Pose to Pose and Straight Ahead Animation

Norm Ferguson: William Norman “Norm” Ferguson (September 2, 1902 – November 4, 1957) was an animator for Walt Disney Studios and a central contributor to the studio’s stylistic development in the 1930s. He is most frequently noted for his contribution to the creation of Pluto, one of the studio’s best-known and most enduring characters, and is the artist most closely associated with that character.

Ferguson, known at the studio as “Norm” or “Fergy”, was also the primary animator of the witch in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first in a long line of great Disney feature villains. He was also a sequence director on the film. After starting at the studio in 1929 as a cameraman, Ferguson switched to the animation department and rose rapidly, despite a lack of formal art training. His early animation of the dog who would become Pluto drew strong response at the studio and on-screen for giving the character a personality and apparent inner life that was considered a great step forward for the young art form of animation. Animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston paid extensive tribute to Ferguson’s work in their 1981 book Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life, calling his famous “flypaper sequence” from the 1934 short Playful Pluto- in which the dog is stuck to a piece of flypaper- a “milestone in personality animation…through it all, his reaction to his predicament and his thoughts of what to try next are shared with the audience. It was the first time a character seemed to be thinking on the screen, and, though it lasted only 65 seconds, it opened the way for animation of real characters with real problems.”

Ferguson as seen in How Walt Disney Cartoons are Made (1939):
norm fergy pluto playful

Pose-To-Pose Action (Link)

In pose-to-pose animation, the animator plans his action, figuring out just what drawings will be needed to animate the scene. Pose-to-pose is used for animation that requires good acting, where poses and timing are important.[1] Before starting the actual animation for a sequence, an animator will often plot out rough sketches indicating key poses (key frames) for that sequence; in this case, we have a nice example of that process from the 1934 short, Playful Pluto.


This sequence is considered by many animators and historians to be important in the development of personality animation; certainly we’ve observed characters thinking on screen before 1934, but Ferguson is credited with advancing the psychological complexity of an animated character’s performance:

For further reading on this sequence and the rough sketches, read this essay by animation historian Michael Barrier on the historic mystery behind the sketches themselves.

A Sample of the work michael barrier did to connect the sketches with the finished animation:

Straight Ahead Animation (Link)

Straight ahead action is so called because an animator literally works straight ahead from the first drawing in the scene. This process usually produces drawings and action that have a fresh and slightly zany look, because the whole process is kept very creative. Straight ahead action is used for wild, scrambling actions where spontaneity is important.[1]

If you’ve ever animated a stick figure on a pad of sticky notes or in the margins of a book, chances are you didn’t plan out your action with pages of preparatory sketches like Norm Ferguson. More likely: you just started with the first drawing and went… straight ahead to the next drawing, and so on. This is the approach used most frequently by my students when working on the spore animation project. Most of you might have a general idea (in your head) of what you want to do and after you draw the first page of animation, you move ahead and make the movement up as you go. This tends to produce some very spontaneous, fluid animation:

Of course, feel free to use either method. If you’d like to plot and plan by starting with some preparatory sketches, go right ahead.