Gender Equality in Animation

We had two buildings when I started working at Walt Disney Feature Animation in 1999. There was the Northside building up near the Burbank Airport and the Southside building across the street from the lot off the 134 Freeway. It’s commonly referred to as the “Hat Building” because of the giant iconic wizard’s hat from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice on the west end. The original Disney Animation building still stands in the middle of the Disney lot, but now it’s mainly production offices. It has a long center section with four wings sticking out of each side. They were built in a way so that they move independently of each other in case of an earthquake. There were plenty of windows with motorized blinds so that artists who were primarily drawing on paper could maximize the amount of natural light they would get in their offices over the day. It was a building that was ahead of its time.

And yet, it couldn’t have been more of its time. From the outside, it looks like a 3-story building. However, there is a fourth floor that only goes along a portion of the center section of the building. When I worked at Disney, there was a barber shop there where you could get a cheap haircut. But for the first 40 years or so of the building’s existence, that space was a bar for the animators to go and have drinks after work. This was told to me by an animator I worked with who had been there in those days and had even partaken of a drink or two in that bar. Only animators were allowed to drink in the bar; in those days, only men were animators, so only men were allowed to drink there. By the time the late-70’s/early 80’s rolled around, and women were starting to enter the ranks of animators, several women wanted to be allowed into the office bar to have drinks. The man who ran the bar for decades closed it down instead.

The animation industry is not unique in how it has discriminated against women throughout its history. Like almost any other industry, men, particularly white men, had a decades-long head start. That allowed men to become entrenched in all positions in the industry, and that entrenchment is not easily relinquished. When I was studying animation at USC, we had a copy of a letter a woman received when she applied for an animation position back in the first half of the 20th Century. The letter said in black and white that Disney Animation did not hire women as animators, but she was free to apply for a position in ink and paint, which was almost entirely women but was completely uncreative. It was literally a color-by-numbers position.

But both of those anecdotes are from years and decades ago. How is the animation industry doing these days in terms of gender equality? The big studios like Disney, DreamWorks, Netflix, Illumination, and others have opened their doors to women, but how widely open are those doors, and how many women are being invited to the party? A sampling of the women I reached out to told me that the industry has come a long way since they entered years ago, but there is still more work to be done.

Anecdotally speaking, I have worked at several animation studios around LA, including Disney, DreamWorks, Sony, and Netflix. In fact, while I was at DreamWorks, the majority of producers actively working at the studio were women. However, most people working in creative positions, especially animators, storyboard artists, and directors, were still men.

Jinko Gotoh was the producer on animated features like Lego Movie 2 and Klaus. She has multiple decades of experience in the industry, and she actively works through the organization Women in Animation to improve gender equality at all levels of the animation industry. I asked her if she recognized this phenomenon, and not only did she recognize it, but she also had the numbers to back it up.

“In 2015, Women in Animation pledged to gender justice (underrepresented genders: women, non-binary, and transgender), 50/50 by 2025,” she told me. “At the time, local 839 represented approximately 20%. Today underrepresented genders represent only 30% of the industry creatives, while 70% of animation school graduates are of underrepresented genders.”

It can only be described as discouraging that the ratio has only increased by 10% for underrepresented genders in the past seven years, and it makes the goal of a 50/50 ratio just three years from now feel like a long shot at best. The silver lining of those statistics is the high proportion of underrepresented genders that are graduating from animation schools.

Angela Lepito is also an active member of Women in Animation, and her career spans back to the mid-90’s when she started as a PA at Walt Disney Feature Animation on Hercules. She, too, has noticed that women have traditionally fared much better in production roles than in artistic roles in animation.

“Yes, you do see many women in production roles,” she told me. “I am one of those production people myself! It can be hard to visually see the issue when there are so many women in the workplace. We want and need women to be represented in our top creative roles. We have seen some progress with female directors. We are looking for that same opportunity for department head roles.”

