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Updated: Mar 9, 2021

For any film lover, the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival is always an epic event. Each year, the screenings and events become grander and larger, and indeed, the 2018 Festival was brimming with its share of classic reunions and memorable moments. This year, consistently on everyone's lips, was the buzz surrounding a unique panel I was deeply honored to present, under the auspices of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, entitled: An Invisible History — Trailblazing Women of Animation.

The need for balancing this 'her-story' within a wider audience of viewers was never more apparent than while chatting with a noted festival presenter (whose expertise was technologically-based). After exchanging introductions and pleasantries, upon hearing the title and topic of my event, he responded with..."Wow. Really? So you're speaking on what...two women? How did you find them?"

(deep breath) Yes—there's a lot of educating to do.

In just over 90 minutes, audiences were taken on a century-long journey of trailblazing women within animation. From women within the earliest beginnings of moving pictures, to contemporary leaders of animation, the presentation explored the work of thousands of women who 'invisibly' advanced the animation industry.

The laughter, applause and gasps throughout the presentation continued as we moved into a landmark panel of talent featuring women with collectively over 500 years of animation talent, experience and trailblazing...

With 107 year young, Ruthie Tompson

RUTHIE TOMPSON — at 107 years young, Ruthie spent time in the tiny Disney Brothers Kingswell Studio in the early 1920s. She is one of the many local children who appeared in the early "Alice" comedies. She later painted on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), and worked on every Disney animated feature film until The Fox and the Hound (1981). From Ink & Paint, Ruthie moved into Checking and Scene Planning. In the early 1950s, Ruthie became one of the first women within the Camera Union.

GRETCHEN ALBRECHT began her career at Walt Disney Feature Animation in 1972, within the Xerox Department on Robin Hood (1973). Gretchen later learned each discipline of the Ink & Paint Department, trained by longtime Ink & Paint staff from the Disney Hyperion Studios: Jeanie Young, Jean Erwin, Dodie Roberts, Katherine Kerwin and Wilma Baker. Gretchen later took over the department in October 1987 and oversaw the department’s navigation through compressed quota schedules, dramatic staff increases, the creation of new paint systems and the transition into digital animation with the CAPS system.

BONNIE ARNOLD began her career in live-action films, working as an assistant production coordinator on Neil Simon’s The Slugger’s Wife (1984). Arnold transitioned into animation at Walt Disney Feature Animation, receiving her first full production credit on the groundbreaking animated feature Toy Story (1995), followed by Tarzan (1999). In 2001, she moved to DreamWorks Animation. Along with director Dean DeBlois, Arnold received multiple Oscar® nominations for Animated Feature Film for the hugely successful How to Train Your Dragon trilogy. Currently, she is the Co-President of Feature Animation for DreamWorks Animation.

JANE BAER began her animation career working as an assistant animator on Sleeping Beauty (1959). She later returned to Walt Disney Feature Animation as an animator on The Rescuers (1977), The Fox & the Hound (1981), and The Black Cauldron (1985). Jane later established her own animation company Baer Animation with her then husband, Dale Baer, and later ran the studio on her own. Jane was the lead character animator of Bennie The Cab and her studio animated the Toontown sequences for Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988).

BRENDA CHAPMAN started her career at Walt Disney Feature Animation on films that include the Oscar-winning Beauty and the Beast and the Oscar-winning The Lion King, for which she won the Annie Award. Chapman then helped launch DreamWorks Animation Studios, co-directing the Oscar nominated Prince of Egypt. She later joined Pixar Animation Studios where she created, wrote and directed Brave for which she won an Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe.

LORNA COOK is the director of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002). She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and four Annie Awards for her work on Spirit. Her extensive credits as an animator include Don Bluth’s An American Tail (1986), The Land Before Time (1988), All Dogs Go To Heaven (1989), and directing animator on Rock-A Doodle (1991). Lorna was an animator on two Academy Award-winning films from Walt Disney Feature Animation, animating on the lead character, Belle, on Beauty and the Beast (1991) and, on Adult Simba on The Lion King (1994).

TINA PRICE began her animation career working as a key clean up artist with Filmmation Studios, and on Don Bluth’s Banjo the Woodpile Cat (1979). Tina later entered Walt Disney Feature Animation, working with Andreas Deja on The Black Cauldron (1985). Her curiosity for technology led her with a small team to pioneer 3D computer animation in every Disney film from Oliver and Company (1988) to Fantasia 2000 (2000). Working both traditionally and digitally, Tina spent most of her career contributing to every feature animated film at Disney including the award winning short film shown at SIGGRAPH Oilspot and Lipstick (1987), and became the first person to be titled as Head of Computer Animation at Walt Disney.

AMY SMEED received her BFA from School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1997. Smeed began her professional career at Walt Disney Feature Animation in 1998, working as an assistant in the scene set-up department on the production of Dinosaur (2000). She went on to achieve full animator status on Chicken Little (2005), and has since animated on the Disney features Meet The Robinsons (2007), Bolt (2008), Tangled (2010), Wreck-It-Ralph (2012), and the Academy Award winner Frozen (2013).

KATHY ZIELINSKI has worked in the animation industry for 34 years as an animator and supervisor. While a sophomore at CalArts, Kathy won a student Academy Award and Focus Film Award for her student film Guess Who's For Dinner. She began her career at Walt Disney Feature Animation in 1981 and worked on The Great Mouse Detective (1986), The Little Mermaid (1989), Aladdin (1992), The Rescuers Down Under (1990), and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) and the CG feature Frozen (2013). After over a decade of working at Walt Disney Feature Animation, she began working for DreamWorks Animation Studios and in 2001, was trained in 3D computer animation where she worked on many memorable films there, including Kung Fu Panda (2008), How to Train Your Dragon (2010) and The Croods (2013).

On the TCM 'set' before our post-presentation book-signing

It is a deep honor to cast a long-overdue light on the trailblazing accomplishments of these remarkable women of animation. With this event, we clearly shifted the thinking of a wider audience of film fans towards a better understanding of the strong presence of women and their remarkable contributions within animation!

You can now perhaps understand why the research must continue, and the educating continues, as much as possible. There are more trails to blaze as we move ahead with celebrating these remarkable ladies and the thousands more who've shaped our animated worlds.

Brava, Ladies! Brava!

Pre-panel greetings in the Green Room with the legendary Leonard Maltin, Randy Haberkamp with AMPAS, and the remarkable Ruthie Tompson.

Presenting at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, CA

Panelists sign Ink & Paint – The Women of Walt Disney's Animation at The Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, CA

Kathy Zielinski, Amy Smeed and Brenda Chapman at the Panelists Table

Lorna Cook at The Roosevelt Hotel

Tina Price at the Book Signing

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