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International Women's Day: Women in Computer Graphics and Animation

Computer Graphics and Animation was once considered to be dominated by men, especially when you didn't know much about the contribution of women of this space. 

In this article, celebrating International Women's Day, I'll recall some of the women who've contributed a lot and influenced the animation world since its very beginning.

Charlotte Reiniger (1899-1981)

Charlotte Reiniger, also known as Lotte Reiniger, was born in Germany and is regarded as the first woman in the world animation history. She is known for her distinct and innovative animation art style using cut-paper silhouette. 

Reiniger had invented her own technique which involved cardboard paper cutouts for making the characters and the props and a system of hinge pins to move the joints of the characters and other objects. 

Reiniger directed more than 40 films in her career including The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) which is considered as the very first and the oldest surviving animated feature film.

Mary Blair (1911-1978)

Mary BlairMary BlairMary Blair
Mary Blair, public domain photo

Marry Blair, born in America, was an animator who worked for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Walt Disney. 

She is known for introducing modern art style to Walt Disney studio. She produced concept art, character design and animation for the films like Dumbo (1941), Song of the South (1946), Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1955) and the Disney theme park It’s a Small World (1966).

Mary didn’t only work for the animated films, but she created murals for the Disney parks and hotels also. In 1991, Mary Blair was regarded as one of the Disney Legends for her extraordinary and integral contribution to the Walt Disney Company. 

Lillian Friedman (1912-1989)

Lillian FriedmanLillian FriedmanLillian Friedman
Lillian Friedman, public domain photo

Lillian Friedman, born in America, is regarded as the first American woman animator working for an animation studio. After being rejected by Disney, she was hired as in-betweener by Max Fleischer of Fleischer Studios in 1930. 

Her primary role was an inker for Betty Boop, Popeye and Hunky and Spunky cartoons. Later after being promoted as an animator, she animated cartoons like Making Stars (1935), Judge for a Day (1935), Be Human (1936), The New Deal Show (1936) and Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (1936)

Lillian worked in the animation industry for less than ten years and got credit for just six of the 42 films on which she worked on as an animator.

Retta Scott (1916-1990)

Retta Scott 1916-1990Retta Scott 1916-1990Retta Scott 1916-1990
Retta Scott, public domain photo

Retta Scott, born in America, is regarded as the first woman to receive screen credit as an animator in Walt Disney Animation Studios. 

With a great desire and ambition to get a career in fine arts, she joined Walt Disney Animation Studios in 1938 in the story development department where one of the Disney’s finest animated movies Bambi was in production process phase. Retta worked as the story drawing and character development artist. 

Due to her artistic skills, she was assigned to animate the characters of the cartoons. This played a pivotal role in the career of Retta as that time women in animation industry were considered only for the routine tasks like ink and painting.

In her career span of 40 years Retta worked on the movies like Fantasia, Dumbo, and The Reluctant Dragon.

Retta Davidson (1921-1998)

Retta DavidsonRetta DavidsonRetta Davidson
Retta Davidson, public domain photo

Retta Davidson was another American animator who worked for Walt Disney Animation Studios. She is often confused with another Disney legend Retta Scott. Yet, like Retta Scott, Davidson is also known as one of the few women animators for Walt Disney Animation Studios during the Golden Era of American animation. 

During the production phase of Sleeping Beauty animated film, Davidson got a job of inker and painter in Disney due to her high level of drawing ability and meticulous attention to detail. 

She continued working in ink and paint on other animated movies Bambi, Fantasia and Pinocchio. After the death of Walt Disney, Davidson left Disney Studios in 1966 and started working as a freelance animator for advertising agencies. 

Retta returned to Walt Disney Studios in 1980 as an animation trainer to train young animators working on The Black Cauldron

Sheila Graber (1940-Present)

Sheila Graber, born in Britain, was a 2D animator and animation trainer at Sunderland University, England. After getting a degree in Fine Art, Sheila started her career as the teacher of animation. 

After 20 years of teaching career, she started working for animated films. During the period of 1970 to 1975 she worked on animated films like Mondrian and Blue Peter

In 1975, a major breakthrough came in Sheila’s career when she was hired by Filmfair to animate a children’s TV series Paddington, based on the Paddington Bear book series by Michael Bond.  Sheila used stop-motion animated puppets to interact with 2D animated drawings of the human characters and objects for this project. 

In 1996, Sheila along with her fellow director Jen Miller, founded the company Graber Miller. After creating 60 animated shorts and 3 animated series, Sheila is still active on her YouTube channel and educating the world with her tutorials, tips and tricks.

Brenda Chapman (1962-Present)

Brenda Chapman, born in America, is an animation film director best known for directing Pixar’s Brave. She is regarded as the first ever woman to direct a full length animated feature film, DreamWorks Animation’s The Prince of Egypt

Chapman first joined Disney as the in-between artist where she worked on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. She also worked as the head of story for The Lion King

After working eight years in Disney, Brenda joined a newly launched animation studio, DreamWorks animation Studios. There she directed The Prince of Egypt. In 2003, she joined Pixar and worked on Cars and Brave

She is the first  woman to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, which she won for Pixar’s Brave.

Sara Bennett (1972-Present)

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Sara Bennett, screenshot of Milk VFX website

Sara Bennett, born in England, started her career as the digital compositor and visual effects artist working on films like Babe: Pig in the City, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Black Hawk Down, The Martian, Ex Machina and Harry Potter movie series. 

After working as the Head of 2D at The Mill Film and TV for seven years, Sara joined Milk VFX as one of the co-founders in 2013. 

In 2016, Bennett won the Academy Award for best visual effects in Alex Garland’s feature Ex-Machina. The winning made her the second ever woman VFX Oscar winner. 

Bennett is one of the members of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and BAFTA.


In this article I have listed just some of the leading women computer graphics artists and mentors starting from the very beginning to the current time. 

There many women working in the industry and contributing their heart and soul to their passion towards CG and VFX. The contribution of those women in the CG world is commendable. 

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