No Girls Allowed?

Men Working

Danny Hayes, a guy who worked on Coraline, complains in Bitch magazine that the Coraline production was too much of a boys-only club. Says Danny:

Make no mistake — Coraline (the just-released stop-motion feature made by Laika Productions right here in Bitch’s hometown of Portland, OR) may be a girl’s story, but the animation industry is still very much a boys’ club. Stick around for the credits after the film and you’ll see that the screenwriter, director, editors, most of the animators, and the “Based on the Novel by” guy are all dudes. This tidbit may come as a surprise, but it shouldn’t. Men were at the helm of almost every major animated feature in recent and not-so-recent history, including those movies that have been embraced specifically by female audiences.

But what does keeping female voices out of the upper echelons of the movie machine do to the industry as a whole?

In my (admittedly limited) experience, it creates a stressful, and at times hostile, work environment. From Henry Selick (the movie’s sometimes maniacal leader) on down, there was definitely a machismo feeling on the set. Competition among co-workers and an assembly-line type of atmosphere was imposed on employees, most of whom were there because of their obsession with the art form but let down by the studio’s poor treatment of its workers.

Danny has a valid point that animation production in general is too male-dominated, but I’d argue that the situation has been changing very rapidly during the past decade. Though the mainstream industry’s creative figureheads remain almost entirely male, the independent animation industry has become much more diverse, with many of the coolest commercials, music videos and independent films being made by women like Gaelle Denis, Suzie Templeton and Laurie Thinot. Two recent indie animation features were also directed by women–Tatia Rosenthal’s $9.99 and Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues–and women are principals of some of the coolest studios around like Shy the Sun, Panda Panther and Tiny Inventions. In other words, the animation world is currently experiencing an unprecedented diversification of its gender make-up, and as a result, the art form is becoming much richer and more interesting to watch.


  • http://rufftoon.livejournal.com/ JMatte

    I’ve been in the business long enough to see it change. It IS still very much a boy’s club, but there are more and more talented women making their way in production (one example, Lauren Montgomery, director of the soon to be released Wonder Woman dvd).

    Vera Brosgol worked on story on Coraline…it would be interesting to hear her take on the production and if she felt the atmosphere described.

    “…Competition among co-workers and an assembly-line type of atmosphere was imposed on employees, most of whom were there because of their obsession with the art form…”

    Gee, that describes a lot of the studios or production I’ve been on, ha ha!

  • http://zipmartin.deviantart.com Ian Vazquez

    “…and the ‘based on the novel guy’ are all dudes”

    Yeah, Neil Gaiman should really start hiring women to write his books. Sexist.

    In defense of Coraline though, two of their animator spotlight videos on YouTube are focused on women (one who did all of the character’s hair and one who knitted everything….knit)

  • Andre

    I’d initially got interested in Coraline’s production via livejournal updates of one of it’s storyboard artists, Vera Brosgol, who got a big break with this film. More female voices is always a good thing, but it’s too bad he’s overlooking some roles like this on Coraline.

    ps— Vera’s an insanely awesome cartoonist, and it’s always cool to see comics people break into stuff like Coraline.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0327597/fullcredits#cast

    Looking at the IMDB credits, asides from Vera, the producers were both female, two of the assistant directors [3 if Jodi Rosenlof's a girl], and browsing more shows that there’s dozens of women who worked on the film. I’m now kind of irked that Bitch magazine has apparently severely downplayed their importance in getting the film made just to give the article a “Look, Sexism!” aspect. How is being a film’s producer, storyboard artist, art supervisor or model maker not relevant?

  • http://bungleton.blogspot.com Andrew Leal

    Animator Teresa Drilling, who did great work back with Will Vinton as a key animator/sequence director on several specials and contributed to Chicken Run, also worked on the film. Here’s an interview with her:
    http://www.thedailynewsonline.com/articles/2009/02/06/entertainment/5139147.txt

    Doesn’t mention the boys club aspect, but to ditto JMatte, and I confess I’d be interested to hear from her or one of the other women employees on this. (No offense to the sander, but his impression could be off). And also ditto, a lot of that seems par for the course in animation (or, often as not, other parts of the film industry even) and not really any “machismo” thing.

