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Vanity Fair on Disney’s Ink-and-Paint Girls

Disney Ink-and-Paint Girl

Patricia Zohn writes about Disney’s ink-and-paint girls in this month’s Vanity Fair. She started researching the topic after speaking to her aunt, Rae Medby McSpadden, a former ink-and-paint artist. Most of the facts will be familiar to animation history buffs, but it’s a well-written slice-of-life piece that adds color to the bygone days:

During Snow White, it was not at all unusual to see the “girls”–as Walt paternalistically referred to them–thin and exhausted, collapsed on the lawn, in the ladies’ lounge, or even under their desks. “I’ll be so thankful when Snow White is finished and I can live like a human once again,” Rae wrote after she recorded 85 hours in a week. “We would work like little slaves and everybody would go to sleep wherever they were,” said inker Jeanne Lee Keil, one of two left-handers in the department who had to learn everything backward. “I saw the moon rise, sun rise, moon rise, sun rise.” Painter Grace Godino, who would go on to become Rita Hayworth’s studio double, also remembered the long days merging into nights: “When I’d take my clothes off, I’d be in the closet, and I couldn’t figure it out: am I going to sleep or am I getting up?”

  • Great article!

  • This reminds me of a similar article my girl friend gave me from Cosmo that was about the women in the anime industry. Tell you what the conditions there have not changed since they were like this here. Th woman spoke about her futon under her desk waking up at noon going to bed at 6 or 7 am the next day and only going home on Sundays (its a 6 day work week over there).

    • Eve

      @Robert Kohr
      Hi, I currently have to write a paper about the history of animation and I was wondering if you still had a copy of that Cosmo article, or possibly a link to it? I would love to read it. Thanks so much.

  • As much as we’d like to thank “uncle” Walt for advancing and pushing the limits of animation, I think we can also agree that he was a compulsive “workaholic”.

    It’s sad to hear he put people thru so such hard times to get his films made.

    Though i agree traditional animation takes time and alot of man-power, I would always side on the edge of “humanitarianism” over “monetary success” any day. There’s no reason at all to over-work your employees like that. I don’t care how big your name is.

    Great to hear all sides to this company’s behind the scenes.

  • She also has an article on Huffington Post about Marge Belcher Champion and the modeling, reference footage she did for Disney. A few factual errors, but otherwise good:


  • elan

    Well. Some things never change.

    Oh wait, I guess it does. Now instead of Ink and Paint, its the animators who work 85 hour weeks…

  • Dan

    “..they may have been caught in a sand trap of repetitive, highly precise work where eyes strained, waistlines shrank, and some even fainted, but they loved what they did and wanted to be the best.”

    When I asked Jeanne if she thought anyone bore any grudges for being overlooked, she shook her head and laughed, “We were having too much fun!” As painter Claudia Hubley Thompson, Rae’s housemate and closest friend, would suggest six decades later, in language summoned from the time, “The idea of working at Disney’s was just the end, the very end.”

    What do people have against hard work. Even Milt hated lazy animators. Even Richard Williams has said animation is hard work, if you don’t like hard work then you probably shouldn’t be in animation. If you love something you want to do it all the time.

  • Brian Reynolds

    It’s easy to look back now and wonder why everyone had to work so hard when many animated features have been proven successes since that time, but when they were making “Snow White,” the Disney studio was on the bubble, deeply in debt. They HAD to get it finished and get it out there to at least give it a chance to make money. And, if it hadn’t, that would have very likely been the end of the studio.

  • purin

    It’s true that when you love something you’re willing to put through so much nonsense for it. That’s why some people would rather be starving artists than anything else (aside from fed, successful artists, of course).

    Even still, that is a whole lot of BS they had to put up with, most of it a product of the times. On the other hand, the same sexism that felt women couldn’t animate is what got them into the industry in the first place: they were legally cheap labor. The world is a screwy place…

    Then again, I remember reading that the voice actors for Snow White and the prince weren’t invited to the premier, either, and had to sneak in. I wonder why.

  • Rio

    I agree with Dan. Even though work was tough and finding work was tougher, they could have walked out. But, they didn’t cause they loved their work.

    The truth is, they didn’t always work 85 hour work weeks either.

  • Horacio

    Hey Dan, I see your point how you’d want to work at something you love to do for hours(*especially for a big studio such as Disney) But there’s a difference between that and slave labour.

    I doubt any employees with a family or a “life” outside of work thought it was peachy.

    You see this even today! Animators are crapped on for not putting in 60-75 hrs. What the hell’s that about? You wanna live like that?? (*nothing personal)

    I love my work, but i also have enough self-respect to balance that with a life.