The (invisible) history of women in animation

Two months ago, I attended “An Invisible History: Trailblazing Women of Animation” at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Hosted by Mindy Johnson, the night was filled with animation, and the uncredited women behind them. This night stayed with me.


Having attended USC’s film school, I remember the anger I felt after the event. We saw Plane Crazy (1928), The Skeleton Dance (1929), Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940)….. and endless others, and they were all created with the help of women artists and engineers. I saw those exact same clips during my time studying at USC’s Animation Program, but all the names and dates I had to memorize for those tests, they didn’t include any women. In some ways, my degree was all a lie. I’ve never heard of any of the women mentioned at the Academy prior to that night.


Following the showings of all the clips, Mindy invited women animators to share the stage with her. I’m making a point to remember all of their names. For without their contributions, we wouldn’t have a Disney or a DreamWorks. The future is female, partly thanks to these women who trail-blazed the way.


Check out Mindy Johnson’s new book, Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation.


Gretchen Albrecht– Began working at the Walt Disney Studios in 1972, she was responsible for the transition of the painting system into digital animation.


Bonnie Arnold– Producer, began as an assistant production coordinator in 1984. She became an associate producer on Dances With Wolves (1990) and The Addams Family (1991). She received her full producing credit on Toy Story (1995).


Jane Baer- Started as an assistant animator on Sleeping Beauty (1959). She later established her own production company with her then husband Dale, The Baer Animation Company. They worked on Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).


Lorna Pomeroy Cook– Started out as a member in the Disney Trainee program. She worked on Don Bluth’s An American Tail (1986), All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989), before she worked on Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Lion King (1994), and Mulan (1998).


Elanor Dahlen– Began working at the age of 18 as an inker. Her first job was working on Sleeping Beauty (1959). When Xerox processes took over the ink and paint department, Dahlen left Disney to work in inking elsewhere. Her credits include Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Space Jam (1996), and the tv series “Pinky and the Brain.”


Jun Falkenstein– After merely three years after graduating from USC Film, Falkenstein directed and produced the TV movie Scooby-Doo in Arabian Nights (1994). She has also worked as a story artist on Dispicable Me (2010), The Smurfs (2011), and Legends of Oz: Dorthy’s Return (2013). She is currently working as a story artist on 2019’s Lion King.


Virginia Fleener– Began working at Disney in 1943. Within weeks, she quickly moved from inker to animator and worked on a variety of military training films created at the studio during WWII.


Carole Holliday– Began working as an assistant animator on Oliver & Company (1988) and The Little Mermaid (1989). She advanced to character animator before expanding into story, then a character design supervisor. Holliday has continued to work as a story artist in animation both on the film Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure (2009), and the tv series “Sofia the First,” and “Elena of Avalor.”


Linda Miller– Miller also entered Disney through it’s training program, in 1977. She worked as an animator on The Fox and the Hound (1981) before leaving to help start Don Bluth Studios. Miller worked with Bluth for 10 years, animating on The Secret of NIMH (1982) and The Land Before Time (1988). Currently, she is a lead character designer for the Disney Junior series “Sofia the First” and the upcoming “Fancy Nancy.”


Patty Peraza– She was one of the first women hired by Disney from CalArts, Peraza began as an assistant effects animator on The Fox and the Hound (1981) and Tron (1982). She was the first woman to be credited as an effects animator at Disney.


Tina Price– Transitioned from a career as a dancer to animation by working on Don Bluth’s short film Banjo the Woodpile Cat (1979). Later she transitioned to Disney and worked with animator Andreas Deja on The Black Cauldron (1985). She became the first woman to receive the title of Head of Computer Animation at Disney. Her other credits with the studio include Aladdin (1992), Hercules (1997), Tarzan (1999), and Fantasia/2000 (2000). In 2006, she founded her own company, Creative Talent Network, which is the host to CTN Animation Expo every year.


Carmen Sanderson– Started working at Disney in 1945 as a traffic girl. She quickly joined Ink & Paint and worked as a painter on Song of the South (1946). She participated in several landmark transitions in the animation industry, including the integration of the Xerox process and the advent of digital technology. In her 60-year career, Sanderson contributed to many Disney films.


Amy Smeed– Began working at Disney in 1998 as an assistant in the scene set-up department on the production of Dinosaur (2000). She received full animator status on Chicken Little (2005), and has worked on Bolt (2008), Tangled (2010), Wreck-It-Ralph (2012), and Frozen (2013. She also served as co-head of animation on Moana (2016), making her the first female head of animation on a feature at Disney Animation.


Enid Denbo Wizig– She began working in 1943 for Leon Schlesinger, the renowned producer of Looney Tunes shorts. Wizig started in the ink and paint department. She was soon promised to inbetweener and then assistant animator. Profoundly deaf from the age of six months, Wizig recently shared her story in the play Silent NO MORE.


Kathy Zielinski– Won a Student Academy Award for Animation for Guess Who’s for Dinner (1982). She contributed to many hand-drawn animated films include The Great Mouse Detective (1986), The Little Mermaid (1989) and Aladdin (1992). After over a decade at Disney, Zielinski moved to DreamWorks Animation, where she was trained in 3D computer animation and worked on such films as Kung Fu Panda (2008) and How to Train Your Dragon (2010). Then she returned to Disney to help animate Frozen (2013).