On International Women’s Day, it is important to highlight and remember the achievements of those who have come before us and the remarkable work that they achieved. It also provides us with an experience to look to the future and celebrate what is yet to come. In this blog we aim to showcase some of the great work that has been achieved by women, but by no means can we showcase all of the incredible work.
Women have never had it easy working in animation. As you can see from this letter women were not even given the opportunity to apply for the training school at Walt Disney. Instead, their only option was to work in the ‘Inking and Painting Department’ as ‘Women do not do any of the creative work.’ What makes the letter even worse it that it comes from another woman. In addition to this, it is important to note that female animators were already making history years before this letter.
Lotte Reiniger was a German animator, who in 1926 released the first ever animated feature film; ‘The Adventures of Prince Achmed’.
The film showcased Reiniger’s signature style of using silhouettes. She handcrafted and cut out all of the characters and set that was involved in the making of the film. She then had to painstakingly animate this frame by frame, 24 frames were needed per second. Reiniger went onto direct and produce over 47 films from 1919 to 1980.
Lillian Friedman provides us with another opportunity to see just how foolish Disney was by prohibiting female animators. After being rejected by Disney she turned elsewhere and was hired by Fleischer Studios. After just 3 years at Fleischer, Friedman was promoted to Head Animator for the company and went onto create animations including Popeye and Betty Boop.
Other animators throughout history have proved to be equally as ground-breaking and significant.
Joy Batchelor was one of the most important women in British animation. She is most well known for being the second woman, after Reiniger, to direct an animated feature film; Animal Farm in 1954.
(Animal farm was also Britain’s first animated feature film.) However, some of her most important works are from 1940- 1944 when she worked with the Ministry of Information. During this time she created over 70 propaganda and educational pieces for the war effort. After the war Batchelor and her husband continued to work with the British Government, producing films for the Central Office of Information, the Labour Government and The Ministry of Health.
Female animators also have a habit of being ahead of the times with their ideas.
Mary Ellen Bute was the first person to incorporate ‘Visual Music’ into her work. She explored abstract animations and was one of the earliest women to get involved with experimental animation. In 1979 Suzan Pitt again proved this with her psychedelic animated short, Asparagus, which focuses on female identity and sexuality. For reference female animator Daron Nefcy has very recently been praised for showing ‘Disney’s first gay kiss’ in her series Star vs. The Forces of Evil, only 38 years after Pitt… (Not belittling Nefcy role of course, as she is only the second woman to create an animated series for Disney.)
It is important to also mention Reiko Okuyama who was a pioneering female animator in the anime genre. In 1959 she was promoted to second animator on ‘Magic Boy’. Okuyama continued to work for Toei Doga until 1976, eventually rising to the position of head animator.
A look to the future
An article in the Los Angeles Times in 2015 showed that more and more women are getting involved in animation. It found that 71% of animation students at the California Institute of Arts, 68% at UCLA and 65% at USC were female. When CalArts first started launched it program in 1975 only 2 students were female. However, women in the USA still hold fewer than a quarter of jobs in the animation industry. Similarly, in the UK the 2012 census found that women make up only 40% of the animation industry.
Having said this, we can take comfort from women’s success as animators in the last couple of years.
In February we saw Bao and Chinese-Canadian director Domee Shi make history by being the first female director of a Pixar short to win an Oscar. We can also turn to the work of Brenda Chapman who has made history twice, so far! Firstly, by becoming the first woman to direct an animated feature film for DreamWorks animation in 1998 for the Prince of Arabia. In 2012 she became the first woman to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar for Brave. Similarly, in 2011 Jennifer Yuh Nelson became the first woman to solely direct an animated feature film, Kung Fu Panda 2.
So this goes out to all women everywhere, past, present and future, thank you for everything you do and let’s keep smashing that glass ceiling.