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Women in Disney animation, 1939

The only work in Disney feature animation open to women during the 1930’s and 1940’s was inking and painting—that is, tracing the lines that animators had drawn onto animation cels and painting the cels. Animation, storyboarding, and the like were reserved for men. Patricia Zohn has a terrific profile in the latest Vanity Fair the women of Disney’s Ink & Paint Department during this period. 

A snapshot of the times was the studio’s May 9, 1939, reply to a Frances Brewer of Van Nuys, California, who evidently had applied for a job as an animator. The studio wrote back (image above): 

Dear Miss Brewer: 

Your letter of some time ago has been turned over to the Inking and Painting Department for reply.

Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that work is performed entirely by young men. For this reason girls are not considered for the training school. 

To qualify for the only work open to women one must be well grounded in the use of pen and ink and also of water color. The work to be done consists of tracing the characters on clear celluloid sheets with India ink and filling in the tracings on the reverse side with paint according to directions. 

In order to qualify for a position as “Inker” or “Painter” it is necessary that one appear at the studio on a Tuesday morning between 9:30 and 11:30, bringing samples of pen and ink and water color work. We will be glad to talk to you further should you come in. 

(Via The Animation Guild Blog.) 

Obviously, the women of the Ink & Paint Department moved on long ago. The role of hand-inking animation cels at Disney came to an end in the late 1950’s when Disney replaced it with a Xerox-like system. The hand-painting of the cels ended in the mid-to-late 1980’s as Disney replaced it with a digital process—namely, Pixar’s Computer Animation Production System, or CAPS, which ran on Pixar’s first product, the Pixar Image Computer.