The animation industry is filled with talented people at every corner. Animators have created tons of impressive content that has shaped the world we know today, from trendy video games to brand websites to iconic films.
Unfortunately, it would be no surprise to hear that men are usually at the forefront of such big animation projects while female animators have been pushed to the back burner. The result is those male animators are often given more recognition.
But the truth is that there are tons of women who have been in the animation industry, striving to take positions that belong to them and make their impact be seen. It’s not an easy task, and gender discrimination has often been a thick and unbreakable barrier.
While the situation has improved and, fingers crossed, will continue to improve, there are still tons of female animators whose efforts go unnoticed. Statistics by the animation group Women In Animation have reported that only 20% of the creative roles in animation are held by women, despite there being 60% female animation students.
This imbalance gives us all the more reason to celebrate the impact and learn from the stories of female animators.
Across geographical boundaries and spanning years, these top 7 female animators have been committed to shaping and reshaping the overall landscape of the animation industry. In this blog post, we’ll share their impact and creative contributions that have set the wheels of animation turning faster than ever.
7 Female Animators Who Have Changed The World
1. Lotte Reiniger
Image via IMDb
A pioneer in stop-motion animation, Charlotte or Lotte Reiniger’s career in the animation and filmmaking industry has spanned nearly 60 years. In that time, she has created and directed at least 70 successful silhouette animation films that cemented her status as an animator not to be messed with.
Among those projects are versions of “Cinderella,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and, one of her best-known projects, a 1926 silent film, “The Adventures of Prince Achmed.” The lattermost is considered one of the first full-length animated feature films ever made.
Scherenschnitte, German for “scissor cuts,” refers to the art form of cutting designs on paper using scissors. It originated in China and was then popularized in Germany.
This is what Lotte Reiniger did as a female animator, and her expressive works caught the attention and led her to meet tons of talented puppeteers, directors, and producers, such as French film director Jean Renoir.
The reason for her success has been her unwavering determination, her complex creative visions, and her meticulous editing. Don’t forget that this was around the early 1900s. During that time, women were primarily relegated to smaller positions –– All the more reason to be inspired by female animator Lotte Reiniger.
The animation world would probably have been different if it weren’t for her.
2. Lillian Friedman Astor
Image via Wikipedia
The first thing you should know about this hardworking woman in animation is that she was actually rejected by Disney. However, that didn’t stop her. Lillian Friedman Astor is known as the first female studio animator, having worked at Disney’s rival studio, Fleischer Brothers Studio.
She started out as an inker, inking their animated cartoons. Animator James “Shamus” Culhane then took her under his wing, and Astor was promoted to his assistant, where she was tasked to create the intermediate drawings between two images. This task would then give audiences the impression of a smooth movement.
Impressed by her skill, Culhane secretly promoted Astor to an animator, where she animated Betty Boop, Popeye, and Hunky and Spunky cartoons. However, as it was a secret, a ton of her works were left uncredited, such as her animation of the 1934 Popeye cartoon called “Can You Take It.”
She also animated some of Fleischer’s Color Classics. In case you didn’t know, Fleischer Studios Color Classics are a series of animated short films, 36 in total, produced for Paramount Pictures. Like Reiniger, Astor pursued a career in animation during the early 1900s, paving the way for the future of animation and the success of female animators for generations to come.
3. Ellen Woodbury
Image via Walt Disney Wiki
In 1994, Disney offered the position of a supervising animator to a woman for the first time. Meet Ellen Woodbury. When she first stepped into the animation industry during the early 80s, the world of animation appeared a bit lackluster, with most animation studios sticking to solely simple children’s series.
Basically, if you didn’t work at a major studio, you’d have a little more trouble picking up a paycheck.
Ellen Woodbury worked at Walt Disney Studios during their renaissance period, bringing to life characters like Abu from “Aladdin,” Zazu from “The Lion King,” and Pegasus from “Hercules.” Throughout her twenty years as an animator, she’s made a name for herself as Disney’s first female supervising animator and is considered a highly-respected woman in animation.
But before she made history, this female animator worked at the small-time animation studio Filmation. Although this studio created many cartoons during the 60s, 70s, and 80s, they were always running on a tight budget, so Woodbury was yet to make the most of her animation skills. However, it was enough to get her recognized by Disney Studios.
There, she started as a cleanup artist on the 1986 film, The Great Mouse Detective, before climbing up the ladder and eventually becoming their female animator.
According to an interview by the animation group Women In Animation, Woodbury is known for her keen eye, her attention to detail, her eagerness to learn, and her ferocity in tackling new challenges.
4. Niki Yang
Image via AdventureTime Wiki
Yang has been considered one of the most sought-after women in animation. Her passion for drawing and arts has been there since she was a young girl in South Korea, but she initially wanted to work as a comic book artist.
This female animator enrolled in the California Institute of the Arts, better known as CalArts, after graduating from Hongik University. There, she started to become exposed to filmmaking and animation –– The start of what would be her future in animation.
Animation website Keyframe has referred to Yang as a renaissance woman in the field of animation, having worked as a storyboard artist, writer, voice artist, and supervising director.
Think of popular TV series “Adventure Time,” “Family Guy,” “Fish Hooks,” “Gravity Falls,” and “Fanboy and Chum Chum.” Such shows had Yang as a storyboard artist on board, reflecting her animation skill, creativity, and ability to work on such different projects. However, Yang’s talent doesn’t end there.
