“Maija Burnett scanned her California Institute of the Arts classroom as nearly 60 new students filtered in, empty notebooks in hand. It was the start of the 2014-15 school year, and Burnett, director of CalArts’ character animation program, was meeting this crop of freshmen for the first time in her largest classroom, nicknamed “the palace.”
Surrounded by walls painted entirely black — more conducive to drawing — the students stood up, one by one, to introduce themselves. That’s when it hit Burnett that almost all of them were women.
“Where are all the guys?” she recalls thinking.
CalArts’ blind admissions process meant administrators had reviewed portfolios without considering names or gender. “We were shocked to see so many women,” Burnett says.
College animation programs in the U.S. have historically skewed male, like the industry itself. But female enrollment at top schools has surged nationwide, especially in the last five years, according to interviews with administrators at top schools.
When CalArts debuted its character animation program in 1975, it had just two female students. Today women make up 71% of its animation student body, and this month 16 women and 10 men graduated from the program. USC’s John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts is now 65% women.
UCLA’s master’s program in animation is estimated to be 68% women, and Florida’s Ringling College of Art and Design’s computer animation program is nearly 70% women.
That swell of young women studying the craft is generally not mirrored in the workforce. Women make up 21% of the artists, writers and technicians employed under an Animation Guild contract this year, according to the organization, which tracks hiring records for guild animation studios in Los Angeles County.
“They come out of art school and aren’t hired for the creative jobs,” said Marge Dean, co-president of the nonprofit advocacy group Women in Animation. “They end up being PAs [production assistants] or on the production management track, the housekeepers and the organizers as opposed to the creators…”