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!”

Why Are So Few Women In Animation?

Why Are So Few Women In Animation?

Women in film are still struggling to find jobs in the film industry, specifically in animation.
Animated films like Domee Shi’s “Turning Red” or Nora Twomey’s Oscar-nominated “The Breadwinner” are putting women and young girls in the spotlight, but the animation industry as a whole is still struggling to hire and promote women behind the scenes.

Nicole Hendrix is the co-founder and executive director of the BRIC Foundation.

“These pathways into the industry are not equitable,” said Hendrix.

“It’s like, there’s all this great talent out there that you’re not utilizing,” said Margaret Dean, the president of Women in Animation.  Of the top animated films released from 2007 to 2018, less than 3% were directed by women and industry leaders say it’s because of inequality in the talent pipelines.

“It’s just very much exclusion by familiarity within the industry. It’s a ‘you have to know someone’ in order to get hired or to get into a really good program that you’ll get hired from. Not to mention money, right? Not everybody can afford to be an unpaid intern,” said Hendrix.

“It was just the phrases of ‘it was an old boys club,’ and then people always hired people that they knew that they were friends with,” said Dean.

A 2019 report from the University of Southern California found that women directors were more likely to be seen as a “risk” to studios, and less likely to be promoted to higher leadership roles.

Women overall hold around 30% of the creative jobs in animation. And as more people in Hollywood are becoming more aware of the gender-gap in entertainment, organizations like the BRIC foundation and Women in Animation are pushing for parity.

“There’s definitely waves that people ride and we just need to all come together to make sure that we hold people accountable,” said Alison Mann, the co-founder of the BRIC Foundation.

“Equally important work that we realized we needed to do was to start working with the women themselves, and to really launch talent development programs,” said Dean.

Women in animation, or “WIA,” has challenged the industry to achieve 50/50 parity by 2025. And its educational programs include mentorship opportunities for women, transgender and non-binary people.

“They became these little networks, almost like a seed of a little network,” said Dean.

The BRIC Foundation is working to create more opportunities for women as well through its own industry-wide summits, workshops and the development of a new apprenticeship program.

“Out of our third-year summit, the plan for an apprenticeship program came and it was an industry advisory across animation, visual effects in gaming, 60 major companies represented. And we really mapped out what are the entry level positions that people are wanting to hire for, what knowledge, software, skills, portfolio is needed to achieve those roles?” said Hendrix.

The program hopes to provide training opportunities for students in public high schools and community colleges and ultimately lessen the barriers to enter the animation industry.

“We have to remember to kind of rise above and continue pushing forward and figuring out new strategic ways to create opportunities for people that might not and, and I think everybody has a seat at the table to make change,” said Mann.

The International Federation of Film Producers’ Associations and WIA Select Six Delegates for Their Inaugural Stories X Women Program

The International Federation of Film Producers’ Associations and WIA Select Six Delegates for Their Inaugural Stories X Women Program

The program is sponsored by Walt Disney Animation Studios, with additional support from Triggerfish Animation.

Today, FIAPF (International Federation of Film Producers’ Associations) and WIA (Women in Animation) announced the six delegations selected for Stories x Women, a program aimed at increasing diversity of voices in animation globally. Stories x Women’s concrete goal is to support access to international opportunities for women animators from emerging national film and audio-visual animation communities of Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America who want to tell their authentic stories. Walt Disney Animation Studios sponsored the program with additional support from Triggerfish Animation.

These talented creatives, chosen from a competitive pool of candidates, will benefit from a series of mentoring sessions led by internationally acclaimed animation experts, as well as 1:1 coaching sessions that will prepare them to pitch their projects in the upcoming 2022 Annecy International Animation Film Festival and Market.

The selected delegations are (listed in alphabetical order by country):

La Sombra del Altiplano (Highland’s Shadow) – Argentina. A project led by Paula Boffo (with Patricio Plaza)

Cotton Bottom Town – Colombia. A project led by Luisa Fernanda Velasquez (with Andrés Felipe Rodriguez Rodriguez)

La Carpeta de Greta (Greta’s Journal) – Peru. A project led by Elva Alessandra Arrieta Tabuzo (with Saul David Anampa Mesias)

Pulane’s Adventures – South Africa. A project led by Tracy Stucki and Nompi Vilakazi

Rorisang & the Gurlz – South Africa. A project led by Dr Tshepo P. Maaka and Kabelo Maaka

Gannu – Thailand. A project led by Aimsinthu Ramasoot and Saraswathi Vani Balgam

Fully committed to supporting women creators, this first call of Stories x Women was open to up to two team members, which had to include at least one woman leading the project (i.e. producer, director or screenwriter).

