Smithsonian’s Reel Culture Blog: ‘Five Women Animators that Shook Up the Industry’

Brave, the latest animated offering from Disney/Pixar, features a female lead character for the first time in the studio’s history.

In light of all the press focusing on the traditional gender role-busting character of Merida,’s Reel Culture blog last week featured the post Five Women Animators Who Shook Up the Industry, a short list of pioneering women in animation.

Among the five mentioned, two are CalArtians: visual/theater artist and filmmaker Janie Geiser, a School of Theater faculty member, and the late Helen Hill, an animator, activist and CalArts alumna (Film/Video MFA 95).

Writer Daniel Eagan describes Geiser’s ouvre: “[Her] films combine cut-outs, dolls, graphics, newspapers, and other items to form a collage of animation effects. She uses collage for the soundtracks as well, layering snippets of dialogue, industrial sounds, and music to form dense, elusive aural clouds.”

On Hill’s work, Eagan writes, “[She] completed 21 short films that explored the full range of animation, from stop-motion with models to painting directly onto celluloid… Hill loved film as a medium, studying filmmaking methods and learning how to process stock. Her Recipes for Disaster: A Handcrafted Film Cookbooklet has become a standard resource for alternative filmmakers.”

The other three filmmakers mentioned in the post were Lotte Reiniger, who’s credited with directing the first feature-length animated film The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926); Jennifer Yuh Nelson, storyboard artist and director of Kung Fu Panda 2; and Sally Cruikshank, writer, animator and director of Quasi at the Quackadero.

In 2009, Geiser and Hill also made another short list. Geiser’s The Red Book (1994) and Hill’s CalArts thesis film Scratch and Crow (1995) were among the annual selection of 25 motion pictures preserved as cultural, artistic and/or historical treasures in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

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