test their work to see problems that needed to be fixed, go back and solve them, and then have an assistant do the cleanup work for them to add in the refinements and details. This opened up the art form to a whole new level and allowed animation to mature in a way that otherwise very well could have been impossible. “Fergy was the first animator to test his work,” said Wilfred Jackson. “He made rough drawings of the dog and pencil tests were shot of the rough drawings. The great discovery was made that you could read action perfectly well from rough drawings.” After this transition was made Fergy continued to put great performances on the screen, now many of them in color cartoons.  He was the lead animator of Santa Claus in Santa’s Workshop, which displays his understanding of weight, movement of flesh, and timing.  Another success around that time was Noah in the Silly Symphony Noah’s Ark, which not only again used weight and movement to show character but also showed the animator’s great flair for caricature.  Fergy would then be the lead animator on the Big Bad Wolf in the Three Little Pigs, which was the juiciest character he had animated at that point. His animation clearly communicates the frustration and anger the wolf is feeling in the film and he used clear, strong poses as well as broad body movements that showed expression not just in the face but also in the entire body to show the character’s personality.   One brilliant scene in particular is the one where the wolf is breathing heavy and then blows it out. Fergy isn’t animating forms there; he’s animating forces (another example of his brilliant mind.) The marriage between the strong emotions the character is feeling and the ones they are feeling physically is perfect and the exaggeration and strength given to the action makes it even more believable than if someone animated it in a more realistic way.

However, the scene that Norm Ferguson animated that really took Disney animation to the next level and the first scene by anyone to ever really show the characters thinking was the famous flypaper sequence in Playful Pluto. In the scene Pluto gets annoyed, frustrated and angry when he gets stuck with this sticky flypaper on him (the scene is a MUST study for any animator- it is a textbook example of showing your character think and change emotions.) Storyman Webb Smith did the story sketches and boards for the sequence and it is oftentimes debated how much of the scene’s conception comes from the hands and minds of Smith in comparison to Fergy.  The controversy is that some of the layout and thumbnail drawings for the scene look a lot cleaner than what is typically Norm’s work, making it possible Webb drew the drawing (all evidence points to the fact that the originals sketches and boards are lost as is the case of most done in that time.) However whatever anyone said the animator was the one who really made it work.  There are a couple of things that are notably genius about the scene. One is the excellent staging of the situation and in the way the gags move into each other.  Another is that the sequence is completely driven by the emotions of the character.  As Pluto gets more and more annoyed and frustrated by the sticky paper the harder and stronger he tries to get it off.  The dog’s feelings change all the way through the scene and the audience clearly sees how this is going inside him.  Every thought that processes through Pluto’s head we clearly see making us know precisely what he is thinking. Last is the way Fergy timed the scene so the thoughts and actions are clearly expressed and the thing works to a great effect.  “In the laying out of Pluto’s action on exposure sheets before animating it is hard to anticipate the necessary feeling in certain parts where expressions will be used,” stated the animator. “This is sometimes necessary to add footage when such spots are reached in animation.” It is an understatement to say anything less than the flypaper sequence changed Disney animation forever. It inspired animators to make their characters think and time their work out to clearly show the thoughts and feelings inside the characters.  The scene started a buzz all throughout the studio and the animation industry. “I consider it to be an extraordinary merit,” simply put Walt Disney. “Fergy’s flypaper sequence was the big one among the milestones in our learning process because it was an outstanding example in its time of how to picture to the audience what the character is thinking, how it felt about what was happening, and the motivation of its action,” explained Jackson. “Animation, no matter how crudely done, that conveys inner life is far more effective than comparatively sophisticated animation that doesn’t. of course knowing how to make a cartoon character more in a convincing, believable way will greatly assist an animator to put across these things but skill in drawing the movements or action, in itself, is only a means to this end.” “The flypaper sequence in Playful Pluto is always mentioned as the best example of pantomime,” reflected great storyman Ted Sears in a lecture at the studio.  “This is because it illustrated clearly all of Pluto’s characteristics from dumb curiosity to panic. It is timed in such a way that the audience feels all of Pluto’s sensations- each hold expression after a surprise action was carefully planned and expressed some definite attitude causing the audience to laugh. Each climax builds up into a better sequence.”

