Somehow he had the ability to make you see what was funny about the character itself, and it was the character's expressions that you saw and later tried to draw; but, still, that dog's eyebrows could only have come from Walt.
When Fergy projected the first tests of his new character sniffing and snorting and then stopping to think, everybody was enthusiastic. No one remembers what Walt said, but very probably his comment went like this: "Yeah . . . y'know, he ought to have a big snort, right into the camera, after he's thought things over— they do that, those dogs—it's to clear their noses or something. But y'know, he's looking around, side to side, and then suddenly he looks right at the camera and gives a big snort—not really disgusted, you don't know why he does it, but it's funny, and then he goes back to sniffing some more." Walt never stopped to praise; having seen something he liked, he started building on it immediately, making it better and funnier. Once he had seen what Fergy could do, he asked for more of the same type of thing, but always something new and something stronger. Usually the animator barely had been able to achieve the original result, and anything more seemed to be beyond his capabilities. But, once again, Walt would "talk it" and "act it out," and you had to admit that it was funny business and the sequence would be better with these new ideas; so, once again, you would strain and struggle trying to
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Inspirational Sketches by Gustaf Tenggren For Pinocchio
capture an elusive expression or movement or attitude.
Working in this way. how could anyone claim credit for doing a certain scene or even an outstanding action? Fergy knew that he had made the drawings and timed them. They were immensely successful because he had been able to capture certain dog characteristics and to present them with enough understanding of entertainment and enough grasp of showmanship to make a funny scene. Yet, without Walt there would have been no Pluto. Fergy, on his own. would never have conceived of these scenes or this personality, and no storyman would have considered that such business and actions would ever get across in a cartoon. But first of all. no producer would have risked a nickel on such a new departure as the idea of a cartoon character having a personality. Without Walt, who had the great insight to sec how an animator used his ideas, plus the great ability to adapt this to his own purposes, there would have been very little improvement in the quality of the films, and Fergy would never have had the opportunity to create a world famous cartoon character.
In his analysis of Pluto, Ted Sears, a top storyman, said. "The flypaper sequence in Playful Pluto is always mentioned as the best example of his pantomime. 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 small climax builds up into a better surprise." Wilfred Jackson also commented on Fergy's flypaper sequence: "You can take that same gag without running over the dog's thoughts or emotions, just mechanically doing the thing, and it wouldn't be funny."
Fergy accepted the innovations in his work as the natural course of events, and he never cared for making rules about how to do something or being tied down too much on the character. In one scene he had animated a particularly funny look on Pluto, shifting his eyes from side to side, the brows working like Walt's—one side up and the other down. The young animators dashed to his room to copy the timing on the exposure sheet and paw through his drawings. Fergy was puzzled, and he commented: "Why do you want to memorize how I did that action? I might do it different next time." But this shows some of the excitement of that period—everyone rushing around to see how someone else did something. It also shows something about Fergy's approach; he would not stop trying to find a new and better way to do this same action next time. It was all well and good to learn how someone did a good piece of animation, but to copy it was very limiting and something Fergy would never understand.
Fergy had had no formal art training, so he was not inhibited by anatomy and drawing rules. Fred Moore used to laugh and say, "He doesn't know that you can't raise the eyebrows above the head circle, so he goes ahead and docs it and it gives a great effect." And that was but one of the many things Fergy initiated to give his work that extra life and vitality. Marc Davis says, "Norm Ferguson wasn't the artist, but he was a sharp performer and a showman—hard to know if his drawing was there or wasn't there—he had his own kind of symbol."
Fergy's drawing during this period in the development of animation actually was quite good and had a solid sculptured look. His feeling for stretches and tension right down to the toes and his handling of the flesh and getting meat on bones—without losing the sausage body and stuffed legs—were outstanding.
He worked very rough for first tests—usually just a circle and two lines for the body. 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 could not discard it and try a new idea if something was not working. This style suited Fergy because he always had something he was trying out. Most animators who employed this very rough method seemed to be cast on work in which they experimented with fast action and gags—all scenes with broad movements.
Maybe there was a certain amount of impatience in Fergy's wanting to see right away what he was getting. or maybe as Jack Cutting says, "Fergy was nervous." In either case, it was this abundance of nervous energy that led Wilfred Jackson to recall affectionately the following incident. Someone asked if Fergy, after arriving from New York, had fit in rapidly and made his presence felt. "Jaxon" replied, "Fergy made his presence felt real fast with me. They had to get another row of animation desks at that time, so his desk was right back of mine. He used to shake his foot all the time, and it would wiggle my desk and I couldn't draw—so he made his presence felt right away with me."
Fergy's witch in Snow White was the first of the great Disney villains. Her impact on the audience
exceeded all expectations; in fact, to many, she was excessively terrifying. She, like Tytla's devil in "Night On Bald Mountain," was menacingly ugly, which was not a characteristic of Walt's later villains. The witch seemed to have an Arthur Rackhanr quality and was reminiscent of his evil old woman in Hansel andGretel. Fergy's handling of her face was less of a typical formula than most Disney designs, with shapes that did not relate as well as they should for animation because of the witch's illustrative quality. The mouth to cheek to eye and brow relationship, which is so important in animating expression changes, suffered from his concept in design.
By 1953, Fergy had found it extremely difficult to keep up with the new refinements in acting and drawing, and he had left Disney's to work in other studios. He had suffered much of his life from diabetes, and that, combined with other health problems, brought on his death in 1957.
Fergy's style of animating influenced younger animators and is still in use. particularly the quick test to
I s i check a proposed pattern and maintain flexibility in any plan. It suited the way he thought. If it works for you. do more.
What he did with Pluto was probably his biggest contribution. He showed the way for other animators in the use of symbols such as takes, frowns, smiles, and a whole range of expressions. Fergy's was the ultimate of the old style—a broad, loose feeling, in conccpt as well as drawing—a way that kept the door open for incorporating new ideas right up to the last moment.
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