Women in Animation

14 Dec

Welcome to the 1st. article in our five week series on Women in Hollywood.

By Comic Relief

As most children have had some exposure to animation in Saturday morning cartoons, this sequential art is both a ubiquitous and an incredibly craft intensive process. An animated sequence of action is built using the production of one cell (or one frame of illustration) after another and run at a speed that creates the appearance that actions are as fluid, predictable and reliable as feature film cinematography.  The art is as old as feature film itself and has a surprisingly renewable audience.  In fact recent profitable successes in computer animation have even promoted a kind of renaissance in the animation film world moving the field from sideshow to center ring. And as I said before where tremendous amounts or work or more negatively speaking sweatshop conditions are likely, one can always find women.

No one doubts that women have always been involved with animation.  If we’re not talking about animators like Lotte Reiniger, who was the first woman to be known to work for the studio system many know of Lillian Friedman who played an unbelievably significant role in Popeye cartoon of the early 20th century[1].

Fortunately what is easily forgotten is recorded by those who are dedicated to the cause of remembering.  Organizations like Women in Animation, an international organization dedicated to women in the field, support women in a wide range of capacities from providing scholarships, career counseling, and promoting dialogue about a wide range of animation topics.  So to proceed, it may be more constructive to discuss what contemporary animators in this field want or whether there are any barriers that need to be surmounted.

Many have contributed to a regular evaluation of this professional arena.  Writers like Linda Simensky is Cartoon Network’s Director of Programming, discuss the different roles that women naturally gravitate to;

“…The line into the women’s room would be comprised of a large number of network executives, studio management types ranging from producers to production assistants, color and background designers, and perhaps an occasional director. The line into the men’s room would include studio owners, business types, directors, artists, show creators, designers, and a significant number of other animation artists… [2].”

If you have been paying attention to the overall field, you may have noticed how few female animation directors there are?  Why are there so few directors when we know they are a significant talent pool in this industry?  We know how few there are few female directors in feature films, shockingly there are even fewer in animation.  Many may have heard about animation director Brenda Chapman. Due to creative differences she was removed from Brave, a film influenced by her relationship with her daughter. Like her female colleagues, she was stunned by the experience with Pixar.

The Los Angeles Times tells us what happened to her colleagues; referring to directorial dismissals

It happened to Jan Pinkava, who was directing 2007’s “Ratatouille” before Brad Bird took over the Oscar-winning Pixar film. And it happened to Chris Sanders (“How to Train Your Dragon”), who was removed from Disney’s “American Dog” in 2006, before it was reimagined as “Bolt [3].”

Though the number is small, there have been a few successes for female directors.  When you take into account the unfortunate Brenda Chapman incident, World’s Finest online conversely records one of the unlikely successes:

After her successful co-directorial debut on “Superman Doomsday,” Lauren Montgomery takes full command of the helm for “Wonder Woman,” the next entry in the popular series of DC Universe animated original PG-13 films [4]. “

And almost oddly, there is one more.  Acting as the director of Kung Fu Panda 2, Jennifer Yuh Nelson [5] has recently become Hollywood’s most successful director. Describing her sizable directorial accomplishment, the Hollywood reporter claims:

But not every movie sees the same scale of success as Kung Fu Panda 2: With worldwide box office of about $650 million, the animated 3D sequel to the 2008 original has become the highest-grossing film directed by a woman[5].”

With so few female directorial successes, clearly the world of animation isn’t the peaceful playground for women we all might have expected.   We can only hope we will hear of more successes in the near future.

Please join our discussion Thursday 12/15/2011@7pmE/12UTC


Reference resources:

[1] http://popeyeanimators.blogspot.com/2007/10/lillian-friedman-astor-pioneer-woman.html

[2] http://www.awn.com/mag/issue1.2/articles1.2/simensky1.2.html

[3] http://articles.latimes.com/2011/may/25/entertainment/la-et-women-animation-sidebar-20110525

[4] http://www.womenworthwatching.com/jennifer-yuh-nelson/


82 Responses to “Women in Animation”

  1. littlebells December 14, 2011 at 10:23 AM #

    Great history and I’m very excited to learn more. It is extremely sad how many female directors have had a chance to direct an animation only to be given “the boot”. What’s even more sad is that studios quickly replaced them with men instead of considering another female.

    CR, what might be considered a “creative difference” that would replace FD with a male?

  2. Comic Relief December 14, 2011 at 12:41 PM #


    It’s really horrible; the term “creative differences” is such a catch all. It doesn’t need to be explained but wide audiences seem to understand it means “well, the lady just didn’t work out.”