Brenda Chapman is one of those directors and could be called a pioneer for women in animation. She earned an opportunity as an artist at Disney on The Little Mermaid, and a few years later, she was co-director on Prince of Egypt. Most notably, she also wrote and directed Pixar’s Brave. She pointed out that women’s success on the production side has helped to open doors for some on the creative side.

“As time went on, these women on the production side more than proved their worth and did great things for this industry,” she said, “and they continue to do so. I believe that is a big part of why we are beginning to see more women coming into the creative side.”

The numbers that Gotoh pointed to, however, clearly show an industry that, while trending in the right direction, needs to do more and do it faster.

“What we really need is for directors and producers to be willing to give young women opportunities based on their creative talent and not just on their work experience’,” Chapman continued. “Otherwise, men will continue to dominate. How can they gain experience if we never hire them? I’ve witnessed young white men given jobs they’ve not done before based on their portfolios, but I have rarely seen that happen for young women or people of color. We need to be willing to recognize an individual’s creative ability and whatever their unique spark is, then give them the support they need to apply it to the job. With the passion they’ll have in being given that opportunity, they will hopefully rise to the occasion.”

Chapman used her own experience as an example. “That was the opportunity afforded me by Ron Clements and John Musker at Disney on Mermaid. And I am still deeply grateful.”

Personally, I wonder if this is a corporate problem just as much as anything else. All three women pointed out that it’s up to producers and directors to have the courage to hire more women by putting more emphasis on their artistic credentials rather than their work experience. The problem is that all of the major animation studios are pieces of large corporations and external applications go through Human Resource departments that are trained to look for the person with the most or best experience. With women already forced to a late start in animation history, that can be another difficult hurdle to overcome.

What is the path to achieving gender equality sooner rather than later? Being happy with just getting closer can no longer be good enough. Chapman pointed that out while putting the onus on women to maintain their tenacity.

“We also need more women in leadership roles who aren’t afraid to hire other women. We need more women CEOs and CCOs. The industry needs to have an equal amount of women leading the creative from the top. We also need more female creative leads. Those would all be great starts! The responsibility is industry-wide, which includes the hiring practices of the studios and the promotions of lower tier artists within the studios… and it’s the responsibility of the women trying to get into the industry and/or be promoted to not give up!”

“It takes both external and internal forces to make a change,” Gotoh added. “Studios and producers need to see hiring the underrepresented as an opportunity for the creative industry and not as a risk. We need programs that support and train inclusive workspaces and communities and tear down barriers. We need to do talent development to advance their careers as well as give opportunities by sponsoring the underrepresented genders. Lastly, we need data-driven transparency for the industry and companies to identify areas for improvement, set measurable goals, and create action to address workforce disparities.”

“The first step, which I believe many companies have taken, is to truly recognize the lack of women in our creative roles,” added Lepito. “And second, get to know women in our industry, whether that be top talent or emerging. Finally, offer support, mentorship, and training for those women who you wish to grow in your organization. I feel this combination is the most critical aspect to getting women into leadership roles.”

Another thing the animation industry needs to recognize, and this is unique in animation and the overall entertainment industry compared to other walks of life, is content. It’s not enough for studios to improve their hiring practices regarding gender equality. They also need to do better in creating strong and positive female, non-binary, trans, and gender-fluid characters to achieve true equality.

Gotoh agrees that the industry can and needs to do better. “It’s not simply about promoting strong female characters. We also need characters from the underrepresented genders to be portrayed as normal people, as we saw in The Mitchells Versus the Machines. We have seen more in the TV series space with creators like Rebecca Sugar.”

Chapman concurred but expanded on the notion that there is more to it than simply plugging in a female character and moving forward with the same tired plot devices, again using her own experiences as an example.

“Yes, it’s nice to have a kick-ass female warrior once in a while, but those characters do not really represent a diversity in character,” says Chapman. “It just feels like, that character was once conceived as a boy, but now it’s a girl because that’s politically correct. I cannot tell you how many offers I had to develop stories with “kick-ass warrior princesses” after Brave! They completely missed the point on that one. It’s very frustrating. That’s why I found Turning Red to be so refreshing and real and relatable.”

