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Caroline Cruikshank
A Montrealer working at Disney discusses women in animation
Some things about Hercules, Disney's latest animated feature, we already know from past experience: it will be bright, loud, somewhat formulaic, and utterly mangle the tale it's based on. Of course, while a vocal minority will complain, we, as a culture, will probably eat it all up and make Disney a ton of money. The whole process just seems so... American.

And yet, a sizeable percentage of the artists who worked on the film are probably from north of the border. Between Concordia University, Ontario's Sheridan College, and the Vancouver Film School alone, more than a few Canadian animation students find their way into the Hollywood animation culture.

One such Sheridan alumnus is Montreal-born Caroline Cruikshank. Graduated from Sheridan in 1979, her career started at Hanna-Barbera in Hollywood, then took her to England and France before eventually landing her right back in Hollywood at Disney, where she was part of the nine-person team that animated Hercules' Philoctetes (Phil for short, voiced by Danny DeVito). On the phone from her office at the Disney studio, she cheerfully submitted to a round of Twenty Questions.

Emru Townsend: There was a time when animation, especially at Disney, was largely dominated by men. Is this still true?

Caroline Cruikshank: Yeah. [laughs] There were something like nine women animating on Hercules, and that was quite a few, but proportionally it wasn't, because there were something like 60 or 70 [animators in total].

Do you think this is true beyond Disney, within the studio system?

Yeah, probably that is true. I don't know why that is. I couldn't even speculate on why that would be.

How would you say the ratio was in your classes at Sheridan?

Hmm. There were quite a few. I would say a third, if not more... When I think about my [female] classmates from Sheridan, either they've dropped out of the business altogether, or they've not gone up the ladder, they've sort of stayed, either at cleanup or assistant level, and I'm not sure why that is. Some by choice, of course, but perhaps others just didn't get into the loop.

Are you sticking around Disney for a while? Are you working on another project?

Yeah, I'm on Mulan at the moment and I'm going to be on Tarzan. I'm working on Jane.

So you're going from Philoctetes...

Yeah, a broad comic character, to a more realistic character. Yes, yes.

Can you think of any difference in terms of how men work on a female character and how females work on a female character?

Caroline Cruikshank: Well, subliminally there must be some difference. I think both men and women animators probably have a whole catalogue of animation clichés that they draw from even if they're not aware of it. I suppose for me the challenge is to get away from that too, and try to do something fresh. I've heard it said by some people that only women should animate women. I think that's not true because you can see that there's some great animation from women characters done by men. I don't think my animation will stand out from my male colleagues'--working on the same character I think it'll look homogeneous. We'll all be taking our lead from the lead animator, of course, who will be endeavoring to make her as rounded a character as possible.

Do you see yourself returning to Montreal anytime in your future?

I really like Montreal as a city. And then of course there's the whole political question of what's going to happen to the province. It is a big consideration, because I do consider myself to be Canadian, and Canadians are very different from Americans. I really feel that here.

How?

I came down here in '79, and I really did feel like I was in a foreign country. LA is a very strange place. It's big, it's dirty... it doesn't have a heart. It's spread out so much. By and large, this is a car town, and everyone drives everywhere, and you can end up being very isolated.

You kind of miss the Metro, don't you?

Yeah, or some kind of public transport.

Originally printed in the Montreal Mirror (June 26, 1997)
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