Among other things, the release of Brave by Pixar is being singled out for being the studio’s first release with a female lead character. Over the years, Pixar, along with its parent company Disney, has been greatly criticized for holding on to outdated gender stereotypes – think helpless princesses, gallant princes, evil witches etc., a theme which is thankfully beginning to change. Pixar didn’t help its reputation amongst feminists when the original Brave director, Brenda Chapman, was replaced by Mark Andrews well into production. However, it’s not just Pixar – DreamWorks, and many other studios haven’t really gone out of their way to let women direct animated films. However, the film industry has been blessed with some extraordinary female animators – here are just a few.
Born in 1899 in Berlin, Reiniger is credited with directing the first feature-length animated film. As a child, she was fascinated by movies and acting, and worked on animated features in a number of films, including The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1918).
Reiniger used a series of cut-out silhouettes, which she earned recognition for moving from frame to frame.
In 1923, Reiniger began work on a project which became an international hit. Released in 1926, The Adventures of Prince Achmed is an enchanting and whimsical film.
Janie Gieser was born in 1957 in Louisiana, and after attending the University of Georgia, went on to become a world-acclaimed puppeteer, forming her own puppet company whose work she began to document on film. She created standalone films such as The Red Book (1994), after experimenting with a series of animation techniques.
Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Jennifer Yuh Nelson was born in South Korea in 1972, but grew up in Los Angeles. After meeting a storyboard artist when attending California State University, Nelson was inspired to pursue a career in animation. Nelson worked on a series of cable and direct-to-video projects before she was hired as a storyboard artist by DreamWorks, where she worked on critically acclaimed animated films such as Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and Kung Fu Panda 2.
Born in Columbia in 1970, Helen Hill began making Super 8 movies at the tender age of just 11. Later, she went on to study at Harvard’s visual effects school, and later studied animation at a master’s level at the California Institute for the Arts. Much of her work is displayed at the Harvard Film Archive, which preserved many of her films after they were damaged in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Sally Cruikshank was inspired by animators such as Walt Disney and The Fletcher Brothers, and studied at Yale Art School. Her first film, Quasi at the Quackadero was released in 1975, and enlivened many midnight screenings. Cruikshank went on to create around twenty animated pieces for the popular children’s television show ‘Sesame Street’.
There are several more inspirational female animators who have worked or are currently working in the industry – can you think of any? Leave your response in the comments.