We all love animation because of its limitless possibilities. It is the only form of cinematic or televised storytelling that starts literally with nothing, and every single thing the audience sees is a product of someone’s imagination. A diversified workforce only expands those imaginations and broadens the potential of where those beautiful, imaginative, interesting, terrifying, funny, and emotional ideas come from.

As Chapman said, “Let’s broaden the scope of the stories, please!”

6th Annual WIA World Summit – June 13th, 2022

We invite you to join us for an in-person and virtual day-long symposium featuring panels and discussions with leaders, filmmakers, and creators from around the world. We’ll cover a wide range of topics centered around this year’s theme:

Gender Justice: A Global Call for Inclusion in Animation.

Save the date and we look forward to seeing you there!

Honoring Deaf Creatives In Animation

We at WIA are thrilled to honor the trailblazing deaf and hard-of-hearing people who prove animation truly is for everyone!

Join us this month — and every single day — in recognizing these groundbreaking global artists’ courage, accomplishments and sacrifices which accurately and respectfully brought deaf culture to animation.

Carin Powell

Carin Powell is a 3D animator who has had single-sided deafness since early childhood. She is also the writer and director behind Liftoff, a short animated film about a deaf dancer. Powell worked at Anamon Studios in San Francisco, and through hard work and exceptional talent, became the lead animator and fix team lead on their short film, Let’s Eat.

Along with fellow creative Nora Ng-Quinn, Powell co-founded of Signing Animation, a non-proft organization created in January 2020 as a way to combat the bias against deaf and hard-of-hearing talent in the animation industry. Through her work with Signing Animation, she aims to demonstrate the singular talent of deaf and hard-of-hearing artists, the methods by which integrated teams can thrive, and the transformative power of storytelling.

Celebrating Women In Animation

Today marks the beginning of Women’s History Month and WIA will be honoring the trailblazing women who broke barriers and made critical advances for gender equity in the field of animation.

We recognize and celebrate their hard-fought sacrifices and accomplishments as they made advances in gender equity in the animation industry.

We will be highlighting some groundbreaking global artists and professionals as well as changemaking contemporaries who have shaped and bettered the animation field.

Lisette Titre-Montgomery

Lisette Titre-Montgomery is an art director with more than two decades of experience in the video game industry. She has led art studios large and small in the US, Japan, China, Australia, India, and the Philippines. She has contributed to some of the industry’s highest-profile games, including Tiger Woods Golf, The Simpsons, Dante’s Inferno, Dance Central 3, SIMS 4, South Park, and Transformers Age Of Extinction for Android and iOS.

Victoria Alonso

Victoria Alonso is an out Argentine film producer and is also the president of Physical, Post Production, VFX and Animation at Marvel. In January 2020, she was awarded the Filmmaker Award by the Motion Picture Sound Editors at the 67th Golden Reel Awards. In October 2021, it was announced that Alonso would be the top honoree at Outfest’s Visionary Award at the November ceremony at LA’s Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

Gabby Zapata

Gabby Zapata is an artist who currently works at Disney Digital Network as a lead Visual Development Artist. She’s worked with IDW Disney, Nickelodeon, Digital Domain, Dreamworks Consumer Products, Dreamworks TVA, Spinmaster, HuevoToons Mexico, Disney TVA and Netflix. She is proud of her Latiné heritage and its influence can be seen in her art.

Reiko Okuyama

Reiko Okuyama was a pioneer in Japanese animation. She was one of the first women Japanese animators and her work was featured on the landmark feature-length anime Hakuja den released in the US as “The Tale of the White Serpent” in 1958.

As a young child, Okuyama spent much of her early life confined to bed due to a series of illnesses. That is when she developed her interest in drawing.

