“Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that work is performed entirely by young men. For this reason girls are not considered for the training school.”
The above excerpt from Walt Disney Studios to Miss Frances Brewer in 1939, illustrates the uphill battle female animators faced in securing employment in animation. In the early years of animation women were limited to “Inker” and “Painter” positions. With time, female interests in comics, animation, and sci-fi has not faded. For example, Marvel’s latest film, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which earned more than $90 million in its opening weekend, was researched and initially written by Nicole Perlman. With the release of “Galaxy,” Perlman’s work made her the first female credited writer on a Marvel film.
Animation, like many other industries is male dominated, which contributes to the limited opportunities for women. Animation artist, Pilar Newton-Katz recounts before her big break, the college graduate was turned down by a lot of studios because she didn’t have enough experience. However, are women given the same opportunities to gain experience? In order to get her foot into the door, Pilar agreed to work for free, and then later worked up the ranks with assignments on “Sesame Street,” and “Courage the Cowardly Dog,” as a prop designer.
Q: Is animation gender blind?
A: I do notice that animation is a male-dominated profession, but I have worked with a lot of talented and wonderful women and I am pleasantly surprised at the increasing number of women in animation lately.
Q: How are you treated when you attend animation events?
A: I attend the Ottawa International Animation Festival every year. My experience has always been the same, feeling very welcomed. The Ottawa International Animation festival is the biggest festival of its kind in North America. I’ve been attending regularly for 20 years. I think everyone should experience going to a big animation or comic event. You meet and see so many wonderful talented people.
Q: Are kids given enough exposure to the arts in grade school?
A: It’s my observation that more schools are bringing animation into the school. Every other day someone is telling me about another elementary school that is looking for an animation teacher for their after school program.
Q: What skills are needed to be a successful artist?
A: I have seen the most skilled and talented artists crash and burn because they are not good at getting along with others, whether its taking constructive criticism from a colleague, or taking orders from a client, you have to learn early on to get along with people. That can be the difference between working in a studio or not.
Q: What advice can you give to an aspiring artist?
A: Work on your own projects, whether it’s that comic that you’ve always wanted to draw or that idea for an animated film that you sketched out in your sketchbook, and never stop meeting artists in the field you are interested in.
Q: What are some resources students should plug into?
A: I always recommend the Foundation Center; it’s a resource where you can research scholarships and grants. I meet a lot of students that are interested in doing animation from a digital standpoint, but obviously don’t have the money to spend hundreds of dollars on animation software. There are a lot of free programs and apps out there. One program that I use in my class is IMotion HD for Ipad, it is a free stop motion software.
As comics continue to cross over onto the big screen, the need for diverse artist will also grow. “Supergirl,” (Superman’s cousin), is slated to air on CBS; Netflix also slated four Marvel series for 2015; and Adult Swim’s “Black Dynamite” returns this year for a second season.
Pilar continues to establish her voice as an animation artist by working on independent shorts and children’s books through her own company, PilarToons, LLC. Pilar notes, “If you have a stack of paper and a pencil, the sky’s the limit!”
For more on early female animators click HERE.
For more on PilarToons, LLC click HERE.