Kirsten Thompson – “Quick–Like a Bunny!” The Ink and Paint Machine, Female Labor and Color Production

From the 1920s through the 1960s, the animation industry was a labor force segregated by gender, in which women were almost entirely restricted to the Inking and Paint department. Indeed, despite notable exceptions like Mary Blair and LaVerne Harding, Disney correspondence and internal papers show how women were regularly rejected as applicants or referred to inking and painting as their only career options.[1] One of the final steps in a Taylorized labor intensive industrial machine of specialized labor, the Ink and Paint Dept. usually consisted of several hundred female workers[2] in each animated studio, wearing white gloves (with thumb and two fingers cut off) and pongee smocks (to keep cels free from dust). After cleaned up pencil drawings were received from animators, inkers used the finest Gillott 290 nibs to make precise small, medium or large black (and sometimes color) lines around those drawings. Painters would then flip the nitrate cels and color in the inked outlines, following numbered specifications from a model sheet created by the Color Key Artist who selected colors for characters and props (Furniss, p. 74). They worked on raked boards (as inkers) or flat boards (as painters) producing 8-10 cels an hour (Zohn 2010, p. 289), enduring the lowest pay in the industry, while supervisors like Dot Smith would walk up and down the aisles at Disney urging them to work faster and faster with phrases like “Come on now, quick– like a bunny!” (Baldwin, 1995, p. 4) This paper examines the relationship of color, labor and gender in the Ink and Paint machine with a particular focus on the material representation of paints, pigments, inks and other color materials in classical cel production.

Incorporating 22 oral histories of inkers and painters who worked at Disney, MGM, Warner Bros. and elsewhere in the classical era and drawn from UCLA’s Oral History archives[3] I compare the transformational scene of the Wicked Queen in Snow White (Dave Hand, 1937) with promotional scenes of the ink and paint department in Disney’s The Reluctant Dragon (Alfred Werker, 1941) to suggest that Disney’s narrative use of Technicolor not only exceeded its traditional naturalistic functions as cues for depth, movement and three dimensionality, but also prompted an affective and sensual delight in color’s abstraction, purity and movement. Further, Disney’s use of color as attraction in Snow White and The Reluctant Dragon foregrounded color’s materiality as magical, indeed transgressive, while linking it with older chromophobic philosophical traditions in which color was constructed as marginal, dangerous or trivial. (Batchelor 2000, p. 23) Finally, the Disney studio’s marketing and promotion of (Techni)color offered ink and paint as a novel and theatricalized component of the animation machine, and one that was quintessentially feminized.

“I’ll go myself to the dwarves’ cottage in a disguise so complete no one will ever suspect. Now– a formula to transform my beauty into ugliness, change my queenly raiment to a peddler’s cloak. Mummy dust to make me old, to shroud my clothes, the black of night; to age my voice, an old hag’s cackle; to whiten my hair, a scream of fright; a blast of wind to fan my hate; a thunderbolt to mix it well; now begin thy magic spell…”