Disney’s “Gravity Falls” and Cartoon Network’s “Adventure Time'' showed us that Yang is more than an animator. Our renaissance woman has also lent her voice to the characters of Candy Chiu on Gravity Falls and BMO and Lady Rainicorn on Adventure.
GIF via GIPHY
With a ton of successful series under belt and a future so bright you need glasses, look to Yang as a motivation and an inspiration whenever you’re struggling to make it in animation.
5. Emily Dean
Image via EmilyDean.net
Emily Dean’s animation career began at the Australian Film Radio School (AFTRS) where she graduated and earned a certificate in Animation Directing. From there, she continued to pursue animation at CalArts and then began training at the Pixar Studios Story Department.
If there’s one way you can describe Emily Dean, it’s passionate. From the age 12, this female animator was already playing around with animation. And because of how dedicated she was to the craft, she pretty soon found herself working with major studios, like Warner Bros and Sony Pictures Animation.
Furthermore, she was also included by Variety’s 10 Animators to Watch during 2019, proving from early on that she’s one to be taken seriously.
A couple of her creative contributions can be seen in “Scooby Doo! And The Gourmet Ghost,” “The Lego Movie 2,” and the 2019 Academy Award-winning short film, “Hairlove.”
Dean has also worked on the 3rd volume of the popular and Emmy Award-winning animated Netflix anthology, “Love, Death + Robots.” Also working on the animated show is the Academy Award-nominated director, David Fincher.
To save the best for the last, Emily Dean has also founded her production studio, Grade 8 Productions. It’s been up and running since 2017 and Dean has been writing, animating, directing, and producing animated content for it since then.
6. Lindsey Olivares
Image via CartoonBrew
A rising star in the animation industry, Lindsey Olivares took up Computer Animation at Ringling College of Art and Design and began working at DreamWorks Animation in 2009. There, she worked under the visual development team of “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” as a form of training.
Olivares had the chance to witness the animated film’s early development to the end of its production. This made her grasp the value of animation production and understand its ins and outs.
She then moved to pursue freelance animation before eventually working for Sony Pictures Animation. She has even been listed in Variety’s Top 10 Animators to Watch in 2021.
Besides working on Madagascar 3, she has also contributed to DreamWork’s “Penguins of Madagascar” and SPA’s “The Emoji Movie.” But perhaps Olivares is better known for the 2021 computer-generated science fiction film, “The Mitchells vs The Machines.”
Since she began working at Sony Pictures, this female animator became the production designer and lead character designer on the animated film. In her interview with Variety, Olivares shared, “I really loved pushing and breaking the medium.” The film’s lead character Katie was designed with such a quirky and unique feel to it.
Olivares also comments on how the film’s overall design is an extension of caricature. In an interview with animation website CartoonBrew, she says, “I think I wanted it to look just like a sketch.”
Overall, Lindsay Olivares reminds animators to keep exploring their animation styles and putting themselves out there.
7. Domee Shi
Image via Vogue
Ever heard of the Disney animated film “Turning Red” or the animated Pixar short “Bao”? You have Domee Shi to thank for that.
Despite initially being rejected by Pixar Studios, Domee Shi has now made history as the first woman to direct a Pixar short and a solo feature there throughout the studio’s 36-year history.
Ever since she was young, Shi wanted nothing more than to become an artist, posting her works on DeviantArt. She then enrolled in Sheridan College, which helped her make her way into the animation industry. For Shi, it was her passion and determination that catapulted her to the top.
Shi began as a storyboarding intern for Pixar in 2011, which she admitted was tough work. However, following that, she continued to stay on as a staff artist, contributing to various films, such as “Inside Out,” “Incredibles 2,” and “Toy Story 4.”
In an interview with the website That Shelf, she shared that pitching stories were the most terrifying part of the job. However, that seems to have worked out well for her with the success of her pitched animated films “Bao” and “Turning Red.” The former even won an Academy Award in 2019 for Best Animated Short Film.
On Turning Red, Vanity Fair commends Shi’s “authentic approach to storytelling” as the film intelligently captures the complex diversity within the global Asian community. So not only is Shi a skilled woman in animation, this female animator is a woman who has and will continue to give a voice to the Asian and Asian-American community in Hollywood.
What Makes The Top 7 Female Animators You Should Know So Special
With all they’ve brought to the table, these powerhouse female animators have changed the animation game, and they’re continuing to do so.
In a world where men have often had the upper hand, it takes guts to take what rightfully belongs to you, not just as a female animator but as a woman in the workforce. But from popularizing different animation techniques to performing pivotal positions in hit movies, these women serve as an inspiration and a motivation to follow your passion.
And that’s just one of the reasons they’re so special.
These female animators are breaking the glass ceiling. With their creative contributions in the animation industry, they’re adding authenticity, improving old designs and concepts, and giving a voice to everyone who wants to become like them. And if there’s one thing they’re telling you, it’s to keep an open eye and continue honing your animation styles.
For more tips on developing your business skills as a freelance animator or animation studio owner, you can join our informative free masterclass, download a copy of our free marketing handbook, and check out our blog on “How to Start an Animation Studio”!