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Author highlights unsung women at Walt Disney Studios

Walt Disney Studios
Author Nathalia Holt will be at the Buena Vista Branch Library on Tuesday promoting her latest book, which is about female animators at Walt Disney Studios.
(File Photo)

Generations of people have grown up watching many classic animated films from Walt Disney Studios — “Cinderella,” “Fantasia,” “Dumbo,” “Bambi” and a plethora of others.

However, women behind the scenes who revolutionized the animation process at Walt Disney Studios are lesser known and paved the way for women in the animation industry for years to come.

In her upcoming book, “The Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed the World of Disney and Made Cinematic History,” author Nathalia Holt tells the story of how a group of women in Disney’s animation departments were able to make an impact in a field dominated by men.

Holt will be at the Buena Vista Branch Library, 300 N. Buena Vista St., Burbank, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday to celebrate the release of her book and talk about the influential women who helped shape Walt Disney Studios, located just blocks away from the library.

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The idea for the book came from one of Holt’s sources for her previous book, “Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars,” who, before working for Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, was employed at Walt Disney Studios.

Holt said she became interested about all the women who were mentioned — Bianca Majolie, Mary Blair, Grace Huntington, Sylvia Holland and Retta Scott — and started researching their contributions to animation.

She was shocked to learn that many of these women, especially Blair, were uncredited for their work for many years because they were superseded by their male counterparts.

Blair was known for being Walt Disney’s favorite artist, but her contributions on “Cinderella” went under the radar.

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Holt said Blair implemented a process that helped cut down on the number of drawings needed to do animation, which helped the studio save time and money.

“‘Cinderella’ ends up making $8 million and saving the studio, largely thanks to Mary Blair and her vision for the film,” Holt said.

While Blair and her female colleagues were able to set a foundation for other women to enter the animation industry, Holt said the number of animators are still predominantly men.

Holt said that, although about 60% of animation students are women, only about 23% are employed in the industry.

As people become more attentive to work equality, Holt said she hopes there is additional diversity in Hollywood, including on the animation front.

“I hope it gets better and better for women in the field,” she said.

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