Grim Natwick on Fergy ruffs
I asked Grim Natwick if he had known Norman Ferguson in a work context. Here is what he told me:
"Yes, Fergy and I worked in the same room. On monday morning he was pacing up and down the room thinking intently about the scene he was going to do. At three in the afternoon he had the thing clear in his mind and sat down at his desk.
He scribbled very, very fast with a red colour pencil "hammering while the iron was hot." If you looked at the red scribbles you couldn't see what it was. But if you took the pile and flipped them, you knew instantly.
Fergy had been a professional stenographer in NY before he joined Paul Terry and he whipped out a tall amount of "shorthand scribbles" to conserve the spontaneity of his concept, filling in exposure sheets very fast. A test cameraman might appear with sheet 3 to ask whether a particular scribble WAS number 7 or meant to be a 9.
At that time Disney had a 24 hour linetest service working in three shifts and no one needed to wait more than three hours to see a developped negative of their scene in a loop. Fergy viewed it on his movieola, and would spend the rest of the week honing the timing."
That is what Grim told me.
Dave Hand gave the second part of the story:
"When Fergy was content with the way the scene played he went over selected red scribbles with a black pencil making them into drawings. He added spacing charts and gave the whole pile (both black and red) to his assistant."
I was young and inexperienced, animating in cleanups. And all of this ruff-ruff-stuff was new and disturbing to me and so I asked Dave: "But what happens if the assistant cannot read the scribbles?"
Dave's tone hardened: "Then Fergy calls me on the telephone and says "This here feller is too damn dumb. Give me somebody else."
Timing was of paramount importance to him and a prime version of a Pluto scene might have stiff movements, mingled with passages on twos. The dog would be scratching his ear using a straight "plank" for an arm. Both scribbles were exposed four frames. He didn't care (yet). At this stage it was all about the timing. How long should Pluto scratch? Later on he would work the ear scratching up into supple dynamic movement on ones. He was nothing if not a man of movement. It shows up as early as 1930 in "The Firefighters" where Mickey Mouse rescues an unconscious Minnie from a smoke filled window nearly losing her. During the years following, he "developed enormously" accordng to Art Babbitt in a 1973 interview with Michael Barrier.
"Fergy animated very fast," Dave Hand said, "but it was not an economic advantage because it took expensive people to finish his animation."