    And stop-motion is a smaller world and one with limited cross-over (as far as the animators and physical crew are concerned, not the story people and so on) with other areas, and many of the best women in that area (Joan C. Gratz comes to mind) have opened up their own shops. I’m not sure I really get the piece as a whole, unless it’s calling for more women directors, which I can understand. As far as “Coraline” is concerned, though, while Selick may well have been hard to deal with, I’m not sure who Hayes would have preferred as a suitable replacement with the same experience and who would have even wanted to mess with a stop-motion feature.

    On the whole, though, as Amid says, right now, the indie sector and commercial fields are more likely to spotlight the work of creative women, which given the state of most US features today, really isn’t that big a shock anyway. And even in the mainstream area, you have Brenda Chapman at Disney/Pixar directing and writing.

  • http://amymebberson.blogspot.com Amy Mebberson

    I’d love to know how long Danny Hayes has worked in animation. If he’s SURPRISED it’s still a majority-male industry, I’m guessing not long.
    The top-tier lineup for Coraline sounds no worse than any other Feature studio.
    ALL animators are competitive to an extent, that’s hardly some machismo thing.
    From MY experience, I’ve certainly never felt ‘held back’ as a woman artist.

  • http://www.verabee.com verabee

    I worked in story on Coraline for three years and was aware of no sexism or discrimination anywhere on the production. I always felt very welcome and valued. There was a higher male to female ratio, but as mentioned that’s pretty standard, and it’s changing. In fact, I got the impression that there was actually a larger proportion of women involved in stop-motion than in CG or 2D, and they were present all throughout the process. There were female editors, animators, set dressers and painters, a female costume department, female production staff, and a woman in charge of the entire puppet department, along with several leads. Danny also neglected to mention that both producers were women.

  • elan

    There was a similar discussion on the TAg blog recently about sexism in the industry (as a whole) and after a zillion or so posts, the general consensus wasnt that “males are keeping females out” but more often than not “there’s less female applicants than male.”

    Unless you hire every female who applies and only 10% of the males, there’s no getting around it. I wonder what the male/female ratio is at art/animation schools?

  • http://animationaddiction.blogspot.com Kevin

    Point taken.

    That said, Sarah de Gaudemar and Guionne Leroy, both animators on Coraline, are doing some of the most exciting work in stop motion period!

  • Hulk

    I’ll bet you that’s the first and last time anyone refers to Henry Sellick as “macho”.

  • Cliff

    Marjane Satrapi, Vicky Jenson, and Lindsey Collins all say hi.

  • Dave!

    Okay, I’m not a fanboy (really, I’m not) but when the article actually lambastes *Neil Gaiman* for being a male “‘Based on the Novel by’ guy” they lose all credibility. Seriously.

  • http://justforspite.blogspot.com Gene Hole

    “what does keeping female voices out of the upper echelons of the movie machine do to the industry as a whole?”

    while a valid inquiry, this seems to me to be a less useful question than, say, “IS there something keeping female voices out of the upper echelons of the movie machine?” followed by something like, “WHAT is keeping female voices out of the upper echelons of the movie machine?”

    THEN you can ask, “what is the effect of the imbalanced female to male ratio, for good or bad?”

    To ask the question as it is phrased in Danny’s article is to make the assumption that some secret force is intentionally preventing women from working in the industry.
    While there are certainly instances where gender bias is to blame, there surely must be other factors involved in the “gender imbalance,” like, say, the fact that more males than females may actually WANT and PURSUE a career in this field.
    Shocking as it may seem, some females actually CHOOSE other directions for their lives than playing king/queen of the hill of the career world; things like staying at home or even working only part-time in order to devote more effort to raising a family (a noble and valuable contribution to society).
    I’m not one of those guys who think women should “stay in the kitchen where they belong” by any means, but am merely suggesting that there are many women who do choose domestic roles voluntarily, and that this may play more of a hand in the “gender imbalance” in the workplace than foul play or the He-man Woman Haters who are out there.

  • Paul K.

