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Entries in Women in animation (2)


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.


Pixar is from Mars, Disney is from Venus?

A Slate blogger is the latest to argue that Pixar's film's have “girl trouble”'—that is, too much focus on strong male characters at the expense of strong female ones.

Although it's true that this disparity has existed over the years, it's less prevalent in some of Pixar's recent films, such as The Incredibles and WALL-E. Keep in mind, also, that Disney feature animation has historically been at least as focused on leading ladies as Pixar has been on its leading men. Granted, there are some important exceptions like The Lion King and The Jungle Book. Overall, though, the roll call of great Disney feature film characters has mostly been a roll call of heroines and villainesses, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to this year's The Princess and the Frog. (Well, it's unknown yet whether the heroine of the frog movie will be great or not. Moviegoers will find out in December.)

Pixar director Brenda Chapman, who has been known to refer to herself kiddingly as Pixar's “token female,” has worked at both studios and noted the difference in emphasis:

At the start of my career, I was the only woman in the story department at Disney, but at that time we were working on “Princess movies” with strong female leads, so at the time there didn't seem to be any need to strengthen other female roles…most of the funny characters were guys…. But now I'm at Pixar, and there films are very much for the boys. I don't think it's a conscious thing, I just think they're making films they want to see….

(Brenda's film The Bear and the Bow, starring Pixar's first fairy-tale princess, is scheduled to be released in 2011.)