A year after Playful Pluto, Norman Ferguson did some great animation of Pluto in On Ice and Pluto’s Judgement Day as well as some phenomenal animation in the Silly Symphony series. Among his hits at the time was animating all of the owl judge in Who Killed Cock Robin. The judge is very serious and shows little emotion so Fergy did a great job at not going too broad in his handling of the character.  His success would continue in shorts in 1936 but late in that year he was moved on as a supervising animator on the ambitious, risky project Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Ferguson was one of the last major animators put on the film and animators such as Fred Moore, Bill Tytla, Ham Luske, Grim Natwick, Frank Thomas, Milt Kahl, and many others had already been on the film for months and in some cases almost a year.  It could be possible, however, that the intention of this was that Fergy’s style and limited technique wasn’t subtle enough to be put on most of the major character, making his only work on the film to animate all of the Witch as a crone.  Nevertheless his animation of the witch is actually very precisely timed (a challenge to the subtlety thought) and is some of the most frightening and scary work ever done at the studio.  Not only did he use Joe Grant’s unbelievably ugly design for the character (ugly is actually a compliment for this character) but also he made smart acting choices by making her relatively reserved but always communicating to the audience what she is thinking.  Study the scenes with the witch and the poison apple to see psychological precision and use of broad but contained expressions to show the feelings the character has.  However storyman Joe Grant felt that Fergy handled the witch a bit too broadly and envisioned her as a bit more reserved. Still she turns out extremely scary and most importantly the animator’s work is very effective in the film.  This also turned out to be the first significant collaboration between Norman and his extraordinary assistant and future Disney great John Lounsbery.  John was just what Fergy needed: a great draftsman who could animate in anybody’s style, in contrast to the mentor’s drawing flaws and very limited technique.  “Fergy didn’t draw well but he could sure tell a story- in the staging, timing, and personality he got in there,” he said years later about his mentor. “That’s the difference between a fine artist and a damn good animator.”  In conclusion I feel that the Witch is a solid example of cartoon acting and shows Fergy’s skill at performance and putting every emotion on paper to the highest degree possible.

By the time Snow White was released Norman Ferguson had become a huge legend throughout the animation industry and people constantly tried to figure out how he possibly could put on the performances he did. He’d always say however “Why are you spending so much time studying the way I did something because I’ll probably do it different next time.” On the second feature film, Pinocchio, Fergy was given a very juicy, fun assignment that proved to be some of his best work ever. It was supervising and animating Honest John the fox and Gideon the cat, even getting credit as a sequence director.  They are quite possibly the closest we’ll ever get to seeing two vaudeville comedians in a Disney film as well as have some of the wittiest dialogue, actions, and personalities ever to be animated on screen. “Other animators might have made the Fox more dramatic, more villainous, perhaps sillier, less believable or more sincere,” wrote Thomas and Johnston. “Only Fergy saw the special kind of entertainment that both the Fox and the Cat could offer this picture. It was the kind of character development he understood and loved.” I absolutely love the animation done of Honest John and Gideon. It shows great understanding of character relationship and contrast, has a very unique tongue and cheek approach, and clearly shows the character. It is made clear that Honest John is intelligent, extremely arrogant, witty, insincere, a liar, and only wants money because he has a very egotistical walk, has sly facial expressions, and moves in a way that shows his wit and dishonesty.  Gideon is clearly a stupid cat that doesn’t think at all before doing anything and is very lazy because of the way he moves and the expression shown through his movements and poses. The use of timing and poses too is completely expert.  “On Gideon and the Fox they shot live action with what’s-his-name of the fox,” Kimball told Steve Hulett. “They did the dance steps that Fergy and John Lounsbery would use, just to look at. Lots of times, especially if you weren’t familiar with music or dance, you didn’t know what the leg did.” Although Fergy did some animation of the Fox and cat (a must study scene is the one where they’re conversing with the coachman and Honest John leans over+ classic Fergy pose that says everything about the character, situation, and personality) he mostly supervised them (T. Hee directed the scenes) and animators John Lounsbery, Norm Tate, Hugh Fraser, and Preston Blair did most of the actual animation.  It was on Fantasia, however, in my humble opinion where he did his best work and animated his absolute masterpiece.  On the film he was the supervising animator and director alongside T. Hee of the genius, brilliant Dance of the Hours sequence.  “The Dance of the Hours is perfect,” directly praised Ward Kimball, who wished he had worked on that segment instead of the Pastoral Symphony.  Although Howard Swift, Jerry Hatchcock, Hicks Lokey, John Lounsbery, Ray Patterson, Preston Blair, and Hugh Fraser did tons of phenomenal animation on the segment Fergy himself did some amazing stuff with the female Hippo.  My favorite scene he animated on the film is the one where she looks at the mirror off stage and she has this really prissy expression. You can tell she’s a big time diva just from that one drawing! It’s a textbook example of the perfect pose, expression, and caricature from animation. You see girls do that expression in real life but by exaggerating and caricaturing it Fergy was able to make it 1000 times as powerful and effective than if he had done it straight.  The weight the animator used on the hippo is also very brilliant.  In a nutshell what I love about the Dance of the Hours and Norm’s work in particular on that film is the way it satires ballets and uses caricatured, cartoony animal clowns to make fun of human emotions, characteristics, and feelings that we are all familiar with while taking them to the next level with the caricature and exaggeration.  If I could use any particular Disney Animation to teach great animation, it would be the Dance of the Hours.