    How are we to know whether a woman was just kicked out prior to the premiere to make sure a male could take the credit.

    • Open Book December 15, 2011 at 7:20 PM #


      U Said: “How are we to know whether a woman was just kicked out prior to the premiere to make sure a male could take the credit.”

      So true……..I don’t doubt this happens more so than not.

      • littlebells December 15, 2011 at 7:28 PM #

        *kicking shins*

      • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 7:28 PM #

        You know I hated to say that but if you look at the the careers of these women (below) you can see that they played huge rolls in other films and may even have previous directing credit. They did not arrive on the studio lot one day expecting to direct.

        • Open Book December 15, 2011 at 7:48 PM #

          That’s true. There is so much effort and people involved in making an animated film. It’s a collaborative effort. However, it pains me to see women directors are being left behind when it comes to CGI. The low number of female animator directors confirms this problem even more. IMO!!

  3. littlebells December 15, 2011 at 2:49 PM #


    What animations did Litter Reiniger contribute?

    Would you share more about Brenda Chapman? I’m not surprised there are even fewer women in animation.

    I was.about to go off topic, but I will save it for later if I find the right opportunity in our discussion. 🙂

  4. Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 4:45 PM #

    One of the very first women to be known as an animator within the studio system, Lotte Reiniger has more than earned her reputation as an early pioneer. A favorite of many in the commercial and artistic spheres of the animation world, Reiniger defines the many ways women have contributed to this genre and influenced many others.

    Frequently associated with the stylized figural silhouettes of her animations, in her early career she was lucky to have attracted the attention of film maker Paul Wegener “and soon she was making elaborate title cards for Wegener’s films, many of which featured silhouettes.” I could go on but the video clarifies a lot. Below see Lotte Reiniger’s Hansel and Gretel.

    • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 6:59 PM #

      I certainly do not want to make it appear that Lotte Reiniger and Lillian Friedman were the only early contributors within Commercial or studio animation. “Ink and paint girls” frequently associated with well-known studio work include;

      Retta Scott
      Bea Tamargo
      Liz Zwicker
      Ruth Kissane
      Faith Hubley

      Yet, no doubt, the full record of contributors has yet to be fully documented. I can’t even pretend to be thorough.


      • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 7:00 PM #

        But I don’t want to give the impression that there isn’t a wide ranging world of independent animators also. Unfortunately the article needed to end somewhere so like these other posts more names are being tacked on here.

        Tanya Weinberger
        Christine Panushka
        Lisze Bechtold
        Lesley Keen
        Candy Kugel
        Karen Aqua
        Kathy Rose
        Joanna Priestley
        Emily Hubley
        Kathy Rose
        Maureen Selwood


        • Open Book December 15, 2011 at 7:32 PM #

          Very impressive list. Sometimes u need to take matters into your own hands. Awesome!!

  5. Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 4:47 PM #

    Though sexism seems to be a conclusive evaluation, it doesn’t really help anyone resolve the female director’s hiring conundrum. Historic lack of respect or lack or belief in women doesn’t give us any action steps we can take to resolve this very serious artistic and human resources problem.

    Even worse it offers no solutions for men either. As I said male animators like Jan Pinkava and Chris Sanders were also fired under what appeared to be similar circumstances. Clearly sexism wasn’t the primary reason for their removal. I guess I’m wondering whether this is a problem with training, mentoring, or professional development of some kind?

    • Open Book December 15, 2011 at 7:24 PM #

      I think education is really the key. I don’t believe alienating a population of people from contributing helps diversity or the economy. IMO!! I think it’s already been proven discrimination hurts the economy. Yet, people continue to do it. Why?

      • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 7:33 PM #

        I’m not particularly sure. Saying something as trivial as habit or tradition doesn’t seem to account for the danger that is at stake.

        We’re talking about half of the population, when they don’t have the impression they can’t live full lives we all have something to fear.

        • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 7:40 PM #

          Sorry; …”they CAN live full lives we all have something to fear.”

      • littlebells December 15, 2011 at 7:37 PM #

        I think most people don’t feel their voice will be heard and accepted, therefore we continue to let things go on as they are. I don’t agree with this and yet sometimes i find myself in this category. I’m trying to do better.

        • Open Book December 15, 2011 at 7:44 PM #

          I think one person can make such a huge difference LB….

          Perhaps more discussions like this sheds light where there is none. U are helping in that effort right now. U might be speaking up for those who are afraid too ask Q’s.

          • Littlebells December 15, 2011 at 7:53 PM #

            You are right, OB. 🙂 As always.

        • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 7:47 PM #

          I absolutely agree! The terrible aspect for me with the Brenda Chapman’s situation (below) is it sounded as though the story for “Brave” was hers.

          I’m sorry, I don’t understand. You are smart enough to write the script and (likely story board the whole thing). You are smart enough to manage, direct and co-direct a few other films. But you are not smart enough to direct a story influenced by your own experiences?????

          • Littlebells December 15, 2011 at 7:53 PM #

            This 100%! That seemed absolutely absurd to me as well. And I would be heart broken if someone else got to direct MY story.

          • Open Book December 15, 2011 at 7:55 PM #

            Yep this is just SICK!!!

            I think it’s terrible studios are actively trying to monopolize an industry by discriminating? Hmm! It’s so obvious. Do they think people can’t put two and two together after seeing the carnage?

            • ozzie20 December 15, 2011 at 8:07 PM #

              I find that was such a cruel thing to do to Brenda Chapman. They took something very personal and close to her away. She spent 6 years on it and created it from the bond between her daughter and herself, I bet it was like a baby to her, and just dropped her. It’s sickening to me.

              • Open Book December 15, 2011 at 8:21 PM #

                ITA! Oz!!!

              • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 8:21 PM #

                I know …… 6 years. Where else does this kind of thing happen?

                • ozzie20 December 15, 2011 at 8:49 PM #

                  I’m still shaking my head over it! I’m trying to think of other things to ask but my brain quickly comes up with Brenda Chapman and it explodes again!

                  • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 8:51 PM #

                    I know… it’s really sickening.

  6. Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 4:47 PM #

    Image of Brenda Chapman:

    From the L.A. Times .com:

    “I think it’s a really sad state. We’re in the 21st century and there are so few stories geared towards girls, told from a female point of view,” said Chapman, who spent six years on “Brave” — which was inspired by her relationship with her daughter — before being fired because of what she calls “creative differences.”

    “Considered a pioneering figure in animation, Chapman was the first woman to serve as head of story on a Disney film (“The Lion King”) and she spent eight years at DreamWorks Animation, where she was one of three directors on 1998’s “The Prince of Egypt,” before moving to Pixar. She’s mentored younger women in the business; Nelson, for one, credits Chapman with encouraging her to pursue directing.”

    Chapman was one of three Directors on Prince of Egypt:

  7. Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 4:48 PM #

    Image of Lauren Montgomery

    From Groucho Reviews.com:
    “Lauren Montgomery has moved up the ranks of DC Universe animation from storyboard artist (Justice League Unlimited, Justice League: The New Frontier) to director, starting on League of Super Heroes. She co-directed the DCU Animated Movie Superman: Doomsday and solely directed the latest feature, Wonder Woman. Next she’ll be tackling Green Lantern, but first she sat down to meet the press at San Francisco’s Moscone Center during WonderCon 2009.”

    • Open Book December 15, 2011 at 7:27 PM #

      Great video CR!

      I didn’t get a chance to watch the whole thing but will come back later.

      • Open Book December 15, 2011 at 7:28 PM #

        CR-Did she work on the live action film Green Lantern that just came out?

        • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 8:19 PM #

          No. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! This article was hard enough, I’m glad I don’t have to struggle to excuse that too).

          She worked on the animated feature. Green Lantern: First Flight.

          • Open Book December 15, 2011 at 8:24 PM #

            Oh! So they really do need women directors to keep that live action mess from happening again. The animation Green Lantern is good and proves they could have really benefited from her involvement.

      • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 7:38 PM #

        Glad you like it. I’m glad I included Lauren Montgomery in the group. Most of DC/Warner’s super hero animation goes directly to video; so I can imagine why some might not think it fits.

        She has worked on many of these films verifying how well-studied so many of the directing candidates were.

  8. Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 4:49 PM #

    Image of Jennifer Yuh Nelson

    Before working on the sequel, which had Jack Black voicing the titular panda alongside Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman and Jackie Chan, Nelson, 39, was head of story on the original Kung Fu Panda and Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas and a story artist on Madagascar and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.

    • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 6:22 PM #

      Sorry, the quote above is from the Hollywood Reporter staff 12/7/2011.

  9. Littlebells December 15, 2011 at 5:33 PM #

    Thank you CR! I just got home, so give me a bit to pull myself together and then I will read your additional comments. 🙂

    • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 6:01 PM #

      Please take your time and see you in an hour.

      • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 7:02 PM #

        Welcome frequent and new visitors.

        • littlebells December 15, 2011 at 7:09 PM #

          Hi CR!

