Digital animation and visual effects are so widespread today
that studios can end up using them in nearly every shot. Yet as
the trend grows, women may be lagging behind even more in the
digital arts than they are in the film and tech industries
"It seems like the more technical the department, the fewer
women there are," said Sunny Teich, 31, a technical director who
has worked at Walt Disney Studios, Weta Digital and now is at a
major visual effects house in Europe. Alongside dozens of men in
technical roles in her department, she is the only woman.
In tracking women in the film industry, San Diego State
University professor Martha Lauzen found this year that they
were "dramatically underrepresented" as visual effects
Among the top 250 grossing films in the United States in 2013,
women accounted for 5 percent of such positions - below
directors (6 percent), writers (10 percent) and producers (25
percent), according to Lauzen's study, "The Celluloid Ceiling."
Being a supervisor means more than calling the shots; it is key
to winning the industry's top awards.
All 52 people honored this year at the Scientific and Technical
Awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences were
men. The Academy's Visual Effects branch has 322 active members,
and while it won't say how many are women, a Los Angeles Times
investigation from 2012 put the number at 3 percent; their
membership in the Academy overall is 23 percent.
"It is getting better, but it is hard to tell," said Michael
Fink, an Academy member who won a visual effects Oscar in 2008
and is now chair of film and television production at the
University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts.
'WHERE ARE THE WOMEN?'
Decades ago, studios used visual effects to fix a movie's
shortcomings in post-production. Today that artistry can be at
the very heart of the storytelling, even giving the superhero
his powers, for example.
Victoria Alonso sits at the top of Hollywood's technical pyramid
as executive vice president of visual effects at Disney's Marvel
Studios, the makers of comic superhero tales such as "Captain
America: The Winter Soldier."
In that film alone she oversaw 2,500 visual effects shots, equal
to 90 percent of the movie. It is the No. 1 film so far in 2014
with worldwide ticket sales of over $700 million.
Alonso, who has worked in Hollywood for 23 years, says she is
constantly asking her team, "Where are the women?" and has known
only two or three female visual effects supervisors.
"It is a job that takes a while to get to, which means that you
start in your twenties, and by the time you are in your late
thirties or early forties you can command the knowledge and the
position," said Alonso.
"But if you are going to have children, that is the time to
Many visual effects producers are women, yet while they are key
to organizing and executing projects they are not recognized as
the creative artists.
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Jill Hopper, head of global production at DreamWorks Animation, says
the majority of women in the industry are in management; few are
animators, though more than from 25 years ago when she found none.
"It does make me worry if there is an environment whereby some women
feel that they are not allowed to have the opportunities to pursue
interest in this industry," Hopper said.
Many who spoke to Reuters agree that the problem lies in the
workplace, not in any lack of appetite for the field.
Fink says about half the students studying film at USC are women,
who also make up around half the applicants in technical specialties
like animation at the school.
At DreamWorks Animation, Munira Tayabji, the supervising technical
director on the upcoming film "Home," has only one woman on her team
of 16. But in her recruitment work for the studio she sees many
women graduating in technical fields who want to work in the
"We don't have to seek them out," said Tayabji, 33, who earned a
math degree at UCLA. "I am not saying it's 50-50, but the girls are
coming out on their own."
BETTER HOURS, TRUER IMAGERY
But both men and women point to the toll of the industry's brutal
hours. Many of the 52 men collecting the Academy's sci-tech awards
in February thanked their spouses for putting up with their long
At the visual effects houses, the regular workweek is around 50
hours, but there are often months of 70-80 hour weeks and even 100
hours in a film's final crunch time. Those demands can prove
intolerable for women with children.
"Even in our twenties and thirties, it is quite grueling to work
these hours, so it makes me wonder about my personal longevity in
this business," said Raqi Syed, 36, a USC graduate and technical
director at Weta Digital in New Zealand, where she has worked on
films such as "Avatar."
The studios tend to have more manageable hours. Tayabji, a mother of
two, says her normal workweek at DreamWorks is 50 hours.
Despite the difficulties for women in the industry, Fink is upbeat
about the prospects for his female students.
"What seems inevitable is that because (visual effects are) becoming
so pervasive ... the opportunities for women to expand their roles
and become more recognized and become a larger portion of the
workforce are terrific," said Fink.
Getting more women into technical roles is healthy for the culture
as well, said Elizabeth Daley, dean of the USC School of Cinematic
"If you've got women who are creating the very images that all our
children are seeing," she said, "they are going to be different than
if they are only created by men."
(Editing by Prudence Crowther)
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