Sexist comment from animator of ‘Frozen’ typical of industry that limits females

The sexist comment by Lino DiSalvo, head animator of “Frozen” is going around the web. Here’s what he said:

Historically speaking, animating female characters are 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.

DiSalvo’s comment was made as part of a larger interview. It’s pretty clear the animator wasn’t aware he was being offensive. How could he be so clueless? Because DiSalvo’s belief, that males come in all shapes and sizes, whereas females come in one, is so common, most people think it’s a fact.

Here is Christopher Hart teaching the differences on drawing male and female characters via Escher Girls.

With male comic characters, you can mold their bodies into many different shapes, producing a wide range of cool characters. It’s not so easy with women. Women in comics are, by and large, attractive—even the villains. Especially the villains! The Voluptuous Vixen and the Villainess are much more attractive in cutting-edge comics. So, you have less latitude in altering the body. You can’t draw brutish women or you’ll lose the attractiveness. Therefore, the changes rely less on the body types and more on the pose, costume and attitude.




Here’s another how-to video from Marc Crilley. This video is great because Crilley takes you through the steps of just how artists are trained distort female anatomy. First, Crilley draws a regularly proportioned teenage girl. Then, he demonstrates the typical pattern and process of how artists exaggerate her proportions, drawing three well-known, female animated characters.

Crilley narrates:

It’s troubling, really in a way that artists, maybe many of them male, have this way of reducing the width of the female waist when they’re drawing it to just ridiculously small proportions and you know, you do sort of fear that this contributes to women’s body image, this crazy idea of the super narrow waist, but nevertheless you see it again and again. Finally, the big difference here, the knees, the line of the knees, much, much higher than in real life. So what’s interesting is you see that the whole area of the waist is being raised up here so as to create these incredibly long legs as an exaggerated style. To me, its sort of like Barbie doll style legs…

Here’s the video.

While watching Crilley’s video, I was thinking about the incredible influence of the artist to create reality. When you combine images with narratives, it can be so powerful, like being God. Not to mention repeating and repeating the same sequence to the growing brains of little kids, which is what happens when we all see the same old, same old look in animation. (By the way, another criticism I’ve read of “Frozen” is that the female character looks similar to Rapunzel of “Tangled.”)

On my Facebook feed today, Miss Representation posts on photographer and mom Ashlee Wells Jackson showing what women look like:

“Photographer and mom Ashlee Wells Jackson wants all of us to recognize and appreciate how childbirth, breastfeeding, and motherhood change women’s bodies. I’d love for both my daughter and my son to grow up seeing these images instead of the ones of ‘perfection’ they currently see every time we go to the grocery store.” – Laura Willard, Upworthy


Willard’s photo essay reminds me of the Christopher Hart’s lesson on how to draw men. Guess what, everyone? Females, just like males, come in all shapes and sizes. Females, just like males, are complex creatures with all kinds of hopes and dreams and drives and emotions. Can we please see that on the big screen? Can our children see it?

It’s amusing in a sad way that DiSalvo is so flummoxed by how to make two angry females look different. I wonder if he’s as troubled by making angry females act differently as well. There are so many ways to express and show anger: clam up, punch a wall, flush red, scowl, yell, tear out hair, groan.

The problem here isn’t just that females are supposed to look pretty all the time, but also, that what is considered “pretty” is so cookie-cutter and limited. For a male character, the act of rescuing someone or being heroic makes him attractive. For a female character, being attractive is usually limited to how she looks– her hair, smile, and body.

As I wrote in my last post on “Frozen,” I know I’m supposed to be grateful there’s a movie for children that comes close to centering on a female hero. I actually am. As I blogged, most likely I’ll see it and I’ll take my three daughters because my options are so limited. But I’m pissed that my options, not to mention my children’s options, are this limited. This is the fantasy world, for goodness sake, a place where anything should be possible, so why is the imaginary world so sexist?

See Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2013

9 thoughts on “Sexist comment from animator of ‘Frozen’ typical of industry that limits females

  1. Your mind is full of shit.

    In comic worlds, over 80% of consumers are MALES. It’s so fucking obvious why the most sexual appealing body type are the mainstream, and more over, male body types are also so fucking unreal and NOBODY is crying about that. Go face real problems, learn what the fuck is fiat money and stop blaming animators rolf

  2. Pingback: 2013′s 20 types of film for every kind of 20-something | David Levesley

  3. Thank you for this article! I think the inclusion of the Christopher Hart and Marc Crilley commentary is really helpful in framing Frozen as part of the broader problem of the male gaze. Male characters can be anything, but for female characters, “pretty” is seemingly fixed to “thin” and “feminine”–no room for curves, fat, butch, short hair, or even pants. There’s no reason for this at all–if you have Gaston, Milo (Atlantis), and Flynn, who all have very different body types and facial expressions and animated in different media, surely there’s the capability for women to have the same physical diversity.

    I will say that this hasn’t always been true of Disney for men–see Princes Charming, Philip, and Erik, but the animators seem to have diversified the male characters–especially the supporting cast–more and female characters less.

    Also, Miyazaki’s films in general are fine examples of female and male leads and antagonists with different facial expressions and physicality done in the same style, especially Spirited Away’s Yubaba, Chihiru, and Rin, and Mononoke-hime’s San, Eboshi, and the Tatara women.

    Thanks again!

  4. “It’s amusing in a sad way that DiSalvo is so flummoxed by how to make two angry females look different. I wonder if he’s as troubled by making angry females act differently as well. There are so many ways to express and show anger: clam up, punch a wall, flush red, scowl, yell, tear out hair, groan.”

    Uhhhh… seeing that Lino happens to be an excellent animator with many years of experience, I highly doubt he’s “flummoxed” about the issue. That’s a really insulting thing to say.

    As someone who animates for a living, I can safely say that animating semi-realistic lead characters, male or female, is hard. Animating two similar looking characters that have to move and act in a unique way is not an easy task. That’s what Lino is getting at. You’d know this if you were an animator.

    You can’t exaggerate them as much as stylized characters (ie The Incredibles) or they start looking strange (ie “ugly” or “off-model”). This has nothing to do with sexism, it has to do with animating semi-realistic characters in a convincing way.

    Animation is not just moving crap around. It’s giving a performance. It’s acting.

  5. Honestly, Margot I think you’re willfully misreading his comments and blowing them out of proportion and I’m disappointed that you’re going back to your old trick of reposting the same material.

    • Hi Cat,

      I have no interest in willfully misreading anything. And trick of reposting? Who am I trying to trick?


    • I would be less critic of him than Margot, because I think that he has to work inside an industry that require that kind of art from him, so I don’t know if he can choose how to draw his characters, but the comment still bothers me. I know and love a lot of artists that draw all of their characters in a similar way, or at least with indistinguishable faces: Hayao Miyazaki, Rumiko Takahashi, Adam Warren, John Romita Jr…When the art is less detailed and realistic, as it often happens in certain styles, that is normal. You have to use hair style, body tipe and clothes to differentiate them. But Lino DiSalvo is not talking about that, he is not talking about the difficulties of differentiate characters with that art style, he is talking about the difficulties of differentiate female characters, in his work and in other animation works. And female characters are even more difficult to differentiate because, as he says, they have to be pretty. And pretty, for Disney and other companies, has a very narrow definition. I think that we all know how Disney tried to change Merida. Disney is not only selling a movie. The Disney princess are used to sell clothes, toys, party supplies, make up…and that’s not based in how adventurous or smart they are, their beauty is a big selling point. When a see the roster of Dysney princess I don’t see a variety of interesting characters. I see sparkling dresses, small waists, big eyes, pink and full lips, pale skin and long hair. Even the same expression (slanted head and the mouth a bit open in a smile)
      Maybe Lino DiSalvo is not sexist, maybe he is just too frank for his own good about what that industry require from him, but I think that the comment is pointing to a very big problem in the female representation of women in animation and other media. Certainly, is a very big problem in comic books. Some time ago, some professional criticism to a drawing of a superherine made a bit of noise because a company said
      “Her breasts are much too small and do not have the lift that superhero women should have. Her jawline is fat and her neck much too long. The style of her hair is clunky and does not flow in a sense that a super human would. Her hips, waist and thighs are too big and she honestly looks fat. No one is going to want to read a comic with a fat female protagonist. I honestly recommend looking at issues of Sport’s Illustrated to get the right anatomy. Those women are the peak of human perfection, and that is what we want in this industry.” That fat, hideous, and off form heroine? You can see her here
      This is a good article about the problem in comics books

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