    For a detailed, thorough answer toward why there are more men than women in the animation business, read this wonderful article:
    http://www.psy.fsu.edu/~baumeistertice/goodaboutmen.htm
    Simply put, the visual arts industry is a risky, hierarchical, and goal (rather than process) emphasized system that is fueled by multiple shallow relationships (rather than deep & few) and interchangeable, designated specialists.
    No conspiracy here people, just culture competing with culture.

  • Marc Baker

    it’s not often you hear about the women who’ve worked in animation. Then again, it’s hard for me to find a nice girl who’s just as enthusiastic about animation, or comics as i am. If anything, the only women you do hear about in animated films are the female cast members who lend their voices. (in this case, Dekota Fanning, and Teri Hatcher.)

    • Samuels

      You don’t get out often, do you?

  • http://www.germanshible.com German S.

    this is a very interesting argument and i look forward to reading more posts from both sides. to be honest I have not formulated an opinion about this because it’s never come to mind. perhaps that says something to?

  • http://www.sexymecha.com Hal

    I’d feel different if it was a girl complaining (not sure why he’s taking a stand on this if he’s a guy, I’d prefer one of the lone women on the project to talk about this instead) but first and foremost I don’t see why the lack of women creates a “stressful environment” to work in. That’s a loaded statement, as a bad director/designer of either sex mucks up the works for all involved, regardless of gender. I do agree that there is a ddistinctive creative perspective that the presence of women artists adds to the “boys club” of animation, even on the student level. My experience in animation studios as a young animator has been fairly balanced – there have always been a solid group of women artists and animators at the studios I’ve been at, at some times more women than men, and that means as we all continue our careers, more women will be moving into the lead positions. In addition to great independent filmmakers like Nina Paley, we also have Vicky Jenson who co-directed Shrek (certainly one of the most successful features in recent years) and Shark Tale, as well as Lauren Montgomery who just completed the WONDER WOMAN direct to video feature, and directed the SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY feature as well. I’ll be the first to say that its hard to break into the “boys clubs” that are out there in this industry, but those are usually studios that have been around over a decade and have a set staff. With so many friends who are talented women in animation, illustration and design, I think things are levelling off especially on newer shows where the younger generation of artists (of both sexes) are making their mark. For the veteran studios and productions its hard for any young artists to break in and I’d imagine Selick’s studio is no different.

  • http://mrdarbyshire.com Michael

    I actually had a decent comment to post about this, but Gene Hole took the words out of my fingers.

  • Kate

    I haven’t been working in animation for very long, but I have a lot of male friends in animation and they’re all darling. The studio where I work is 3:1 boys to girls, but I love it there and all the guys are totally professional and cool. But I’m very fortunate and I don’t speak for all girls. I’m sure like all industries, there are some real assclowns you have to put up with.

    But for those curious about why some of us girls get our feathers ruffled about sexism, you should look to Gene Hole’s answer. Those are questions that never get asked enough. I’m very lucky that I haven’t had to deal with a lot of sexism, and I never look for a fight about it (not with my potty mouth, at least), but it’s a problem. And seriously, much love to the guys who speak up about this. God knows I appreciate it.

    (Btw, shout-out to my heroes, Brenda Chapman, Susie Dietter, Jennifer Crittenden, Marjane Satrapi, and Kathy Zielinski. HOLLA!)

  • http://blog.ninapaley.com Nina Paley

    In my (admittedly limited) experience, it creates a stressful, and at times hostile, work environment. From Henry Selick (the movie’s sometimes maniacal leader) on down, there was definitely a machismo feeling on the set. Competition among co-workers and an assembly-line type of atmosphere was imposed on employees…

    sarcasm:

    And if women were in charge it would be an egalitarian, loving, supportive, soothing environment, because women are nurturing and supportive by nature.

    /end sarcasm

    I can appreciate that it’s nice to have a diverse work environment, but I assure you, women can be as tyrannical, power-hungry, and awful as men. Many horrible managers are women. True, the horror might not have the same “machismo” flavor, but mismanagement knows no gender.

  • http://www.scuzzbopper.blogspot.com Ken Priebe

    I also noticed that in Ray Harryhausen & Tony Dalton’s ‘Century of Stop Motion’ book, all of the animators mentioned are men, pretty much. This is also accounted for the fact that their book focuses mostly on ‘Model Animation’ i.e. dinosaurs & creatures for live-action film effects. Monsters attacking cities is pretty much a guy thing.

