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Female animators break down cartoon-women stereotypes

Associated Press logo Associated Press 1/23/2017
This undated sketch by Stephanie Delazeri, an animation student at California Institute of the Arts in Santa Clarita, Calif., shows "The Princess," an archetypal female character. More women are entering the field of animation, and one of their goals is to create more realistic female characters. Cal Arts instructor Erica Larsen-Dockray, who teaches a class on "The Animated Woman," said of The Princess: She has an impossibly tiny waist and is gorgeous beyond belief. Big eyes, flowing locks, luscious lips and a heart-shaped face. She's historically usually white and depicted as innocent and virginal. About the typical princess' waistline, Larsen-Dockray said: "If they were life-size, they would not have space in their bodies for reproductive organs." (Stephanie Delazeri/California Institute of the Arts via AP) © The Associated Press This undated sketch by Stephanie Delazeri, an animation student at California Institute of the Arts in Santa Clarita, Calif., shows "The Princess," an archetypal female character. More women are entering the field of animation, and one of their goals is to create more realistic female characters. Cal Arts instructor Erica Larsen-Dockray, who teaches a class on "The Animated Woman," said of The Princess: She has an impossibly tiny waist and is gorgeous beyond belief. Big eyes, flowing locks, luscious lips and a heart-shaped face. She's historically usually white and depicted as innocent and virginal. About the typical princess' waistline, Larsen-Dockray said: "If they were life-size, they would not have space in their bodies for reproductive organs." (Stephanie Delazeri/California Institute of the Arts via AP)

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. (AP) — For a long time, nearly all of the animation students at the California Institute of the Arts' were men.

This undated sketch by Stephanie Delazeri, an animation student at California Institute of the Arts in Santa Clarita, Calif., shows "The Godmother," an archetypal female character. More women are entering the field of animation, and one of their goals is to create more realistic female characters. Cal Arts instructor Erica Larsen-Dockray, who teaches a class on "The Animated Woman," said of The Godmother: She's always plump and rosy-cheeked, with particular emphasis on large breasts and buttocks. "I think a lot of animators at that time were thinking about their nannies," Larsen-Dockray said. "They're like the epitome of physical comfort, every man-child's dream." (Stephanie Delazeri/California Institute of the Arts via AP) © The Associated Press This undated sketch by Stephanie Delazeri, an animation student at California Institute of the Arts in Santa Clarita, Calif., shows "The Godmother," an archetypal female character. More women are entering the field of animation, and one of their goals is to create more realistic female characters. Cal Arts instructor Erica Larsen-Dockray, who teaches a class on "The Animated Woman," said of The Godmother: She's always plump and rosy-cheeked, with particular emphasis on large breasts and buttocks. "I think a lot of animators at that time were thinking about their nannies," Larsen-Dockray said. "They're like the epitome of physical comfort, every man-child's dream." (Stephanie Delazeri/California Institute of the Arts via AP)

Today, most of CalArts' more than 250 animation students are women, and one of their goals is to create more realistic female characters — not just the sex bombs, shy nerds and haggard villains that dominate now.

This sketch by Stephanie Delazeri, an animation student at California Institute of the Arts in Santa Clarita, Calif., shows "The Villainess," an archetypal female character. More women are entering the field of animation, and one of their goals is to create more realistic female characters. Cal Arts instructor Erica Larsen-Dockray, who teaches a class on "The Animated Woman," said of The Villainess: While male villains can be any shape or size, female villains almost always are old and unmarried. They have gray hair, wrinkles and harsh makeup. They're hardened and sour and always look stern and angry. Visually, they're typically depicted looking almost bony with sharp lines, including high cheekbones and pointy elbows. (Stephanie Delazeri/California Institute of the Arts via AP) © The Associated Press This sketch by Stephanie Delazeri, an animation student at California Institute of the Arts in Santa Clarita, Calif., shows "The Villainess," an archetypal female character. More women are entering the field of animation, and one of their goals is to create more realistic female characters. Cal Arts instructor Erica Larsen-Dockray, who teaches a class on "The Animated Woman," said of The Villainess: While male villains can be any shape or size, female villains almost always are old and unmarried. They have gray hair, wrinkles and harsh makeup. They're hardened and sour and always look stern and angry. Visually, they're typically depicted looking almost bony with sharp lines, including high cheekbones and pointy elbows. (Stephanie Delazeri/California Institute of the Arts via AP)

The reason such stereotypes persist, according to Marge Dean, president of the industry group Women in Animation: Men still fill animation's writing rooms and director's chairs.

This sketch by Stephanie Delazeri, an animation student at California Institute of the Arts in Santa Clarita, Calif., shows "The Nerd," an archetypal female character. More women are entering the field of animation, and one of their goals is to create more realistic female characters. Cal Arts instructor Erica Larsen-Dockray, who teaches a class on "The Animated Woman," said of The Nerd: Many female sidekicks are depicted as nerds. They have glasses, they're shy and awkward, and they often have freckles. They're also usually in a makeover episode at some point, Larsen-Dockray said, as if to remind viewers that they can be feminine. "It's really messed up." (Stephanie Delazeri/California Institute of the Arts via AP) © The Associated Press This sketch by Stephanie Delazeri, an animation student at California Institute of the Arts in Santa Clarita, Calif., shows "The Nerd," an archetypal female character. More women are entering the field of animation, and one of their goals is to create more realistic female characters. Cal Arts instructor Erica Larsen-Dockray, who teaches a class on "The Animated Woman," said of The Nerd: Many female sidekicks are depicted as nerds. They have glasses, they're shy and awkward, and they often have freckles. They're also usually in a makeover episode at some point, Larsen-Dockray said, as if to remind viewers that they can be feminine. "It's really messed up." (Stephanie Delazeri/California Institute of the Arts via AP)

"Many, many, many women are going to animation schools," said Dean, whose organization tracks figures through schools and industry groups. "Yet if you start looking at women in creative roles, the last number we have is only 22 percent."

In an effort to boost those numbers, CalArts faculty invites studio representatives to campus for events and maintains a close relationship with groups like Dean's, which is pushing the studios to have a creative workforce of half women and half men by 2025.

The school also has played host the past two years to a symposium on gender bias in animation. This year it focused on the roles of "Sidekicks, Nerd Girls, Tomboys and More."

Here, a female student renders some of those archetypal female cartoon roles, and Erica Larsen-Dockray, who teaches a class on "The Animated Woman," explains:

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THE PRINCESS

She has an impossibly tiny waist and is gorgeous beyond belief. Big eyes, flowing locks, luscious lips and a heart-shaped face. She's historically usually white and depicted as innocent and virginal. About the typical princess' waistline, Larsen-Dockray says: "If they were life-size, they would not have space in their bodies for reproductive organs."

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THE FAIRY GODMOTHER

She's always plump and rosy-cheeked, with particular emphasis on large breasts and buttocks. "I think a lot of animators at that time were thinking about their nannies," Larsen-Dockray says. "They're like the epitome of physical comfort, every man-child's dream."

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THE VILLAIN

While male villains can be any shape or size, female villains almost always are old and unmarried. They have gray hair, wrinkles and harsh makeup. They're hardened and sour and always look stern and angry. Visually, they're typically depicted looking almost bony with sharp lines, including high cheekbones and pointy elbows.

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THE NERD

Many female sidekicks are depicted as nerds. They have glasses, they're shy and awkward, and they often have freckles. They're also usually in a makeover episode at some point, Larsen-Dockray says, as if to remind viewers that they can be feminine. "It's really messed up," she says.

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