As they have in so many fields, ladies have long struggled for the respect and recognition they’re due in the world of animation. The nature of animation means few creators get the spotlight to begin with, but the less in-depth histories of the art form don’t tend to include a lot of women’s names. Women have certainly been part of the history of animation from its earliest days, but their contributions are given far too little attention.
Fortunately, there have been efforts to correct this. One recent highlight was the 2015 Annecy International Animated Film Festival, which made women in animation one of its themes for the year. Evidence of the theme could be seen in the very first all-women jury for the festival and the following series of shorts promoting both the festival and the work of five ladies who made major contributions to the art form. These beautiful shorts were created by students at the internationally renowned Gobelins school in France and depict fanciful versions of these amazing women’s lives and careers. Since these gorgeous shorts are more fantasy than biography and the few lines at the end only provide a bit of background (for those of you who can read French), I’ve added short bios of the ladies featured in the shorts should you want to learn more.
The German artist Lotte Reiniger turned her childhood love of Chinese shadow puppetry into a lifelong career as one of the first known lady animators. Reiniger was among the first practitioners of silhouette animation, a close cousin of cut paper animation where intricate jointed paper puppets are manipulated and filmed one frame at a time to create the illusion of movement. Her best known work is The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the oldest surviving animated feature film, predating Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by over ten years. As the film suggests, the rise of the Nazi party in Germany was worrying to Reiniger and her husband, who both held left-wing political views. But even through a turbulent eleven year period that saw them almost constantly on the move, they remained extraordinarily prolific filmmakers. Lotte passed away in 1981 at the age of 82.
Engineer Claire Parker was the inventor of the pinscher, a device consisting of over 200,000 metal pins that could be pushed in and out to created points of light and shadow. The pins are used to create greyscale images, some of them extremely complex, that can be animated by changing the position of the pins between shots. One of Parker’s original Pinscreens is still in use. Despite what this whimsical short suggests, no hedgehogs are harmed in the process.
Probably the most widely known of the women celebrated in the Gobelins shorts, Mary Blair was a highly influential concept artist at the Walt Disney Studios. Her bold, stylized images and unique approach to color left their mark on films such as Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and Cinderella, as well as several short films and the famous It’s a Small World attraction. As a freelance artist, Blair also illustrated several Little Golden Books and designed sets for theatrical productions.
Evelyn Lambart is credited as being Canada’s first lady animators and was the first woman to join the famed National Film Board of Canada. She started out her career collaborating with animator Norman McClaren, but struck out on her own when he began working on subject matter that didn’t interest her. Lambart developed her own style combining cut paper animation with lithography writing techniques. She used this unique style to create numerous short films, including several adaptations of Aesop’s fables. Lambart was hearing impaired, a fact to which she gave partial credit for her interest in the visual arts.
Alison de Vere
Alison de Vere was a British animator and the first lady to win the Grand Prix at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival. She held supervisory positions at various animation studios early in her career and was design director on the Beatles’ film Yellow Submarine. She worked as an animator on a number of TV productions and created several highly regarded short films, including Mr. Pascal, which won her the Annecy Grand Prix.