Unfortunately after Fantasia Norman Ferguson was reluctantly taken away from what he loved, animating, and didn’t get to sit down with the pencil again for eight years. Now he was a director and his first big assignment exclusively working as a director was directing sequences in Dumbo.  The two main sequences he focused on were the dramatic, suspenseful Pyramid of Pachyderms scene and the surrealistic, creative, and weird Pink Elephants on Parade.  Fergy was fortunate enough to have directing animator John Lounsbery as well as animators Hicks Lokey, Hugh Fraser, and Howard Swift do tons of footage and quality work on those two scenes.  During the production of Dumbo the Strike of 1941 occurred and Norman stayed very much on Walt’s side as well as was very vocally against the strike and stayed devoted. However soon after his relationship with Walt began to have scratches and a slight friction would develop between the two men.  During the summer of 1941 Fergy went with Disney and other artists on a trip to South America where they were doing research for upcoming Latin American-flavored films.  When they got back home the animator was the director of the tow films Saludos Amigos and the Three Caballeros.  During the making those films for some reason that from my knowledge is unknown Walt somehow felt offended by Fergy in some way and tension developed.  If you know anything about Disney’s personality once you turned on him or he developed tension with you  no longer had his support and there was nothing you could ever do to repair your relationship with him. This would begin a decline in Fergy’s career and was the start of his downfall.