After dropping out of Tohoku University and working a variety of jobs, her uncle referred her to a job at ​​Toei Animation. At the time, she believed the animation studio was a children’s book publisher. Her drawing skills helped her secure a position with Toei Animation and led her to work on “The Tale of the White Serpent.” She was then promoted to second key animator on 1959’s Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke — released as “Magic Boy” in the United States. Okuyama continued to work for Toei Doga until 1976, eventually rising to the position of head animator.

Michelle Derosier

Michelle Derosier is an award-winning Canadian First Nations animator, filmmaker and producer who uses her talents to focus on First Nations issues. She is Anishinaabe from Migisi Sahgaigan First Nation in Treaty 3 Territory in Northwestern Ontario and is deeply rooted in her Anishinaabek culture. 

Her youth arts education project Eagle vs. Sparrow received an Honorable Mention for Best Canadian Short Drama at the 2011 ImagineNative Film and Media Arts Festival. She made her directorial debut with the The Healing Lens, a documentary about the power of art and culture in healing First Nation’s Youth which won for Best Public Service Film at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco.

She is the co-owner of Thunderstone Pictures.

Sylvia Moberly-Holland

Sylvia Moberly-Holland made great strides in animation and beyond. She was a British-born concept artist, and illustrator who was the second woman to become a storyboard artist for Walt Disney Productions. She worked for Disney in the 1930s and 1940s.

Moberly-Holland is possibly best known for her work on the 1940 film “Fantasia.” She was Disney’s first woman story lead with the ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ fairy sequence for the animated classic. She also developed concept art on the “Little April Shower” sequence for the 1942 film Bambi. With Mary Blair, she developed concept art for “Baby Ballet,” a sequence intended for a planned sequel to Fantasia that never got made. 

Throughout her career at the Disney studios, Walt Disney held her in high regard, noting that she was “a highly talented artist with a marvelous sense for decoration and color” who “contributed immensely to the good taste and beauty of our pictures.”

Helena Smith Dayton

Helena Smith Dayton is a true trailblazer in animation. She was an American filmmaker, painter and sculptor working in New York City who used fledgling stop motion and clay animation techniques in the 1910s and 1920s, one of the first women animators to do so.

The first documented public screening of some of her animated shorts took place on March 25, 1917 at the Strand Theater in New York City. Later that year, she released an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

The former reporter worked as a canteen director for the YMCA in Paris during World War I, she created sculpted figures depicting scenes in France. These were featured in an exhibition by the Society of Illustrators in 1922 in New York City.

Honoring Black Trailblazers In Animation

As part of our ongoing commitment to advocating for and uplifting marginalized communities within the animation industry, for Black History Month — and every day— WIA would like to honor those trailblazers who not only broke the gender lines, but also the color lines.

We recognize their sacrifices, their courage and their accomplishments as true champions of racial and gender equity in the animation industry. We will be spotlighting on our social media channels a handful of talented and exceptional Black gender-diverse creatives who have shaped the animation field.

We will be highlighting some groundbreaking artists and professionals who have shaped and bettered the animation field.

Karen Rupert Toliver

Karen Rupert Toliver is an Award-winning producer and the executive vice president of creative for Sony Pictures Animation.

She produced the Academy Award-winning animated short film, “Hair Love,” directed by Matthew A. Cherry. She also also spearheaded the original feature “Ferdinand,” which was nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Animated Feature.

She has extensive experience in production and development, including 10 years at Fox Animation where she supervised the production of the “Rio” film franchise and the latest three films in the “Ice Age” series. She served as a production executive at Walt Disney Animation Studios on films such as “Brother Bear,” “Chicken Little,” and “Meet the Robinsons.”

Jasika Nicole

Jasika Nicole Pruitt is an out actor, illustrator and voice over artist. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, she uses her platform to help advocate for those who do not have a voice. She has lent her voice to multiple characters on children’s shows like Freida on Adventure Time and Reina, for the Amazon Video animated series Danger & Eggs, who likes to build with her hands, is empowered by the world around her. She also voiced Kaya in the video game Alt-Frequencies. Jasika also stars in both podcasts, Alice Isn’t Dead and Welcome to Nightvale.

