Animator Norm Ferguson was one of the stars of the Disney studio’s golden age, not only hailed as one of the fastest animators (producing 18 feet of animation work a week as opposed to the 10 feet his fellow animators produced) but also as a pioneer who helped shape the Disney style.

Born in New York, New York in 1902, the Manhattan-born William Norman Ferguson began as a bookkeeper for Pat Sullivan’s Felix the Cat studio, and it was from handling those accounts that he learned how much money animators were making, and that inspired him to change professions.

Ferguson was a self-taught artist with no formal training but he managed to get work on Paul Terry’s Aesop’s Fables theatrical cartoon series in the 1920s, and in 1929, Walt Disney sought to recruit talent from the New York animation scene and he saw promise in Ferguson. Due to Ferguson’s drawing style, which in its rough form consisted of a lot of circles and lines, Disney assigned him to work on the Mickey Mouse cartoons, and the turning point in Ferguson’s career and possibly his most important contribution to the studio was his development of the personality of Mickey’s dog Pluto.

Ferguson first animated a prototype of Pluto in the 1930 cartoon The Chain Gang featuring two bloodhounds hunting escaped prisoners. Walt liked the expressions Ferguson put on the dogs’ faces so he had Ferguson continue on Mickey’s dog in multiple films. Ferguson’s standout piece of animation on Pluto was the scene where he is stuck to a piece of flypaper in Playful Pluto (1934), a good example of the life Ferguson bestowed on his animation subjects as Pluto seemed to think and feel with human-like frustration in a pantomime routine that cracked up filmgoers at the time. This scene was the birth of Pluto as we have come to know him and Ferguson became an inspiration to his peers as well as a milestone setter for the animation medium in general.

Norm Ferguson’s work on Pluto led Walt to entrust him with the development of the Big Bad Wolf in Three Little Pigs (1933) and Ferguson also animated on Silly Symphonies like Who Killed Cock Robin? (1935) and The Three Little Wolves (1936) and on Mickey Mouse cartoons like On Ice (1935), Alpine Climbers (1936) and Moose Hunters (1937). Ferguson later became a directing animator on many Disney feature films, starting out as a supervising animator on the old hag from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and becoming a directing animator on several sequences, including the Foulfellow and Gideon scenes from Pinocchio (1940), the “Dance of the Hours” segment from Fantasia (1940) along with co-director T. Hee, and the “Pink Elephants on Parade” sequence from Dumbo (1941). Ferguson was also a production supervisor on the two “Good Neighbor” package features Saludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1944) and he was a directing animator on Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951) and Peter Pan (1953).

Health complications from diabetes caused Norm Ferguson to leave the Disney studio the same year Peter Pan came out. He died of a heart attack in 1957 at the age of 55.