    The only women animators who got very brief passing references in the book were Virginia May, Helena Smith Dayton and Hermina Tyrlova. Few and far between are female puppet-pushers, but it’s interesting that these three, at least, were all pioneers in their specific disciplines of that art form.

    In modern times, Teresa Drilling and the others mentioned in previous posts here are certainly trail-blazers for stop-motion. Another name is Angie Glocka, who animated on the 80s Gumby series and on Nightmare Before Christmas.

  • Jon Reeves

    Also, don’t forget Jill Culton, ex-Pixar and co-director of Sony’s Open Season.

  • JMatte

    Almost forgot- Jen Yuh Nelson on Kung Fu Panda 2!

  • Paul N

    I’ve been teaching animation at the college level for over two years now, and in that short time I’m seeing the ration of men to women changing in favor of the women. Admittedly, it’s a small microcosm, but when I see it happen at two different schools, I have to believe that it’s indicative of some kind of shift. The fall class at one school was comprised of more women than men, by a lot.

    It may still be mostly a boy’s club, but that’s changing.

  • http://www.hunteachother.com Max W.

    Nina’s comment is the best one on here…

  • Killskerry

    I know that to many people it seems as though sexism is an old school problem. As a female animator I feel like I’m living in a boys only club most of the time. The small animation studio I currently work for only has one female artist. Me.
    All the other ladies are employed in accounting or secretarial pursuits. Its not to say that the studio would not hire female artists and animators, but there are actually few to be had in the first place. We have to consider that the limited amoung of girls working is a trend seen in the number of girls graduating with degrees in the field.
    When I graduated with a bachelors degree in Animation only two other girls graduated with me compared to the 15 guys.

    Its easy to feel intimidated in this sausage festival of an atmosphere and sometimes it feels like men are competative in general. But I should point out my male co-workers are not monsters by any stretch of the imagination and just because one production goes badly and happens to be male dominated does not make this a general gender problem. I think in the future this problem will fade a bit and I’m optimistic about womens increased roles in the industry’s future.

    One more thing to point out is that even if there have been fewer women in animation history, some of those women have left impacts so deep they will be remembered as its champions. Artists like Disney’s Mary Blair paved the way for Coraline’s Vera Brosgol.

    For that as an artist and woman I’ll always be thankful.

  • it’s pat

    Oh boy, another feelings-based/substance-free complaint about sexism. Paging Dr. Warren Farrell.

    Schools have indeed made great efforts to encourage high female enrollment in animation programs and develop excellent female talents. Somewhere in the long process between leaving school, shlepping out a billion portfolios, and realizing how economically marginal people are in the creative end of the animation business, the ratio changes. Certain people persist and others don’t. It becomes a 3, 5, 10 to 1 ratio of male to female applicants. Encourage them all and call out sexism where it exists for real, but don’t bash the people who take the disposable jobs.

    Workplace disposability and sacrificing health, happiness or self-determination for economic reward alone is the traditional male condition. It used to be under pressure to perform the male role of breadwinner, which isn’t all that valued any more either- now it’s just plain competition. A fun double-bind.

    http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2008/12/05/losing_jobs_in_unequal_numbers/

  • f. dorsa

    Sympathizing with what Gene Hole and Marc Baker are saying, I’d nevertheless like to say something verrry unpopular:

    Even though the drawings of, say, Käthe Kollwitz, Claire Wendling, Annete Marnat, or Aurelie Blard Quintard etc. etc. are right up there (if not above) anything any male draughtsman could wish to accomplish, the bigger picture is this:
    There’s just not that many girls that can draw really well (and by drawing I don’t lovely mannerisms or great personal style but solid craftsmanship) and drawing’s been traditionally at the heart of our artform. Why that is is a question I find way more interesting than the question discussed here.

