Inspiring ladies who Animated the World
Animation has evolved over time. The earliest forms involved ‘toys’ that were based on the principle of persistence of vision. In later stages, time based and cinematic forms were used to form visuals. Modern animation needs computer oriented softwares to create models by adding mesmerizing special effects to the movie or clip created. By having properties like exaggeration and simplification, animation can be extensively used for showing the complex and abstract processes via visuals in a simplified manner. Also, anything can be brought to life- be it personalities, drawings, objects, etc. Therefore, experts have remarked that animation is ‘timeless, nimble and future proof’ apart from being very ‘hot’.
Animation is an art form that combines various movements by sequencing them in small intervals of time. An illusion is created which can be manipulated in various ways as per our imagination and requirement. Today, animation is creating history in the small and big screen and animated films are raking in a fortune, spanning learning from classroom training to online courses, with enormous scope for growth and sizeable job opportunities in animation industry.
For a very long time, it was assumed that animation was a profession meant for men. When we look back in history, we see many male artists who have carved a niche for themselves. Most of the earlier animators were men. It is not because women did not have the needed creativity, but perhaps lacked scope to earn. It is true that the artistic talent of women never saw the light of the day as they were suppressed. With time, women started entering the work force, and broke through male bastion of animation. Hence, creative youth target the best animation college, as their battlefield to prove creative-superiority in the battle of sexes. Through this article, we will try to find out few female animators who traversed the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.
Prominent Female animators
Gayatri Rao:To start with, Rao is probably the earliest and best example in India, who achieved a rare distinction of doing an internship at Walt Disney Studios, Florida sponsored by UNICEF. She quenched her hunger by learning the skills of classical animation which she passed on to the creative clan in India. One of the founders of Animagic, Gayatri also pioneered stylised animation commercials in India and directed the animation for Mahakapi, a film based on the Jataka tale of the Monkey King, for CFSI, which won the prestigious UNESCO Award in 1998. She kept her habit of winning awards in her sector, the recent being National Award for Best Animation Director for the film ‘Raju & I’ in 2015. She has always satiated the audiences and critics with her social awareness messages through short animated films.
Kirsten Lepore: Another distinct name in modern animation, Lepore came to the limelight at a very early age, through her undergraduate thesis, a short stop motion film entitled ‘Sweet Dreams’. According to Lepore, as a child she was fascinated by the animation techniques used by both Disney and the Jim Henson Company. During her high school days, she started exploring art, thereby pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) at Maryland Institute College of Art, where she studied ‘experimental animation’. She also reaped accolades for her creative short films Bottle and Move Mountain.
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Retta Scott: The success of the 1942 released ‘Bambi’ is attributed to many animators who worked on it by being on rolls of Disney’s studios. One such person who was actually the first woman to animate for Disney was Scott. Originally, she had been hired as a story development artist, but went to draw animal characters for Disney. It is said that Scott had a talent of drawing animals from all angles and perspectives which was due to her hobby of drawing animals during her student days. Apart from animations, Scott also worked on the war propaganda that Disney studios did during the World War II. She was lucky to have her name mentioned in the credits of movies like ‘Fantasia’ (1940), ‘Dumbo’ (1941) and ‘Bambi’ (1942). Much later while she was working as a freelancer, she received appreciation for the 1982 released ‘The Plague Dogs’.
