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Booming toon town draws new gender picture

Women's Impact Report 2012

For decades, animation — like much of the entertainment industry — was dominated by men. And to the untrained eye, it still may appear that way. But women like producer Bonnie Arnold at DreamWorks Animation, whose “How to Train Your Dragon” nabbed big B.O. and an Oscar nom, and her colleague Jennifer Yuh, whose “Kung Fu Panda 2” also followed in the big B.O./kudos path, are the new normal at studios and animation shops across town, breaking through to higher-level jobs as department heads, directors, producers and topping studio animation divisions.

“I wish I had an answer as to why there are so many women who’ve done well in animation,” says Nancy Bernstein, a producer on DreamWorks Animation’s upcoming “Rise of the Guardians.” “What I can tell you is that I came to animation because I love it, love the types of stories you can tell with it, and I think women who’ve done well here have the same feelings toward animation.”

And as this generation of women takes its place in leadership roles at studios and in film production, many have their eye on seeing that the same opportunities are there for the next crop of filmmakers and budding executives behind them.

“I think part of the reason I’m here is because someone saw something in me, mentored me and then took the time to help me because you can’t learn it all by yourself,” says Vanessa Morrison, president of Fox Animation Studios. “So I want to pay that forward and mentor the next group of talented people who come to us.”

Michelle Raimo-Kouyate, president of production for Sony Pictures Animation, also believes in fostering new voices.

“We all benefit when there are diverse, new ideas in an art form,” says Raimo-Kouyate. “So you want great filmmakers from all backgrounds working with you.”

For Dawn Rivera-Ernster, director of talent development and recruitment for Walt Disney Animation Studios, it’s her quest to find the next generation of talented young female applicants for all positions at the studio.

“We’re very interested in having women come and apply for every position that’s available,” says Rivera-Ernster. “We get lots of female applicants in many areas but there’s still a lack of them for some of the more strictly engineering or programming types of positions so young women who are interested in those areas should really see that as an opportunity.”

While animation studios are on the lookout for motivated job seekers and studio heads are eager to help the next promising group of filmmakers and managers, many women in animation think it’s a personality type — not necessarily a gender — that’s pulled toward animation.

“Animation was once not taken as seriously as live action,” says Arianne Sutner, producer of “ParaNorman.” “And we’re still fighting to be taken as seriously as other types of filmmaking so I think the kinds of people who do this really have to love it and be willing to take the risks that come with being out front.”

Filmmakers who come to animation find they can put together just about any visuals they can imagine – given enough time and money – but there are other aspects of this genre that hold a special appeal.

“I love that when you’re on a project you’re there with the crew for as long as three to five years so you’re really able to get to know people well and you have each other’s backs,” says Katherine Sarafian, a producer on “Brave.” “And there’s also the chance to really work on something, perfecting it, until it’s where it needs to be.”

Kristina Reed, a producer with Walt Disney Animation Studios who worked on “Paperman,” a black and white short that combines computer and hand-drawn animation, agrees.

“Sometimes that (perfecting) process is painful when you go over something again and again, and I don’t want to generalize about the abilities of women versus those of men,” says Reed. “But I do find nurturing and developing talent over the long haul on an animated film very satisfying and meaningful.”

These women have found the company culture at many animation studios is a huge plus as well.

“We’ve been lucky to work in an environment where we’re supported by someone like Jeffrey Katzenberg, who is family friendly and has a sense of being a team player,” says Christina Steinberg, a producer on “Rise of the Guardians.” “So you can work very hard at your job and also be able to have a life outside of that job.”

Michelle Murdocca, who produced “Hotel Transylvania,” says the appeal of animation is that she can make something that will have a positive impact on people and children. “Those things matter to me and make the hard work worthwhile,” she adds.

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