Legendary African-American Animators Launch New Studio

Although art is seriously undervalued in American society, it plays a pivotal role in how we feel. In a 2011 study conducted by the University of London, researchers found that, when subjects looked at a beautiful painting, the blood flow to the “joy response” part of the brain increased by 10% — the same effect experienced when you look at a loved one.

Not everyone is equally moved by the same type of art, of course. Some styles are more universally pleasing. While one person is drawn to impressionistic art, others may enjoy realism. But for many folks, there’s nothing quite like the joy they experience when they watch a cartoon or a Disney animated feature.

Disney and Pixar have made some recent strides in terms of inclusion and representation on screen. The Princess and the Frog and Moana were both quite successful, and they’ve made efforts to make their casts more diverse as of late. In addition, Pixar will release its Mexican-themed Coco in November. But even though they’re attempting to show more minorities in their films, these animation studios haven’t always been inclined to represent their black animators in the same way.

In fact, it wasn’t until this past fall that legendary Disney animator Floyd Norman started to get the recognition he deserved. Norman first joined the company as Disney’s first black animator in 1959. While at Disney, he worked on some of the studio’s most iconic films like Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians, and The Jungle Book. He also contributed his talents to more modern box office giants like Toy Story 2 and Monsters, Inc..

A writer and comic book artist to boot, Norman was the subject of a popular Netflix documentary, Floyd Norman: An Animated Life, in 2016. The film highlighted Norman’s immense skills and experiences working for the Mouse, and provided unique insight into the life of an African-American artist.

Although Disney tried to force Norman to retire when he turned 65, he fought back, saying he’d like to be kept on as a freelancer. Now, at age 81, he still contributes to the studio, but he’s also embracing other ventures.

Norman has partnered with fellow black animator Leo Sullivan — best known for his work on The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, “Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert,” and Warner Brothers’ Tiny Toons — to form a new animation studio.

Punch TV Studios, formerly the Urban Television Network, is launching an animation division focused on creating animated TV series and movies for syndication. At Punch Animation, Norman will serve as President of Creative Development, while Sullivan will take on the role of Chief Operating Officer.

With a combined 100 years of experience in the field, the pair is eager to take on this new adventure. Punch Animation said in a press release that the studio is already coming up with concepts for licensing and worldwide distribution.

While it’s taken quite a while for these black innovators to be recognized on a large scale for their talents, both the young and the young-at-heart will likely be captivated by their projects and ideas for years to come.

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