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A History of Women in Animation Part Two: Working Mothers of a Medium

History of Women in Animation Part Two!

Last time, we looked at the first women to shove their way into the animation industry (and you can read more in depth information on them here, with a bonus actual picture of Lillian Friedman), and thankfully, they made a little elbow room for more ladies to come in!

While we’ve made lots of progress over the years, the imbalance of women in the industry is still pretty hard to ignore. Despite the surge in female protagonists in film and TV, the truth is women made up only 16% of employees on the top 250 films in 2013. Most women worked on drama, comedy and documentary films, but they were seriously underrepresented in sci-fi, horror, and especially animation.

Despite the depressing numbers, women are still making their mark. Last week we talked about the original mothers of the animation medium. This week, in no particular order, I give you the working mothers behind some of our favorite animated characters.

Writer, Storyboard Artist, Animator, Director THIS WOMAN DOES EVERYTHING!

Popular opinion points to Carole Holliday as the second black woman in animation history. From the very beginning she loved to draw and tell stories. Holliday worked her butt off to become an animator and writer at Disney, hoping she’d get a chance to direct, and eventually, she did!

Her credits include The Little Mermaid, A Goofy Movie, Tarzan and many of the Disney direct to DVD releases. The storyboards she did for The Prince Of Egypt are universally considered her most notable work. In 2006, her dream to be a director was realized with her own film, Witt’s Daughter. She also wrote and directed a Donald short for Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas. Holliday is still working today, her most recent work can be seen in Disney’s Tinkerbell films and Disney Jr’s Sophia the First.

The woman who brought us Pixar’s first female lead!

Brenda Chapman is a woman of firsts. She co-directed DreamWorks Animation’s The Prince of Egypt, making her the first woman to co-direct an animated feature for a major hollywood studio. With a BFA in character animation, Chapman started at Disney as a story trainee on The Little Mermaid. She became a key story artist for Beauty and the Beast, and was the first woman to ever serve as head of story for a feature film on The Lion King. In 1994, she worked with DreamWorks to co-direct The Prince of Egypt and continued working with them until she was invited to Pixar in 2003.

At Pixar she briefly touched a few other films before tackling Brave and becoming Pixar’s first female director. The honeymoon was short-lived as Chapman was booted from her position over creative disputes, and given the title of co-director. Despite her dismissal she received the Oscar for Best Animated Picture in 2012 for Brave, becoming the first woman in history to receive the award. Chapman has since returned to DreamWorks where she’s adapting a children’s book to film. Check out her blog and Twitter for more awesomeness.

“Cartoons aren’t for kids and I’ll PROVE IT!”

Production manager turned producer Eiko Tanaka was the first woman to ever open her own animation company in Japan. Opened in 1986, STUDIO4°C has created multiple OVA, TV shows, shorts and feature films. The studio has produced some absolutely fantastic works, including the ThunderCats reboot, Steamboy, Batman: Gotham Knight, The Animatrix short The Second Renaissance Part 1, and a whole lot more. Even more impressive, Tanaka worked with Studio Ghibli on My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service until STUDIO4°C released its first film Memories in 1995.

When it comes to the notion that animation is more than children’s entertainment, Tanaka is a true believer. She believes that the medium is a tool to tell stories to all ages, and the success of STUDIO4°C’s work has proved that point. But Tanaka has a deep-dark-hidden-secret: She can’t draw! *GASPFLAILRabbleRabbleFAINT* But how can she work in animation?! We often forget animation production has roles other than artists and animators. Tanaka proves that you don’t have to be an artist to work in the animation industry, you just gotta know the process and what you’re doing. Seeing as Tanaka remains the CEO and president of STUDIO4°C to this day, I think we can all agree she knows exactly what she’s doing.

She directed Get A Horse the Mickey short you saw before Frozen.

Not only is Jennifer Lee the first female co-director of a Disney feature film (Frozen), she’s also the first writer at any major animation studio to become a director! After working in design for a while Lee decided she had to do what she loved and tell her own stories. So she left a career designing DVD and audiobook covers, and went to film school! There she met her future writing partner on Wreck-It Ralph, Phil Johnston.

She worked in live action until March 2011, when Johnston called her onto Wreck-It Ralph for a short stint, and what was supposed to be an eight-week gig turned into a full-time job! She was quickly pulled onto Frozen, which won the 2013 Academy Award for Best Animated Picture (making her the second woman to win in history). Frozen is the first Disney film to make over a billion worldwide, which makes it the top-grossing animated film to date. Lee is currently in the works on a live-action film with Leonardo DiCaprio‘s Appian Way. You can follow Lee and enjoy her daughter’s exploits (like when you’re pretending to be Elsa and you don’t have snow – throw salt!) on her Twitter!

