From Walt Disney to Chuck Jones to Hayao Miyazaki, the “big names” that have persisted in the animation industry seem almost uniformly male.
So are women just not interested in animation? Well, no.
According to the advocacy group Women in Animation (WIA), 60 percent of animation students in the US and Europe are women.
The drop-off rate, however, as these women try to make the leap into the industry is alarmingly high.
An estimated 20 to 40 percent of professional animation roles are held by women, and a measly three percent of these women are working as directors.
Kitty Turley, who works for the London-based production company, Strange Beast, said that the common belief is that “men are the creative leads and … women are there to facilitate and enable the creative voice and vision of men.”
But it’s not all doom and gloom for women in animation. Recently, there have been some promising signs that the industry is taking small steps toward gender parity, and that women are starting to take charge of new projects.
Women have come a long way in the field. It was 20 years ago that Brenda Chapman, a longtime writer and story artist for DreamWorks animation, became the first woman to direct an animated feature from a major studio with her awe-inspiring directorial debut, “The Prince of Egypt.”
She was also the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
More recently, Jennifer Lee became the first female director of a Disney feature film with 2013’s massive hit, “Frozen” (which she also wrote the screenplay for) and the first female director to earn more than $1 billion in gross box office revenue. Lee, like Chapman, was also a first-time solo director.
Decades of women’s underappreciated work, talent, and influence in the world of animation stands as a testament against the belief that women don’t or won’t excel in leadership roles in entertainment.
As for the small screen, just five years ago Rebecca Sugar became the first woman to independently create a series for Cartoon Network with the Emmy-nominated “Steven Universe.”
Sugar got her start working for another Cartoon Network staple, “Adventure Time,” as a storyboard revisionist. Due to the high quality of her work, she was promoted to storyboard artist during the second season of the show.
Her thoughtful and groundbreaking depictions of LGBTQ identities in “Steven Universe” have earned her two GLAAD Media Award nominations.
Oversees, another female directing talent is on the rise. Naoko Yamada, a mainstay of the high-profile Japanese studio Kyoto Animation, produces detailed character studies like no other.
Yamada started out with episode directing before making her chief directorial debut with the popular series “K-On!”.
Animation fans, however, truly got a sense of Yamada’s unique sensitivity as a creator when she moved to film directing.
With 2016’s meticulous, deeply moving “A Silent Voice,” Yamada cemented herself as a director to watch in the coming decade.
Even Makoto Shinkai, director of the absurdly successful animated film “Your Name,” released the same year, said that “A Silent Voice” is a “polished and grand production,” and that he could “hardly imitate it.”
Yamada’s most recent film, “Liz and the Blue Bird,” enjoyed a limited release in the U.S. from Nov. 9 to Nov. 12 thanks to Eleven Arts Studios.
IGN gave the film a 90 percent rating and called it “a unique emotional drama that just about anyone can connect with.”
Hopefully this subtle shift in the industry will propel animation into a new age of inclusivity, one with more opportunities for creative and talented women to leave their mark.