Lotte Reiniger: Reiniger has been regarded among the pioneers of animated films. Her technique of silhouette animation was something that she learnt on her own and adapted it successfully for the silver screen. Though she was unable to become an actress, Reiniger started off in 1916 by making silhouettes for the intertitles of movies ‘Rübezahls Hochzeit’ and ‘Der Rattenfänger von Hameln’ both made by Paul Wegener. Wegener helped Reiniger by introducing her to a group of young men who were trying to set up an animation studio at the Berliner Institut für Kulturforschung under Hans Cürlis. It was at this institute that Reiniger met Carl Koch (whom she married in 1921 and lived till his death in 1963). Koch helped her to make her to make ‘Das Ornament des verliebten Herzens’ by being its producer and cameraman. Deriving themes from fairy tales, Reiniger made ‘ Aschenputtel ‘ and ‘Dornröschen’ in 1922. However, her moment of fame came in four years later through ‘The Adventures of Prince Achmed’ which has been unofficially regarded as the first full-length animated movie. Apart from Koch, Reiniger was assisted by Walther Ruttmannand Berthold Bartosch whereas Louis Hagen Jr financed it. However, after 1926, Reiniger diverted her attention towards making short movies which were either a single or a double reel. She also made sequences that others inserted in their movies. Her later works included ‘ Die Jagd nach dem Glück’ (1929), ‘Harlekin’ (1931) and ‘ Der kleine Schornsteinfeger’ (1934). When Adolf Hitler seized power, Reiniger and Koch shifted to England. Her output reduced during the World War II and her only work was the 1944 released ‘Die Goldene Ganz’. Many of her earlier works were lost and negatives were destroyed. Luckily, some prints survived. Post 1945, Reiniger and Koch assumed British citizenship and set up Primrose Productions in the north of London. In just two years, Reiniger created over a dozen films based on stories written by the Brothers Grimm, Wilhelm Hauff, Hans Christian Andersen and from the One Thousand and One Nights. As the 1960’s dawned, Reiniger lost Koch and she never made films for a decade. However, her earlier movies had been rediscovered and after nearly 35 years after she had emigrated to the UK, she revisited the country of her birth. During the 1970’s, Reiniger went on a lecture tour to North America. The success and appreciation she got motivated her to do her last works- ‘The Rose and the Ring’(1979) and ‘Die vier Jahreszeiten’ (1980) before her last breath.
Lillian Friedman Astor: Astor was an initially a student of animation and fashion design who began her career in animation in 1930 at the Fleischer Studios as an inker. Her talents got recognized and soon became an in-betweener for the 1931 released cartoon ‘Mendelssohns Spring Song’. She began as an assistant to the animator James “Shamus” Culhane. She was later ‘promoted’ as an animator and that was when she made cartoons like Betty Boop (1934) and Olive Oyl. She is often recognized as the first female animator mainly for the work she did on the latter. Also, she was the first woman to work on Popeye and her work on him can be seen in the 1934 released ‘Can you take it?’. Her other works include ‘Making Stars’(1935), ‘Judge for a Day’(1935), ‘Be Human’(1936), ‘Honest Love and True’(1938), and the ‘Color Classic Hawaiin Birds’(1936). Out of many of her creations, Astor received credit for only six cartoons in her lifetime!
Her last works were for the 1941 released ‘Hunky and Spunky’ that was made in colour for Paramount Pictures.
Laverne Harding: Emily Laverne Harding is remembered for the cartoons that she created for animation as well as comics for the Walter Lantz studio. Harding was a trained artist as she attended the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. The first character she created upon graduation was Cynical Susie in 1935 for the United Feature Syndicate. She also created the ‘Woody Woodpecker’ cartoon the same year for Walter Lantz studio and it was her design that the studio used from 1950 to 1999! The ‘Yogi Bear’ cartoon which was one of Hanna-Barbera’s famous cartoon was actually animated by Harding! Other works included ‘Pink Panther’ cartoons (1963) for the DePatie-Freleng Enterprises. For all her contributions, she was the recipient of the Winsor McCay Lifetime Achievement Award in 1980.
Bianca Majolie: Majolie’s entry into the Disney studios as its first female artist was coincidental. During the 1930’s, Disney studios never employed any female candidates for its animation department. Instead those females who were selected were made to join the ‘Ink and Paint’ department wherein they had to trace the characters as well as fill in the ink and paint it for the characters before they were animated. However one afternoon, Disney lunched with Majolie who was one of his classmates from the McKinley High School and Chicago Art Institute. It is said that Disney was so impressed by her art work and skills that he immediately hired her as the first employee for his story department! Her first character was Elmer Elephant for the 1936 released animated film ‘Silly Symphony’. Though her stint at Disney lasted only for four years, Majolie’s contributions can be seen in like ‘Pinocchio’ (1940), ‘Fantasia’ (also 1940), ‘Cinderella’ (1950), ‘Peter Pan’ (1953) to name a few.
Sylvia Moberly-Holland: It is said that after watching the 1937 released ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, Holland made up her mind to work for Disney. Since she was an excellent artist, Disney hired her as the second women for his story department. Her first assignment was the 1940 released ‘Fantasia’ and most of the sequences were done by her. In fact, Holland along with Majolie and Ethel Kulsar made the art, character designs and backgrounds for many of the sequences. Though her contract ended after the World War II, Holland continued to create art all through her life.