It is a bit of a mystery what Norm Ferguson did during the second half o the 40s. Besides the fact we know he was still at the studio there is no credit or information written about his involvement and work in that time period.  What we do no is that Fergy would no longer be very involved in directing and soon was moved back to animation, where he didn’t find himself as welcome as he had before. A new guard had developed on the Animation Board and they felt their work was superior to Fergy’s as well as many of them didn’t want the competition of an animator of his caliber.  His return as a directing animator occurred when he was the main animator on the King in Cinderella as well as some of the Duke and even a scene or two with Brutus and Lucifer.  The King is a very entertaining character that is very over the top, outspoken, and has no gap between his inner and outer emotions.  I love the timing Fergy used on the character although like with most of his 50s work I don’t think the psychological precision of his earlier work is present in its entirety although I feel his work from this period is still pretty good and underappreciated. My favorite Fergy scene in Cinderella is the one where when the King is talking to the duke about the ball he pantomimes the actions of the ball and impersonates one. Brilliant scene! On Alice in Wonderland he again was given two characters that show his strengths: the Walrus and the Carpenter.  I feel like Fergy was covering old ground with these characters and don’t consider them anywhere near as good as Honest John and Gideon but there is a lot of great slapstick comedy and strong squash and stretch in their scenes that is pretty enjoyable.  Peter Pan proved to be his last feature film and he mostly focused on animating Nana the dog, a natural choice given his past work with canines.  After Pan Fergy returned to shorts where he animated Pluto in a couple and for his swan song animated all of a short titled Social Lion.   By this time he had a ton of trouble keeping up with the refinements of Disney animation as well as adjusting his narrow technique to the new system. The quality of his work wasn’t the same and instead of being a fast top footage man like before on all three of the 50s films he worked on he did the least footage of any directing animator. In July 1953 the Animation Board, despite the fact many of the members owed a lot to Fergy for the inspiration and mentorship he gave them, fired Norman.  For the remainder of his life the animator found himself very lost and had several health problems, mainly his heavy use of alcohol and diabetes.  Soon after Disney he worked for a brief time with Shamus Culhane, who had looked up to him so much when he was at Disney.  However Ferguson just wasn’t Fergy at this point and being a painful experience for everyone involved the stint ended quickly.  Another unsuccessful job for the animator was briefly working in the Chuck Jones unit at Warner Brothers.  His stuff didn’t fit in Jones’s style at all and he constantly had to get his work done over. As perfect as the combination sounds on paper Fergy’s time at Warner’s only produced uncredited animation on the one shot short To Itch His Own and he was gone after 4 months.  On November 4, 1957 Norman Ferguson passed away of diabetes but his influence, inspiration, and innovations have stayed in the art of animation forever.

In terms of style it is important to understand that Norman Ferguson really was NOT a very good artist and draftsman.  He couldn’t draw very well at all in the conventional sense of the word and his stuff was rough to the point you could barely see anything was there. However underneath those rough drawings there was actually if you take a different perspective a very brilliant, excellent drawing. What made it great, however, wasn’t the refinements but the performance and thinking behind the drawing.  This made assisting and backing up Fergy no easy task. “When you had to inbetween those drawings, oh boy,” remembered Jack Hannah, then one of Fergy’s assistants who later would become the main director of the Donald Duck series. Although Fergy put more work into held poses, he cared less about action extremes and would leave them for his assistants to finish,” explained George Goepper to Milt Gray. I like to say what Fergy had was substance behind a drawing. When I say substance I mean what you really want to put inside your work: intent, intelligence, creativity, character, personality, feeling, movement, action, and anything else that creates great animation.  Although there was intense thought process and feeling in his work Norm was unable to put great subtlety in his work and he only really worked well with broad, exaggerated characters.  He didn’t have the ability of caricaturist animators such as Bill Tytla and Ward Kimball to use the caricature to show greater subtlety in emotion and stronger believability in the character, all these transcending broad and cartoony characters.  Fergy on the other hand had a very limited technique and a lot of his work is at times a bit repetitive as a result, although he without question was a great cartoon actor.  Staging and timing were two technical fundamentals he did do very well and to study Fergy’s work and learn from it, you’ve got to know it’s all about the TIMING.  Timing is what made him more than just a good animator and made him able to transcend the medium and have such broad influence despite his drawing handicap.  “It has been found easier to cut down stalling in the rough tests than to build up undertimed situations later on,” explained Fergy.  “The reason for this is that the animator works spontaneously when he feels the situation and trying to crowd things into a given footage handicaps him to the extent of breaking the spontaneity of his work.” “Norm was a fast, quote, animator,” reflected Ward Kimball. “He saw everything in the movement. Now he wasn’t a great artist, if he had been he would have been untouchable. He had this great flair of timing- he was the first animator to employ timing and to achieve better comedy. The flypaper sequence with Pluto was the first time an animator had timed anything like that out of what the character was thinking. Norm drew very fast. He’d whip out a sheet so fast you could hardly understand the numbers. You saw his stuff, you felt it. He made just a few lines on a drawing. If he had to commit himself to a complete drawing he wasn’t able to do it but he had this spontaneity. He would get this and so we always had to make sure that Fergy had a good assistant who could interpret these- no, reinterpret these few lines into a finished drawing where the inkers could trace and you could paint. You had to be talented to be Fergy’s assistant. To make sure that the spontaneous he was creating made it to the screen the way he saw it. If you saw some of the roughs there were four or five lines with a number but it was still timing and the spacing between a head bounce or a turn that made him a real good animator.” ‘He worked very rough for the first tests- usually just a circle and two lines for the body,” wrote Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston.  “This kept the staging simple and gave him a guide that was easy to change. With a quick test on his first rough drawings he could see whether he had something to build on. He could keep making fast changes, never feeling that he had invested so much time in a scene that he couldn’t discard it and try a new idea if something wasn’t working. This style suited Fergy because he was always trying something out.”