  • Tami

    A recent psychological experiment asked people in various professions to evaluate the desirability of fictitious job openings by informing them of the job title, description, location (i.e would the candidate need to relocate and where to), salary and the name of their future boss. The study found that with all other parameters being equal, candidates (male and female), on average would take something around a $7000 pay cut in order to work for a man and not a woman. No one would admit to that, but once crossing all the data, all jobs helmed by women, equal in relative terms to jobs helmed by men, somehow were ranked as less desirable jobs and therefore would require a higher compensation. Sad but true, social prejudices against women bosses are still a reality, and women are still compensated less for jobs equal to men’s. And although I understand the strong desire to deny this possibility, because we all ultimately want to think that we and our friends, male and female are fair and open minded, there is still something else at play.

  • http://saturn2169.blogspot.com Andrea

    I don’t know that I fully understand Danny’s complaints. Is he upset that there aren’t more women in the industry?
    As a female animation student I think it sucks there aren’t more women in the industry, but I almost feel like complaining that there aren’t enough women is like complaining that there aren’t enough men in the cosmetology industry. There aren’t that many women in the industry, because there aren’t as many women applying for jobs or going to school for animation. There are fifteen people in my capstone class for animation and I am one of two girls, the rest are males. I understand that a female perspective is important and I wish more women really wanted to be animators, but I wouldn’t blame men for our absence.

  • Moro

    I doubt that there is much real evil at work here.

  • http://reddiabla.blogspot.com/ Red Diabla

    f. dorsa, not only do I think your viewpoint is unpopular, I also think it’s untrue.

    In my 16+ years in the industry, I’ve seen many a great artist. Most have been men, but I do believe that the women who stay in the industry have to be perceived as better than their male counterparts if they’re to survive in the industry.

    “Personal style” only goes so far when you’re working for the studio system…you HAVE to know how to draw whether you’re male or female if you’re gonna stay in it.

    I don’t think the women with more “personal style” than solid drawing skills are headed off at the pass from getting into animation to begin with, I just don’t think they’re interested in becoming animators.

    Something else to consider: animation is still considered to be a humorous medium(based on what’s come out recently, one could argue that point, but bear with me), and women in our society are definitely encouraged to not be funny like a guy. Don’t make faces, don’t draw silly stuff, etc. I think THAT has more to do as to why more women aren’t in the industry than sexism in the workplace from fellow artists.

    And lastly, there’s something that Tami touched on…a man who acts confident and in charge is considered a leader. A woman who acts that way is more often considered a bitch, NOT a leader.

  • Pedro Nakama

    Yes there are not many women working in the animation industry. But there are more woman in the animation industry than the vfx industry.

    Amid the real story you have to go after is how many directors and producers can’t stand their wives and families so they make the entire production crew work overtime with them so they don’t have to go home at night. Seriously.

  • http://esn.newgrounds.com Esn

    Paul K., thanks for the link to that article. It’s a fascinating read.

    There seem to have been comparatively more women in top roles in animation in the Soviet Union, perhaps as part of the government policy of equality of the sexes. For example, the sisters Valentina and Zinaida Brumberg were major directors of short, middle-length and feature films from the 1920s to the 1970s:
    http://www.animator.ru/db/?ver=eng&p=show_person&pid=958
    http://www.animator.ru/db/?ver=eng&p=show_person&pid=959

    Perhaps this is part of the reason for why Soviet animation has tended to be less… wacky and more gentle-hearted.

    And Aleksandr Tatarskiy mentions that in the 1970s, when he and Kovalyov were allowed to work on their first independent film in the Central Pioneer Palace, the price was working with kids on animation. And they had difficulty getting the boys interested, animation was viewed as a girl’s thing:
    http://niffiwan.livejournal.com/9422.html

    So perhaps, while there is no longer any actual sexism in the US in animation, there is the inertia that comes from having the artistic historical foundations of the art laid entirely by men, making the art as a whole less appealing to women.

  • http://esn.newgrounds.com Esn

    f. dorsa, how about Joanna Quinn and her film “Dreams and Desires: Family Ties”? Some of the best “solid craftsmanship” I’ve seen in an animated film:
    http://vimeo.com/192912?pg=embed&sec=192912

    Lotte Reiniger’s cutout work also featured a lot of very exacting “solid craftsmanship”.