An artist that will kick your butt in Super Smash Brothers Melee.

Born in Beijing, China, Mingjue Helen Chen and her family moved to Minnesota when she was very young. In high school, she worked at Coldstone, and once singing for her tips lost its charm, she headed to college at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Though she went to art school, she more or less stumbled into animation when she attended the 2011 CTN Animation Expo and was offered her first job as a visual development artist on Frankenweenie. Since then, Helen has worked on Wreck-It Ralph, Paperman and Disney’s first animated addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Big Hero 6!

Helen now works at Paramount Pictures as an Art Director. Recently she participated in a Kickstarter for an art book filled with modern female animation artists (many of them on this list!) called Lovely: Ladies of Animation – pre-order it here! She regularly posts on Twitter, and her art blog is filled with all sorts of wonderfully geeky work (and peeks at Big Hero 6 development art once the film is out, YAY)!

She gave a princess her artistic talents.

Daughter of Disney Legend Glen Keane, and granddaughter to Bil Keane (the guy who created Family Circus), Claire Keane had big shoes to fill growing up in the shadow of that kind of success. Happily, Claire came into her own with no problem! She grew up in Southern California until her family moved to Paris when she was 16. After high school and a short stint at a fashion college, Claire realized drawing was more her style and headed to Ecole Superieure D’art Graphiques. There she realized just how much she loved development art, and when the call for artists on Tangled went out, she presented her thesis work as her portfolio and landed a job with Disney!

While her main focus was Tangled, she did a small stint on Enchanted before really diving in. The majority of her work in Tangled is seen within Rapunzel’s beautiful paintings and the inspirational work for character designs. In addition to Tangled, she also worked on Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen. In September 2013, Keane decided that she needed to spend more time on personal projects, so she left The Mouse and has since been doing very well for herself illustrating children’s books and the Lovely: Ladies of Animation book coming July 14th! You can see what she’s up to on her blog and her Twitter.

She gave Zazu his wings and birdbrained attitude.

The first woman to be a supervising animator at Disney, Ellen Woodbury started work in the Ink and Paint department. Her career got a jump start when she became an animation assistant on Oliver & Company, animator on The Little Mermaid, and animation lead for the sassy Koala in Rescuer’s Down Under. After working as a lead with Beauty and the Beast, and Abu in Aladdin, Woodbury was given the chance of a lifetime: Disney wanted her to be the animation supervisor on Sarabi (Simba’s mom) on The Lion Kingand she turned it down! Woodbury didn’t relate to Sarabi, and  much like an actor, if an animator doesn’t relate to a character, it’s hard to do a good job.

Luckily, Woodbury was then offered Zazu and became Disney’s first woman to supervise character animation on a feature film! She continued directing the animation for Pegasus in Hercules, the crew in Treasure Planet, and even transitioning into 3D with Chicken Little and Meet the Robinson’s. After her long career Woodbury resigned, and now lives in Colorado where she makes beautiful sculptures and generally enjoys life. You can check out her new adventures at her website!

Kung fu movie lover, so of course she had to get in on Kung fu Panda!

Not only is Jennifer Yuh Nelson the first woman to solely direct a major hollywood animated motion picture, she’s the first woman of color to do it! To top it off, her film Kung Fu Panda 2 has been the most financially successful film ever solely directed by a woman! She’s kind of a big deal.

A Korean born American, Nelson immigrated to the US at four. From an early age she loved martial arts movies, cars and drawing. All grown up, she worked in the animation trenches for a few years before she was hired as a storyboard artist for HBO’s Spawn in 1997. Nelson went on to direct six episodes in Spawn’s second season! In 1998 she moved to DreamWorks as a storyboard artist for Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Sinbad, and Madagascar. As a lover of kung fu films she pointedly asked to work on Kung Fu Panda (she had no idea what it was other than the title) and was given head of story. That badass 2D opening sequence in Kung Fu Panda that made you cry because you hadn’t seen 2D animation in so long? Yeah, she directed that!

When the sequel was greenlit, Jeffrey Katzenberg named Nelson the director of Kung Fu Panda 2. The film went on to become a major box office success making it the highest grossing film ever directed solely by a woman. In 2011, she became the second woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Picture for Kung Fu Panda 2 (Check out an interview with her here)! And yes, she’s returning to direct Kung Fu Panda 3 which is slated for release in 2015.