          Thank you for the videos and information. Very impressive women.

          • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 7:12 PM #

            I certainly agree.

            • ozzie20 December 15, 2011 at 7:56 PM #

              Hi all!

              Great article CR! And I love the extra information posted in the comments too! 🙂

              • Open Book December 15, 2011 at 7:58 PM #

                Hi Ozzie!!

                Nice to see u!

                • ozzie20 December 15, 2011 at 8:08 PM #

                  Hello OB! *waves*

                  • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 8:09 PM #

                    Hi Ozzie.

                    • ozzie20 December 15, 2011 at 8:46 PM #

                      Hi CR!

  10. Open Book December 15, 2011 at 7:12 PM #

    Hi I’m here CR!

    Great article let me read and get caught up!

    • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 7:14 PM #

      Hi, OB,

      …take your time. No one is going anywhere.

  11. Open Book December 15, 2011 at 7:35 PM #

    I have a few Q CR-

    Are there any female producers?

    If so how many?

    If not why? Is it harder to become a film producer of animation?

    • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 8:08 PM #


      Like in feature film, female producers are a dime-a-dozen.

      I may not have illustrated this well, but it’s a lot harder to become a Director.

  12. Open Book December 15, 2011 at 7:38 PM #

    Are their programs or internships that help women & minorities enter into the industry?

    • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 7:55 PM #

      EXCELLENT! EXCELLENT! EXCELLENT! Question!!!!!!!!!!

      An organization mentioned in the article, Women in Animation (WIA), promotes a very useful scholarship. Here is a description:

      Phyllis Craig Scholarship:

      WIA founding member Phyllis Craig was known throughout the animation industry for her commitment to young people interested in learning the art and techniques of animation. For many years, Phyllis spearheaded an internship program, and is responsible for helping countless “kids” fulfill their dreams of becoming animation industry professionals.

      When we lost our dear friend Phyllis, the founding members of Women In Animation created a special fund to honor her legacy. The fund provides scholarships to students who demonstrate artistic talent and have a passion for animation.

      Every year a $1000 scholarship is given to one deserving animation student, along with a one-year membership in Women In Animation. The annual beginning submission date is September 15th. The yearly deadline is April 29th (Phyllis Craig’s birthday) and winners will be notified by July 1st.

  13. Littlebells December 15, 2011 at 7:54 PM #

    Ok, forgive my ignorance, but how does one “direct” an animation?

    • ozzie20 December 15, 2011 at 7:57 PM #

      Good question LB! I’ve also wondered about that too, lol!

    • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 8:04 PM #

      Great question, yet I have to admit I would have a hard time answering this question. Instead I will answer in a round-about way (please be patient).

      Not that there isn’t enough to talk about but I wanted to make sure viewers did not lose perspective. People often forget these animation creators are filmmakers also. Though I don’t believe we have talked about it here (at LIH) often the filmmaker for “Mission Impossible- Ghost Protocol” is an animation alum.

      • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 8:05 PM #

        Brad bird previously made this little obscure film called “the Incredibles” a few years ago.

        • Open Book December 15, 2011 at 8:26 PM #

          Oh! That small BIG MAJOR HIT!!! Ahh!

  14. Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 8:05 PM #

    Here’s what brad said regarding a sequel to “the Incredibles”.

    • Open Book December 15, 2011 at 8:34 PM #

      So I’m soled on the IMAX version of MI. LOL!! Did I just say that?

    • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 8:34 PM #


      I hope that wasn’t too evasive but I think an animated film is directed the same way a cinematic feature film is directed.

      I just takes a lot more planning and storyboarding is probably a lot more essential.

      • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 8:35 PM #

        Here’s a scene that was worked on and eventually discarded for “Finding Nemo.”

      • Open Book December 15, 2011 at 8:43 PM #

        Yes! U are correct CR…..

        Actually, the directing happens during pre-production, storyboarding. The actors voices are added in post production sometimes after all the animation is complete. “Finding Nemo” DVD behind the scenes is great to watch and learn how it all happens.

        • ozzie20 December 15, 2011 at 8:59 PM #

          Thanks for explaining CR and OB! It’s been years since I watched Finding Nemo and I do remember watching the extras (I am the nerd who will watch all deleted/extended scenes, commentary and behind the scenes documentaries) but I’ve obviously forgotten most of it, lol! I’ll have to go find the dvd and watch it again.