  • JZ

    I understood Danny’s point to be “My experience is that the production of Coraline was male-dominated, which could at many times create an unwelcome and volatile work situation for some, and this is representative of a systemic problem with the animation industry as a whole.” He also seems to be saying that you don’t need to be a female to feel oppressed by masculinity and machismo.

    I think it’s telling that a particular defensive strategy is to list off known female animators and directors in the animation industry. If this is meant to show that the animation industry ISN’T dominated by men, the list is going to have to be a lot longer — probably as long as the list of men. Otherwise, we’re just hearing about individual examples of people who have had success in navigating a system that is working against them as a whole.

    What we need to ask is why there are fewer women applying to animation schools and showing an interest in animation in the first place. Perhaps when you have mostly men (with mostly male experiences) producing content, there aren’t many productions reflecting the experiences young girls and women. Why be a part of something that doesn’t often appeal to you to begin with?

    Yes, the animation industry is improving in this way — but just because things are improving, that doesn’t mean we can’t still be critical of it and wish it would move faster.

  • http://www.bitchmagazine.com Danny Hayes

    Thank You! I completely agree with you, JZ. I wrote the article for Bitch Magazine and I am very excited about the conversations that are happening on that website as well as Cartoon Brew’s. I’ve been called “crazy” by several of my co-workers on Coraline for writing this (I’ll give you two guesses on the gender of those nay-sayers, and I’m guessing you’ll only need one), but I’ve also been reached out to by a couple of animators (whom I don’t even personally know) thanking me for writing the article and and for acknowledging the challenges they face every day out on the floor (again, I’ll let you guess what those animators’ genders were.) I hope that this conversation can continue to happen and that it maybe helps people to think about who’s behind the next major animated feature because THAT’S when were’ going to start seeing more women, blacks, hispanics, and other minorities, and THAT’S when we’re going to start seeing movies that incorporate those voices into the script and production. And trust me- I work at a video store now, and there are just as many girls who are getting exciting about renting cartoons as there are boys (and just as many kids who probably fall somewhere in between on the gender spectrum), so I don’t think that lack of women working in the industry mirrors a lack of interest.

  • Heather Harkins

    I applaud the time-honored tradition of crew members bitching about their director & the atmosphere on set. I’ve done it myself, and it is deeply satisfying. In my experience, when a production makes me sick, my cure is to seek out artists I admire and buy what they’re selling. I saw some great animation in 2008 by independant artists, many of whom are women. I don’t want them to go to bed hungry, so I buy their DVDs, I send money to their PayPal accounts, I beg my local film festival to screen their work, and I encourage my friends to do the same. I don’t think mainstream film financing is flowing out to diverse artists, so I try to take responsibility for making awesome work financially successful.

  • http://www.jessica-plummer.com Jessica Plummer

    *jumps up and down waiving arms* Here’s a lady here, guys!!!

    Personally, the whole male-dominated feel of this industry has never really bothered me. I grew up with three younger brothers, and most of my friends have been guys, so I’ve never felt uncomfortable with an unbalanced ratio at work. Guess I’ll just hafta stick around for a long while and help inject some femininininity??

    ALSO….the short BOTNIK! (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1362368/) was completed recently by a lovely lady from out studio here in Chicago…all while getting married and having a kid at the same time!

  • Peg

    Hey there – I was one of the animators on Coraline (assistant animator actually). There were definitely a lot more male animators than female.

    All of the female animators; Suzanne Twining, Sarah DeGaudemar, Teresa Drilling, Julianna Cox, Guionne Leroy, and Amy Adamy; also facial animator Kim Slate, and animator trainee Rachel Larson, are incredibly talented women who are amazing to work with. All of them are highly respected for the work that they did on the film and had a huge contribution.

    I don’t think that the amount of pressure on the film had to do with it being male dominated. I think that we were all working at a very high level, and being pushed to do our best work. We were working an incredible amount of hours over a long period of time and we all got cranky. Also, there were a lot of strong personalities on the film – lots of interesting & creative people.

    I’m sure that the reasons for the lack of female animators are the same that have plagued all kinds of industries. What’s most important, and most exciting, is that more and more women are arriving on the scene and getting hired, and doing incredible work.