Norman Ferguson is one of the most important and influential figures in the development of both Disney animation and character animation in general. His use of thought process, timing, weight, performance, and feeling behind a drawing redefined what a great animator is and what one does forever.  Fergy was the first to be more than just an animator but someone who was a real actor and really did great stuff on the screen.  Because of his success and talent more and more animators at the studio were inspired to make their characters feel and think as well as communicate this through the animation, movement, and expression. This was a crucial development in making the characters in Disney films believable enough to be accepted by the audience and be able to support stories such as those of a feature film.  On the technical standpoint Fergy changed the way an animator worked. Clean, finished drawing were no longer the concern and from then on for the most part animators have worked very rough and loose when animating, focusing on performance, emotion, and acting.  Norman also was the first animator to really use timing effectively and began a move into animators testing their work through pencil tests.  Pencil tests have allowed animators to improve their craft and fix problems in a way they have never been able to before. Finally I feel Fergy has influenced animation in that he has changed the way animators approach their scenes. They began to see themselves as actors who were great showmen. These improvements and influences will stay in animation forever and every animator owes a lot to Fergy for making it possible to achieve the level of success possible in animation.

In regards to personal inspiration I think I’ve very much been influenced by Norman Ferguson, his approach, and his work. I love the rough, loose but accurate and precise way he drew as well as his skills as a brilliant performer and cartoon actor.  This has inspired me to think of art in terms of composition and think of it as on stage or in a film.  I think about the character I’m drawing as if it’s an actor portraying something real and personal to him. Also Fergy’s work has made me realize the importance and value of timing, staging, and spacing. By intensely studying his scenes frame by frame I’ve learned animation is all about the timing and that through timing is how you show the feeling, action, and character.  He’s also influenced me into loosening up and looking for the substance behind the drawing.  Last Fergy has gotten me to appreciate the importance of making the character think and inspired me to work hard to try to make the character I draw communicate what they’re feeling both inside and out as well as their thoughts.  This has really helped me a lot and I feel very appreciative to his work in making me have this new approach to my drawings and studies. Thank you Norman Ferguson for your contributions to Disney animation and the inspiration you’ve been to me as well as so many other people!

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6 Responses to “8. Norman Ferguson”

  1. LeoMoon, Studios, Graphic, Animation, Maya, Blender, Adobe, Short Film…

    […]8. Norman Ferguson « 50mostinfluentialdisneyanimators[…]…

  2. Shamus Culhane reveals in ‘Script to Screen’ some of the roughs he did during the scene of the fox talking to the coachman (I can tell it was dual animation, and Shamus’ stuff isn’t the most visibly his style because it was pose-to-pose); and revealed in interview some of the scenes of Gideon trying to get John’s head out of the hat. Other than that, nice job with this one! ^^ He was kinda falling apart by the end…

  3. […] more information on Fergie, check out these posts by bloggers Michael Sporn and Grayson Ponti! Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in […]

    • Norman Walker Says:

      Thanks for the comments — he was my grrandfather for whom I was named. We still have some of his orginal scethcings of Pluto — classic

  4. Donald Ferguson Says:

    Very interesting to read. Norman was my great uncle but I never met him. He passed away the year I was born. Heard of his involvement with Disney but never knew the details. This article tells me a lot.

  5. Useful info. Fortunate me I discovered your website unintentionally, and I am shocked why this twist of fate
    did not happened in advance! I bookmarked it.

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