          P.S. If anyone reading is wondering about how stop-motion and 3D models work, I recommend The DVD extras on Coraline. It’s a great movie and the “making of” features go into great detail! 🙂

          • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 9:13 PM #

            Thanks for the tip, Ozzie. I have been curious about that film; I think I’ll look for Coraline tomorrow.

  15. Littlebells December 15, 2011 at 8:25 PM #

    Sorry I’m a lousy participant tonight. Lots of chaos going on…will be back later to check in. 😦

    • Open Book December 15, 2011 at 8:27 PM #

      No problem….Say hello to everyone!!!

      • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 8:37 PM #


        Nah, you were great. Thanks for coming 🙂

        • Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 9:24 PM #


          If you have any more comments or questions I’m sure I will make another pass tomorrow.

  16. Open Book December 15, 2011 at 8:49 PM #


    I have to go…However, this was a great article and discussion. This is such an important topic that needs to be followed and discussed more often. If not to just let the women who were discussed in this article and discussion that someone out there appreciates their work and contributions to the industry.

    Goodnight Everyone!

  17. Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 9:20 PM #

    I don’t want to be cynical but magazines like the Hollywood Reporter are making such a big deal out Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s success.

    Posing her with Angelina Jolie (though I don’t believe her film has even been distributed yet), and proclaiming them two of a new generation of women directors.


    One of the only reasons this is exceptable is Yuh nelson was Angelina’s director for Kung fu Panda.
    – But then you realize that despite the photo shoot, the small number of female cinematic directors is really tiny.

    – Or then you realize Yuh Nelson is the only animated feature film director and the only person who was even close to her (in experience) was her mentor who had her film snatched away from her.

  18. Comic Relief December 15, 2011 at 9:21 PM #

    I wanted to speak internationally also, but the range of sources was really huge. I wish I had the opportunity to speak of Japanese Anime also.

    Thanks everyone for coming.

  19. Sony December 17, 2011 at 2:10 PM #

    Hi Comic Relief,
    I just wanted to say hello to you and LB, Ozzie and OB. I couldn’t join you on Thursday – and I have to admit that I wouldn’t have been able to add one intelligent comment anyway because I don’t know much about the topic. But it was really interesting to read your article and all the comments. I had no idea that the industry is still so dominated by men; when Kathryn Bigelow won the Oscar I was cheering for her, I was so happy that she beat James Cameron’s Avatar. I thought (obviously wrong) that things were changing in Hollywood.
    And thank you so much for bringing up Lotte Reiniger here, I adore her and her work. I grew up with a lot of her animations and I was so happy that a few years ago 4 DVDs were published containing all of them. The one I love most is the DVD called “Music and Magic” because it contains a lot of classical music, like 10 minutes of Mozart, Papageno (from “The Magic Flute”); and another one with all the fairy tales she did like “The Adventures of Prince Achmed”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “The Frog Prince”, “Snow-White and Rose-Red”. And “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” was nominated among the 100 most important German films ever!
    Sorry, but that’s the only thing I can contribute here. I’m looking forward to your next discussion and wish you all a good weekend.

    • Comic Relief December 17, 2011 at 2:21 PM #

      Thanks Sony. There were so many vantage points that could have used so I’m sure the topic will come up again.

      I did not know 4 DVD’s were available, I guess you wouldn’t know whether that was available in the US as well. I’ll check into it, thanks for the tip.

  20. Sony December 17, 2011 at 3:06 PM #

    Hi Comic Relief,

    sorry, but I only know the German provider, I’m not sure if there is an English version of the DVDs.
    And I wanted to add that I’m really looking forward to your suggestion of talking about Japanese anime because I have some very good Japanese friends and one Russian friend who wrote the script and made the illustrations for an anime that was shown at several film festivals.

    • Littlebells December 17, 2011 at 4:51 PM #

      Sony you are a wealth of knowledge! I am sooooo happy you are here. 🙂

      • Sony December 17, 2011 at 5:20 PM #

        I’m so happy to be here, LB (lots of hugs)

    • Comic Relief December 19, 2011 at 4:54 PM #


      Thanks for the extra information. I assumed collecting the work you mentioned might be more complicated than I initially wanted to assume.

      Well, if I don’t write about animation from an Asian point of view, someone should. We don’t independently set these article assignments up so I can’t say when I will return to this fascinating topic again. If I had tried to discuss Asia the article would have been twice as long and brevity isn’t my strong suit at all. Believe me, you are lucky I did not try.

      Yet, here are some places to start.

      Obviously that population isn’t unfamiliar with sexist barriers either.

  21. Chin Meczywor December 22, 2011 at 3:47 AM #

    I like this post, enjoyed this one appreciate it for posting .


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