Bronies and pegasisters, bow to your queen.

Animator, writer, director, producer and Emmy Award winner, Lauren Faust is best known for developing the Hub’s My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Faust started working in animation on feature films with Cats Don’t Dance, Quest for Camelot, and The Iron Giant! But her career really shot off in 1999 when she became a board artist and writer at Cartoon Network.

She was quickly promoted to supervising producer, and finally a story supervisor. At CN, her focus entirely shifted from feature work to TV. There she worked on some of CN’s most popular shows including The Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. Faust eventually left CN and has gone on to create her own toy line and worked on Disney’s Wander Over Yonder. On June 5th it was announced she’ll be returning to film as director (YAY!!!) for Sony Pictures Animation’s upcoming feature Medusa! You can follow her on twitter here or see her artwork at her DeviantArt page.

She made Elsa fabulous and Anna adorable!

A visual development artist for Disney, you’ll know Brittney Lee’s work, seeing as she had a large hand in the designs for Frozen’s Anna and Elsa (especially that fabulous ice gown). Her work is everywhere in Disney lately, from films to merchandise and count em, one, two, three, illustrated books!

Lee grew up in a small town in western Pennsylvania, raised by her mother and a daredevil dad (dude had her co-piloting at 5), they helped her take every art class she could find. After graduating high school, she went to the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Film and Animation. There she met her mentor Nancy Beiman (an awesome animator in her own right). Lee thrived under her mentorship and credits Beiman as a major artistic influence.

Lee began working for Disney in 2010, starting on Wreck-It Ralph, creating models of Sugar Rush with paper and real candy! She also had a hand in the Oscar winning short, Paperman, before she began working on Frozen. You can get some of your very own work from Brittney at her Etsy shop, follow her on Twitter, or pour through her art filled blog!

Honorable Mentions

Chris NeeHumanitas Prize and Emmy Award Winning creator/executive producer of Disney Junior’s Doc McStuffins. The show has been praised for creating a large cultural impact due to its positive vocational message for African-American girls and families.

Kim Manning – Senior Director of Programming for Adult Swim and part of the original team that created the block. Her main focus is on the newly returned Toonami, where she decides which shows work with the TV block’s themes.  According to a 2006 article at ICv2.com Kim is #3 on the top ten most powerful people in the American Anime Industry.

Atsuko Fukushima – A Japanese film director and animator, Atsuko has worked on many noteworthy anime films including Akira, Magnetic Rose, and Kiki’s Delivery Service, to name a few. She is well known for her work in the opening five minutes of Genius Party.

Rebecca Sugar – As the creator of Steven Universe, Rebecca is the first woman to create a show in Cartoon Network’s history. Steven Universe was named for her younger brother Steven Sugar who also works on the show as a background artist! She’s best known for her work writing, composing and storyboarding for Adventure Time. She came up with a ton of the songs in show, including I’m Just Your Problem, Sleepy Puppies, Oh Fionna, and the Fry Song. She has been nominated for two Emmy awards for her work on Adventure Time.

I’m happy to say that there are so many ladies in the industry right now that I cannot possibly mention them all. It’s pretty damn awesome to see that women have come this far in animation, but we have to remember that there’s still a long way to go.

When we have such a small percentage of women creating some of the most popular media in the world, that’s a problem! The numbers get even more depressing once you account for people of color. In 2012, history had its very first black person direct a major animated film, Peter Ramsey’s Rise of the Guardians. In 2011, we got the first woman to ever direct a film on her own with Jennifer Yuh Nelson. This is the 21st century, this isn’t acceptable, and while yes, ‘technically’ it’s progress, we can certainly do better.

So, to my dear young (or young at heart) readers who love cartoons, adore drawing and find yourself inspired by the women you’ve read about: You’re the next generation. With you comes a new perspective the industry desperately needs no pressure. So work hard, make good art, and remember that story is everything.

Now go change the world one frame at a time!

To connect with and learn more about the ladies in animation check out Women In Animation’s website, Twitter and Facebook page!

By day, Carrie is the co-creator, artist and production coordinator of Kamikaze. By night a writer, budding comic nerd and passionate feminist. Occasionally she takes pretty photos. A devoted scholar to film, animation and storytelling Carrie is feared wherever books are sold, and enjoys the company of animals, geeks and artists equally. Feel free to follow her on Twitter.

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