She was featured in the 2010 OUT 100 list in Out Magazine.

Carrie Hawks

Carrie Hawks is a gender non-conforming director and animator. Their first documentary short film, Delilah, won the Best Experimental Award at the Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival in 2012. Their second documentary short film, black enuf*, included first-person narratives and memories and explores the expanding black identity. This animated documentary takes a playful approach to heavier questions of race, difference, and self-acceptance. The film won Best Animation at the First City Film Festival and the Audience Award for Best Women’s Short film at the Out on Film Festival in Atlanta. 

Carrie has performed with Black Women Artist for Black Lives Matter in the New Museum of Contemporary Art and was selected for the Set on Freedom Artist Residency in the Queens Museum and awarded the Jerome Camargo Residency in 2019

Taylor K. Shaw

Taylor K. Shaw is the founder and CEO of Black Women Animate, a mission-driven animation studio that creates original content and offers production services to the industry’s top studios and production companies while working to bring more inclusivity to the animation industry. BWA has partnered with major animation studios including Pixar, Disney and Paramount on their diversity and inclusion programs and they are always looking for ways to uplift and spotlight women and non-binary people of color within the industry.

She was named as one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 and she is a 2021 Shadow & Act Rising Executive Award Winner.

Breana Williams

Breana Williams is the co-founder and podcast co-host of Black N’ Animated, an organization that began as a podcast aiming to inspire, empower and educate Black creatives about the field of animation. She and her co-host and co-founder, Waymond Singleton, are building a community for Black professionals that work in various roles in the animation industry.

Breana has worked on CG Disney Junior TV series Mira Royal Detective, and currently is a Production Coordinator for Disney TV Animation on The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder.

Kat Blaque

Kat is a transgender animator and civil rights activist who runs a YouTube channel focused on social justice issues, particularly around race, gender, the LGBTQ+ community and feminism.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, she earned a Bachelors of Fine Arts from the California Institute of the Arts. Kat also manages a YouTube series called True Tea where she answers viewers’ questions on topics such as racism, transphobia, and black culture. She has described herself by saying, “I’m a woman, I’m black, I’m curvy and I’m trans. There are a lot of things that I deal with. When I talk about those things, I am literally talking about my embodiment of these intersections.”

In addition to her work on YouTube, Kat has animated several short films, including Sometimes You’re a Caterpillar.

Brenda Banks

Brenda was a silent force in the animation industry, having worked at Warner Brothers on their Looney Tunes television specials, at Hanna-Barbera for The Pirates of Dark Water, on Jetsons: The Movie, TV series Heathcliff, The Smurfs and several episodes and games for Fox’s Simpsons property. From 1997 to 2005, she was a dedicated layout animator for the King of the Hill television show. However, she may be best known for her work with Ralph Bakshi, at Ralph Bakshi Animation. According to Bakshi, Banks arrived at his studio in 1973 asking for a job, despite telling him that she had no background in animation. Impressed with her gumption, Bakshi gave her an opportunity and she worked on several of his films including Wizards, The Lord of the Rings and Fire and Ice.

In 2018, Banks received the WIA Diversity Award for her contributions to animation history as one of the first Black women animators, working in the industry for more than three decades.

Study Shows Lack Of Women In Booming VFX Field

Once again, our very own WIA Vice President, Jinko Gotoh, was interviewed about the state of gender diversity within the VFX field. Variety recently reported on our study conducted with USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, Invisible in Visual Effects: Understanding the Prevalence and Experiences of Women in the Field, which found that just 2.9% of all VFX supervisors are women and only 0.5% are women of color. The report also looked at how women were acknowledged for their work during awards season. Only four women have been nominated in the Oscar’s VFX category. Suzanne Benson won in 1986 for “Aliens” and nearly three decades later, Sara Bennett, VFX supervisor on 2015’s “Ex Machina,” took home the coveted award.

