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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Women in Animation 2013

NOTE: This post originally appeared on my Smudge Animation site on March 5th, 2013.

Well, it happened again. The other month, as I was working on interviewing three women who work in the animation industry for this year's blog entries, the woman who works at the convenience store across the street from my office struck up a conversation with me.

After a minute or so of idle chit-chat, she asked me what I do for a living. Upon hearing my response that I'm an animator, she got all excited and said that her high school-aged daughter watches tons of Japanese animation with one of her friends, draws a lot, and is interested in maybe studying animation in college. Since 2004, I've walked into that store several times a week to buy lunch or a soda or some munchies to make it through the day. Nina and I have exchanged pleasantries for just shy of nine years, but not once has she ever mentioned having a kid with an interest in animation--or any kid, for that matter.

"Women & Animation"
by Jayne Pilling
This is pretty much the story of my life. In the past, when I've committed to doing something, either resources will start falling into my lap and people with similar interests will cross my path--or doors will unceremoniously slam shut. This has long been my personal indicator that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, having had doors abruptly closed on other life goals.*

Case in point: "Women & Animation". I've been trying to branch out a little more, partially for my own edification and partially for making these blog posts more informative. It's mostly taken the form of research about the history of women who have worked in the field of animation and their contributions to the art form. However, obtaining a copy of Jayne Pilling's book has thus far eluded me. Copies are available on Amazon.com starting at $200 with shipping. Eh, it's an import from England published by the British Film Institute which was printed back in 1992. At the moment, it's a little more than I'm willing to spend on my research. But a quick search through the interlibrary loan yielded the welcome discovery that the Michigan State University Library had a copy in their archives. A ten-minute drive later and I had her book in my hands. The poor thing hadn't been checked out since 2004! Unfortunately, I had to apply for a library card and wait for it to come in the mail before I could take the book home and read it. But, as I sat there in the library and flipped through the pages, what a joy it was to discover that some of the animators contained within its pages were women who were professional acquaintances, good friends, or those whom I had met in passing at animation festivals. Serindipity. Or perhaps something more.

One thing worth mentioning is that 2013 was a very momentous year for women working in the field of animation. Jayne Pilling states in the introduction of her book on page 5:

"Animation is area [sic] in which women as artists and filmmakers have made a real impact over the last two decades, far greater, proportionately, than in live-action feature films."

We now have another milestone to add to the history of women in animation: this year, the first woman director won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Brenda Chapman, the first woman to [co-]direct one of Pixar's feature films, won the Academy Award for "Brave" (along with co-director Mark Andrews).

As was pointed out on Cartoon Brew's February 25, 2013 post:

"It took only twelve years of the Best Animated Feature award before the Academy recognized a film directed by a woman. By comparison, it took 82 years before the Academy awarded an Oscar to a live-action film directed by a woman."


"... I should point out that Vicky Jenson co-directed Shrek, which won the very first Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2001. Sadly, Jenson did not receive an Oscar because the award was given to the film’s producer in that first year."

With alternative methods of funding (like Kickstarter and Indiegogo) gaining acceptance, and the cost of production tools coming down, I have to wonder if we are that far off from seeing an Academy Award presented to a female director who creates a feature-length animated film--geared for a female audience--without a male co-director.

Getting back to my conversation with Nina: for once, I actually had advice at the ready for her daughter. I pointed her to my blog and told her about all the women animators that have graciously agreed to an interview--all of them interested in sharing their experiences, good and bad, to both the current and future generations of woman animators.

Starting next week, I'll be posting interviews with animator and musician Anne Beal, Calgary-based animator, instructor and lecturer Carol Beecher, and the 'Queen of indie animation' Signe Baumane. So while you're waiting, feel free to read my previous interviews and thoughts about Women in Animation. And if you're near the MSU library, check out Jayne Pilling's book.

March 2012
Women in Animation: 2012
Angie Hauch
Lynn Dana Wilton

March 2011
Women in Animation: 2011
Jessica Borutski
Jessica Bayliss
Ellen Besen
Eiko Tanaka and Women in Animation

March 2010
Women in Animation: 2010
Lynn Smith
Martine Chartrand
Madi Piller
Stephanie Maxwell

* As I approached graduation from College, I lost my chance to be a fighter pilot due to an astigmatism in my right eye, then a training accident cost me the opportunity to study the martial arts in Thailand shortly thereafter. After making one discrete inquiry on a computer graphics message board six months later, doors started flying open for me to become an animator. Three years after that, I graduated from R.I.T. near the top of my class with an M.F.A. in Computer Animation.