Mary Blair: Robinson Blair’s claim to fame is being one of the most influential artists to have worked in the Disney studios. Films like ‘The Three Caballeros’ (1944), ‘Cinderella’ (1950), ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (1951) and ‘Peter Pan’ (1953) are examples that show how good she was in the mastery of colour usage in animated films. Apart from animations and designing jobs, Blair was responsible for costumes, sets, locations as well.
Eunice Macaulay: Hailing from England, Macaulay’s first brush with animation was through a Christmas card that she created while she working as a tracer. Later, apart from working as an animator, she was also a background artist, colouring supervisor, trace and paint supervisor to cite a few. She was known to create characters by drawing them as well as hand-colouring each of them. She won numerous awards including an OSCAR for the 25 short films she made. Few include ‘Special Delivery’ (1978), ‘Just for Kids’ (1983), ‘Paradise’ (1984), ‘Dreams of a Land’ (1987),’ George and Rosemary’ (1987)etc.
Kazuko Nakamura: Japanese born Nakamura picked her skills in animation while being trained at the Toei Doga company. She started in the same company as an in-betweener for the 1956 released ‘The Legend of the White Serpent. Her other works include Tales of a Street Corner (1962), 1001 Nights (1969), Cleopatra (1970). Since she could do the complete animation, Nakamura worked on the 1974 released ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ and the 1975 hit Chiisana Jumbo.
Reiko Okuyama: Okuyama was also with Nakamura at the Toei Doga company. She too started her animation career as an in-betweener. Her works included ‘Legend of the White Snake Enchantress’ (1958), ‘Magic Boy’ (1959), ‘Saiyuki’ (1960). As a head animator at Toei Doga, her last work was the 1979 released ‘ Tatsu no ko Taro‘. Till her death in the late 2000’s, he taught animation as well as illustrated books for children.
Brenda Banks: Banks was the first Black woman to work as an animator. She began career in the 1977 movie ‘Wizards’ for Ralph Bakshi’s productions. Her other works include ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (1978), ‘Daffy Duck’s Movie: Fantastic Island’ (1983), ‘This Is America, Charlie Brown!’ (1988), ‘Tom and Jerry Kids Show’ (1990-1994), ‘King of the Hill’ (1997-2010) etc.
Elizabeth Case Zwicker: Zwicker started out as a fine artist for Disney in 1956 and worked on the 1959 ‘Sleeping Beauty’. It is said of her that she never animated for money-instead she did it for the joy she got from it! The remainder of her creative life was spent in drawing, painting and illustrating books for children apart from teaching painting and writing poetry.
Tissa David: Thérèse “Tissa” David was known for her sensual, witty hand-drawn lines. Originally born in Hungary, she trained as a draftsman from the Academy of Beaux Arts in Budapest. Just like Sylvia Moberly-Holland, she too made her mind up to be an animator after watching the epic magnum opus ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. Coming to the USA in 1955, she started off at the UPA studio under Disney’s animator Grim Natwick as his assistance. She made a number of animated TV commercials and moving to the Hubley Studio, she made works like ‘Eggs’(1970), ‘Cockaboody’ (1973), ‘E verybody Rides the Carousel’ (1976), ‘The Animated Raggedy Ann & Andy’ (1977), ‘The Soldier’s Tale’(1984). ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (1986) etc. Her opinions about animation like “”Animation is all caricature” and “Always think of how your character feels” is something that animators can take back and imbibe it in their professional lives.
Retta Davidson: The other ‘Retta’ in Disney, Davidson started her career as an ink and paint artist in the 1940 released ‘Pinocchio’. She also worked on ‘Fantasia’ the same year along with ‘Bambi’ in 1942. After serving in the World War II in the American navy, she returned to her animation career as an assistant. As a lead animator, Davidson worked on ‘Lord of the Rings’ (1978), ‘The Fox and the Hound’ (1981), ‘Heavy Metal’ (also in 1981), ‘The Great Mouse Detective’ (1986) etc.
Whoever scoffed at the idea of women animators, were made to eat humble pie from the late 1920’s. These women animators have proved that creativity doesn’t limit to any gender. Creativity, hard work, sheer persistence and above all the dare to dream the unimaginable were the qualities these women possessed in might. These names cited above are a testimony to it and will surely inspire many more women in the years to come.
The team at Animaster Academy, the No.1 animation college in Bangalore, takes the pleasure to gen the readers about the women achievers in animation industry, in this article. To know more about the creative industry, please go through our article Career in Animation.