Friday, March 20, 2015


It was disappointing to see a recent Twitter discussion about Disney’s CGI animation of female characters still mired in the same specious arguments that have been going on for the past two years, ever since Disney animator Lino DiSalvo made his notoriously misinterpreted remarks on the technical difficulties of animating CGI princesses back in 2013:  “Historically speaking, animating female characters are (sic) really, really difficult, ’cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very — you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to — you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna (Kristen Bell) being angry.”

Confusion and willful misunderstanding persist despite explanations from professional animators and this statement from a Disney spokesperson“Animation is an intricate and complex art form. These comments were recklessly taken out of context. As part of a roundtable discussion, the animator was describing some technical aspects of CG animation and not making a general comment on animating females versus males or other characters.”

Come on folks, there's plenty of real sexism and misogyny in the animation industry, no need to pick on talented and hard-working Disney designers. Most of the online complaints about Lino’s remarks, some quite angry, are from non-animators and go like this:

1) Lino Disalvo said females are hard to animate because they’re sensitive and have all these emotions. Actually he didn’t say this, read the quote carefully.

2) Disney thinks all females look alike. There’s been a big-eyed, small nosed Glen Keane-designed leading lady type since the 1990s starting with Ariel, Jasmine and Belle, all the way to Rapunzel and beyond. Odd that nobody complained about the hand-drawn female faces. Is it the photorealism of CGI that makes audiences more critical? There’s a fine line between a brand and CGI’s “same face syndrome” . It would be a shame if branding were being imposed on Disney designers and Disney animated feature films were becoming commercials featuring Disney product placements.

3) Female characters are harder to animate than males. Again, Lino did not say this. Read the quote above.

5) Females in animated movies shouldn’t have to be pretty. These ones do. They’re not just pretty faces they’re Disney’s top-of-the-line, insanely lucrative billion dollar PRINCESS BRAND. And when your brand makes $1,274,219,009 billion dollars for one film would you change it? A beautiful brand is a valuable asset. Just ask Apple. Movie stars (and animated leading ladies are movie stars) have always been beautiful. Beauty has power including the power to sell, whether we like it or not. A bad role model for little girls? It’s fantasy and we all need fantasy whether it’s fairy tales or Fifty Shades of Grey. These little girls grow up to demand Cinderella wedding dresses, Disney weddings and honeymoons on Disney island. The fact that most of them don’t look remotely like the Disney princesses would suggest they are not influenced by the princesses’ looks at all but rather by the idea of her.

4) English animator Joanna Quinn said: “It’s not at all hard to draw women showing emotions.Well no it isn't, except these women are not drawn, they’re built and rigged in CGI which has its own special challenges. *See below.

6)  “Every woman in every Disney/Pixar movie in the past decade has the exact same face.” This ill-informed post compares apples to oranges by mixing Disney/Pixar leading men with cartoony supporting male characters and comparing them to princesses. (By the way, tracing chins proves nothing and too many people are misguidedly using this post to illustrate a non-existent point.) Female characters in supporting roles have more diverse faces, like Mother Gothel, Edna Mode, the witch in Brave.

7) CGI has a “SAME-FACE SYNDROME” (where mainly female faces resemble each other). This problem can be easily remedied by switching to traditional 2D animation about which none of these complaints has been made. On the contrary, people usually complain that all the hand-drawn PRINCES look the same!

As any animation professional can tell you, Lino DiSalvo’s remarks are not sexist they merely refer to technical difficulties with CGI rigging. He was trying to say that it’s difficult to keep a pretty female character on model (looking like herself) without her getting ugly when she grimaces with emotion. Look at the original model sheet for Tarzan’s JANE below, then at the CGI version and then the video (with facial rigging) and you’ll see how much she deviates from the model especially when she starts emoting.

The model for Jane was drawn by former Disney animator Ken Duncan 
of DUNCAN STUDIO and the CGI version done by Eyad Hussein, a student at AnimSchool.

While it’s a good thing that audiences are now aware of the animation industry’s misogyny on film and in the studio and are demanding changes, the gratuitous accusations above have created a false controversy. By all means, criticize Disney and other animation studios for treating women disrespectfully, for not giving them equal pay and equal opportunities to write and direct, for representing women as fluffy flibbertigibbets in their films and for possibly imposing a brand on their designers, but labeling misconceptions about technical problems as sexist, distracts from real sexism and misogyny in the industry.