CHICAGO — SIGGRAPH 2017, the annual conference highlighting computer graphics and interactive techniques, has announced that Floyd Norman, the first African-American animator to work for Walt Disney Animation Studios, will serve as its keynote speaker. The session will be presented as a fireside chat, allowing attendees the opportunity to hear the Disney legend discuss his life and career within an intimate setting. SIGGRAPH 2017 is set to take place in Los Angeles between July 30th and August 3rd.
Floyd Norman was the subject of a 2016 documentary film entitled Floyd Norman: An Animated Life, from filmmakers Michael Fiore and Erik Sharkey. The film, which covers Norman's life story, also includes interviews with such notables as actress/comedian Whoopi Goldberg (voice, The Lion King), Richard Sherman (composer, Mary Poppins) Leonard Maltin (film critic), Ralph Guggenheim (former vice president of animation at Pixar) and Gary Trousdale (co-director, Disney's Beauty and the Beast), among others.
"Floyd Norman is a living legend and a national treasure,” says SIGGRAPH 2017 conference chair Jerome Solomon. “He is an animator, storyteller, and renowned artist. As the first African-American animator to work at Walt Disney [Animation Studios], Norman is an inspiration to those of us who followed his trail-blazed path into the animation, motion graphics, and computer graphics fields. We are thrilled that he has accepted our invitation to appear as our very special keynote speaker for SIGGRAPH 2017.”
Norman was hired as the first African-American animator at Walt Disney Studios in 1956 and was later hand-picked by Walt Disney himself 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., and produce films on the subject of black history for high schools. He and his partners would later work with Hanna-Barbera Productions to animate the original Fat Albert TV special Hey, Hey, Hey, It's Fat Albert, as well as the opening title sequence for the TV series Soul Train.
Norman returned to Disney in the 1980s to work in their publishing department, and in 1998 moved to the story department to work on Mulan. After all this, an invite to the Bay Area in the late '90s became a career highlight when Norman began working with leaders in the next wave of animation — Pixar and Steve Jobs — adding Toy Story 2 and Monsters, Inc. to his film credits. Though Norman technically retired at the age of 65 in 2000, he is not one to quit and chose, instead, to occupy an open cubicle at Disney Publishing Worldwide for the last 15 years. As he puts it, "I just won't leave."
"I've been fascinated by computer graphics since I purchased my first computer,” says Norman. “I began attending SIGGRAPH when a kiosk was all Pixar could afford. Since then, I've had the pleasure of working for this fine company and being a part of this amazing technology as it continues to mature. I've also enjoyed sharing insights I've garnered over the years in this fantastic industry. In recent years, I've spoken at several universities and even Apple. Creative imagination and technological innovation have always been a part of my life, and I'm delighted to share my enthusiasm with the fans at SIGGRAPH this year."