“[Getting women into VFX] needs to be done earlier because it’s all about STEM. We should say early that visual effects is a career path and then teach them the craft and the technology.”

— Jinko Gotoh, WIA Vice President

Read the Variety article here.

Highlighting these disparities is the first step in changing them.

To read the entire Annenberg Inclusion Initiative/WIA report, click here.

WIA President Marge Dean Appointed Head Of Skybound Entertainment’s Animation Studio

WIA President Marge Dean Appointed Head Of Skybound Entertainment's Animation Studio

We’re thrilled to share WIA president Marge Dean has been appointed as Head of Skybound Entertainment’s Animation Studio.

“I’ve always admired Skybound’s creator-driven spirit, and it’s a company rich with content. I’m excited to join the company during this phase of growth and evolution, and look forward to working closely with Skybound leadership and creative teams on these amazing properties.” — Marge Dean, WIA President

Marge is an Emmy-winning animation industry veteran who is known for building studios and animation pipelines. She has been responsible for the design or re-design of several studios large and small, including Columbia-TriStar TV, Warner Bros. Animation, Mattel’s Playground Production, Omation (Steve Oedekerk), Technicolor Animation and Wildbrain Entertainment.

She will be overseeing production on all of Skybound’s original animated content which includes the company’s partnership with Amazon Studios on production of the second and third seasons of its hit animated series Invincible, which she will exec produce alongside Skybound founders Robert Kirkman and David Alpert, Catherine Winder and Simon Racioppa.

Read more about this great news here.

‘Knowhere, USA’ Chosen As Sony Talent League Top Three

'Knowhere, USA' Chosen As Sony Talent League Top Three

A huge congratulations is in order for WIA mentee Elizabeth Dix and Gracie Dix’s project, “Knowhere, USA,” as their short was selected as Top Three in the World at Sony Talent League by THU!

Elizabeth took to Instagram  (@elizabethdix) to share the news last week with an added message for all their supporters:

“Knowhere is IN!!!! We are so beyond excited (and nervous) and grateful for this opportunity and cannot wait to get started!!!  Thank you, thank you, thank you for all the votes, shares, and sweet messages you guys sent our way🥰 We are truly shocked.”

Congratulations, Elizabeth and Gracie! Well deserved!

Take a look at “Knowhere, USA” here.

Why Are There So Few Women Working In Visual Effects?

Our very own WIA Vice President, Jinko Gotoh, was interviewed for this great package from The LAist and KPCC about the lack of women and gender diversity within the VFX industry and about our recent report conducted with USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, Invisible in Visual Effects: Understanding the Prevalence and Experiences of Women in the Field.

The report found that of the 400 top-grossing films from 2016-19, there was virtually no change of women receiving VFX credits. That number was an abysmal 20.8 percent in 2016 and just 22.6 percent in 2019.

Read the entire LAist article here

Listen to the KPCC interview here

Highlighting these disparities is the first step in changing them. To read the entire Annenberg Inclusion Initiative/WIA report, click here.

Animation Industry Mourns The Loss Of Vera Pacheco

We at Women In Animation were saddened to hear of the passing of talented clean-up artist Vera Pacheco.

Vera was a well-respected hand-drawn artist whose animation career spanned more than five decades, with most of those years at The Walt Disney Studios. Pacheco’s earliest credit was as an inbetween artist on Pete’s Dragon, and she rose to the rank of cleanup supervisor on a number of films, including The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh.

Her span of work included time with Don Bluth’s studio, and also a stint in character finaling at Walt Disney Feature Animation on Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons. Short in stature but tall in talent and leadership, Pacheco’s style and supervisory guidance influenced hundreds of artists over the course of her illustrious career.

While her work lives on through her many animated films, her presence will be missed by friends and family.