“As the global voice for producers worldwide, FIAPF promotes all forms of film genres, including animation and its universal language,” said President of FIAPF, Luis Alberto Scalella. “With Stories x Women, we want to support the work of women animators from regions that are less visible in the international market. FIAPF has been working on diversity and gender equality for more than a decade, launching Stories x Women is an extra step in our collective action. We are extremely happy to run this initiative with Women in Animation and to benefit from the support of Walt Disney Studios and Triggerfish Animation, one of the pioneers in animation in Africa.”

“For more than 25 years WIA has been on the frontline of gender equity in animation, fighting for the empowerment of talented yet underrepresented artists and creatives in the industry and advocating for a more just and equitable system for our global field,” said Marge Dean, WIA president. “Stories x Women gives these deserving creators the support they need to bring their stories to life. We’re thrilled to be part of such a wonderful initiative that champions our mission of bringing together the global animation community to empower and advocate for people of underrepresented gender identities in all facets of the industry.”

“Having had the good fortune to work with voices around the world on both Moana and Raya and the Last Dragon, I’m thrilled beyond words to be part of this fantastic initiative to support, mentor and invite this international group of talented female filmmakers to Annecy, the world’s foremost animation festival, helping them gain access to the resources and connections necessary to bring their unique creations to the screen, and inspire the next generation of women in animation,” said Disney Animation producer Osnat Shurer.

ABOUT FIAPF

FIAPF (International Federation of Film Producers Associations) represents producers worldwide, gathering 36 national producers organisations from 29 countries across the globe. FIAPF aims to defend the creative, legal and regulatory interests of the Film Production sector worldwide. FIAPF also carries out the Accreditation Programme for International Film Festivals, which brings together 45 International Film Festivals from 28 countries on the five continents to bridge producers and festivals’ interests for the sake of films. Follow us on Twitter Producers and Twitter Festivals.

ABOUT WOMEN IN ANIMATION

Women in Animation (WIA) envisions a world in which women and people of underrepresented gender identities share fully in the creation, production and rewards of animation, resulting in richer and more diverse entertainment and media that move our culture forward. The mission of WIA is to bring together a global community of animation professionals to empower and support people of underrepresented gender identities in the art, science and business of animation by increasing access to resources, creating opportunities for education, encouraging strong connections between individuals, and inspiring excellence. For more information or to join WIA, please visit womeninanimation.org or follow on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram.

ABOUT WALT DISNEY ANIMATION STUDIOS

Combining masterful artistry and storytelling with groundbreaking technology, Walt Disney Animation Studios is a filmmaker-driven animation studio responsible for creating some of the most beloved films ever made. WDAS continues to build on its rich legacy of innovation and creativity, from the first fully-animated feature film, 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, to 2019’s Frozen 2, the biggest animated film of all time, to our 60th animated feature, Encanto. Among the studio’s timeless creations are Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty, The Jungle Book, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia.

For more information contact:

Fumi Kitahara, PR Chair, WIA
[email protected] 

or 

Beatriz Valenzuela, Communications Manager, WIA 
[email protected]

 

Florence Girot, Coordinator, Stories x Women
[email protected]

Calling All Members: Submit Nominations For WIA Member Snapshots!

Calling All Members: Submit Nominations For WIA Member Snapshots

Do you know an exceptional WIA member who deserves to be recognized with one of our WIA Member Snapshots? Nominate them to be highlighted in our monthly member feature. You can even nominate yourself!

The WIA Member Snapshot is not only a way for members to get to know each other, but it’s also a way to commit members’ experiences and perspectives to its archive.

WIA Member Snapshots offer a way to get to know our contemporaries, sharing stories of members at various stages in their careers to create a deeper sense of community around the globe, and to promote inspiration and connection at all steps on the professional ladder.


Click a button below to submit your nomination for either a fellow WIA member or for yourself.

Looking To The Future Of Art And Animation

Our very own WIA Vice President Jinko Gotoh made an appearance — virtually — at WonderCon in Anaheim the weekend of April 1-3. This was the first in-person WonderCon since it was temporarily canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She was part of a panel entitled, “Developing the Future of the Art, Media, and Entertainment Industry” which aimed to discuss how industry leaders and government officials can best provide industry-level skills to students and access to jobs in the industry especially students in under-served communities.


Joining Gotoh on the panel were:

  • Nicole Hendrix, Producer, Executive Director of the BRIC Foundation, Concept Arts Association
  • Alison Mann, Talent Manager, Co-President of Fourth Wall Animation, Co-Founder BRIC Foundation
  • Steve Issacs, Education Program Manager at Epic Games
  • Matthew Waynee, Teacher 32nd Street USC Magnet School
  • Jewyl Anderson Clarke, San Diego County Office of Education

Read more about this amazing and important panel here.

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.

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.

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