While we are familiar with the popularity of animated film studios like Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks, animation has not always been a cultural touchstone. In the early days of film, animated films were often disregarded because it was considered as childish entertainment, akin to a puppet show. Although animated films emerged in the late 19th century, the golden age of American animation did not begin until the 30s and 40s. During this period, womxn were sent to ink and paint departments of major studios, and were excluded from powerful creative roles.
Despite this professional exclusion, several talented female animators emerged in their own right. Today, these womxn are becoming more recognized as pioneers and mothers of the art form. However, their films have yet to gain the fame and name recognition that they deserved in their time.
As an animation fanatic and aspiring animator myself, I had the most incredible time researching these films. Animation history has long fascinated me, but watching these womxn’s films has deepened my understanding and highlighted the complexities of the art form. It is incredibly powerful to watch these historic pieces through the eyes of the womxn who created them. To honor the legacies of these artists, here are 6 animated art films by womxn.
The Adventures of Prince Achmed by Lotte Reiniger
Charlotte “Lotte” Reiniger is widely regarded as the first female animator. She pioneered silhouette animation, in which she created puppet-type creations with pins to manipulate character joints. She made more than 40 films throughout her career, including The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), the oldest surviving feature-length animated film. The film was inspired by folk art methods, fables, and music.
The Nose by Claire Parker and Alexandre Alexeieff
Claire Parker, a graduate from MIT, was both an engineer and an animator. She is best known for inventing the Pinscreen - a grid of thousands of metal rods that are manually pushed into position and filmed frame by frame. This hand-operated machine is known as one of the predecessors to the grid pixel system that we are familiar with today. This machine was used to create this animated short, The Nose, which was the first narrative film to ever use the pinscreen.
Revolution in Toyland by Hermína Týrlová
Týrlová is often credited as the Mother of Czech Animation. She focused on children’s short films, and pioneered the field of stop motion animation - the same method used in movies/shows like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Wallace and Gromit. Her films are fantastical - Týrlová represented wondrous worlds through children’s eyes. She used materials like rags, fibers, and simple toys in her film Revolution in Toyland. Her choice of material was purposeful: she meant to show children that any object around them can be brought to life.
The Street by Caroline Leaf
Caroline Leaf is a Canadian animator celebrated for her emotional and artistically beautiful films. She has handcrafted many innovative techniques that use unconventional materials. She is known for using beach sand on a lightbox to create fluid movement. Her award winning short The Street focuses on the emotions that arise in a family caring for ill or elderly loved ones. I’ve never seen any movies quite like hers, they’re like stepping into a dream.
Pinball by Suzan Pitt
Suzan Pitt was an American experimental animator and painter. She created gorgeous, surreal animated films dealing with a variety of psychological topics. This film, Pinball, is a visually cacophonous and fascinating short film. It is an abstraction of animated paintings by Pitt, using fast cutting and disorienting and sound effects. Although I wouldn’t recommend this film to those who suffer from epilepsy or motion sickness, it is a fascinating watch.
The Breadwinner by Nora Twomey
Nora Twomey is an Irish animator and director who co-founded Cartoon Saloon, an animation studio and production company. Her film The Breadwinner received a nomination for Best Animated Feature Film in 2017. This beautiful film tells the story of an Afghan family struggling against the patriarchal construction of Kabul. It is celebrated for featuring a bold animation style, and highlighting a brave, young female protagonist.
This piece was my favorite to research, ever. I’ve loved with animation since I was a kid, creating stop motion lego videos and flip books. I remember watching Pixar movies on the VCR in my room for hours and hours, trying to draw my favorite characters from hand. Since then, it has been my dream to work in the field of animation.
Getting to fall in love with these beautiful films made for a really fun day of research for me. I’m excited to be heading into an industry with the rich and creative history of these womxn. I received a large amount of my information from the website Great Women Animators, a catalog of female animators spanning over decades and many different regions of the world. Each one of these womxn has work that you can publicly view online. If you want to feel as artistically inspired as I do right now, I highly recommend clicking on the links in this article and admiring the gorgeous work of the animators.