So begins the classic scene in Snow White in which the Wicked Queen concocts a spell to turn herself into an ugly old peddler, as part of her plan to trick Snow White into eating a poisoned apple. Appearing in the first feature animated film made in Technicolor IV, the scene highlights the spectacularity and expressivity of this new color process, narratively figuring color as dye, and color as chemical agent of the black arts. The four-part chromatic formula the Queen selects “to transform my beauty into ugliness,” combines mummy dust, black of night, an old hag’s cackle, and a scream of fright. In a series of dissolving close-ups we see each step in the magical formula. To the mummy dust she adds several inky drops of black liquid from a test-tube, “to shroud my clothes the black of night,” her language drawing attention to the double register of color as both liquid and dye, while the accompanying shimmering sound and camera movement extend the affective resonance of contact as mummy dust and inky blackness interpenetrate. The substitutive logic which links material object with color extends still further, encompassing not only the visual (the metaphoric black of night) and auditory (the “magical” sound effect) but also the tactile—here color becomes a “shroud” whose literal and metaphoric darkness can encompass, fill and disguise her “queenly raiment.” The use of sound goes further than punctuation and underscoring, for the third and fourth steps in the Queen’s chromatic spell suggest the cross-modality of the senses, synaesthetically crossing auditory and visual registers with color, movement and texture. Thus, to “age my voice” an old hag’s cackle becomes a beaker of red bubbling liquid that a purple-blue Bunsen flame heats up, brings to a boil, evaporates and re-condenses. The saturated intensities of red and blue color heighten in their juxtaposition as each red drop condenses in rhythm with a cackle as the Queen titrates color and vocal texture together into the inky goblet. Similarly, to “whiten my hair” “a scream of fright” becomes a synaesthetic squirt of white, as we see a thick white liquid poured into the queen’s goblet of red, turning it to red’s complementary green. The reaction also produces a visual pun on sound—a ‘steam scream’ crossing auditory and visual registers. With the application of two forms of energy, wind and electricity, to power the spell, “a blast of wind to fan my hate, a thunderbolt to mix it well, now begin thy magic spell…” we shift not only to the dramatic climax of the scene but also to an affective intensification—of movement, color, sound and music. Put another way, the sequence illustrates, or better still, animates the perceptual transformations of space that editing, framing, camera movement and object movement offer our own proprioceptively viewing bodies when we watch film. Implied camera movement creates a dizzying kinetic experience, hurtling us, along with the queen, down color’s vortex, inside the smears and bubbles of color, which enfold us and transform our perceptions. We witness the transformation of the Queen’s body as it becomes transparent in the flash of lightning, we see the bones of her hand as if being inside color’s funnel means our vision has become as transparent as cel animation, itself a palimpsestic mode which depends upon the layering of transparent and opaque materials. Animation here offers us the transformation scene as a kind of X-ray vision, showing us both inside and outside of the Wicked Queen’s body simultaneously, as we see her hands metamorphose into the gnarled hands of the peddler, as youth shifts to old age, and as beauty transforms to literal and metaphorical ugliness.

This paper’s point of departure is the material, visual, narrative and affective fields of color in and by which the queen concocts her spell. On the level of narrative the sequence showcases color’s materiality as transformative agent, synaesthetically linking visual, auditory and tactile registers that are also signaled by the Queen’s exclamations: look! my hands! My voice! Second, the scene reminds us of animation’s two etymological roots: from the French animer and the Latin animare (to breath or blow), animation can mean to endow with life or spirit (anima), to start a chemical reaction, to intensify, or simply to make move, all of which are suggested in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, when she used the word “animation” to describe the transformations of lifeless matter in a similar magical laboratory scene (Crafton, p. 97-98). By throwing us down color’s rabbit hole with the Queen, the scene places color at the center of animated creation, transformation and movement. Third, the Queen’s transformation scene invokes the chromophobic philosophical traditions, of which David Batchelor has written, in which on the one hand, color is “the property of some foreign body—usually the feminine, oriental, primitive, infantile, vulgar, queer or pathological” or in the second, associated with “the superficial, supplementary, inessential or cosmetic” (2000, p. 23). In these chromophobic traditions Batchelor tells us, color is either dangerous, trivial, or both. Indeed not only can animated color cover up, enshroud or disguise, it suggests the Queen’s color is also postlapsarian. This diabolical corruption by means of color links the scene to a long philosophical tradition (disegno vs. colore) in which color was perceived as a lapse from normative classicism and in which form and line were privileged over hue (Batchelor 2000, p. 28; Lichtenstein 1993, p. 194). The Queen’s cloaking spell of “disguise” brings together these traditions as she uses colored liquids as materials to transform her beautiful surface with magical artifice, to figuratively turn it inside out as she later does the same with a potion which bathes a red apple in a cauldron of sickly green color, advising us “look on the skin! The symbol of what lies within![4] Not only is color epistemologically connected through discourses of surface and layers to animation’s palimpsestic structure, the Queen’s transformation of her body connects these ideas to normative notions about femininity and beauty. Moreover, Disney promotional discourses in Snow White and The Reluctant Dragon around classical cel animation’s color production and labor practices foregrounded, indeed claimed, an essentialized relationship between femininity and material and corporeal surfaces.

Released in 1941, The Reluctant Dragon was a promotional film that capitalized on consumer curiosity about animation’s production process.[5] Like cartoons such as Van Beuren’s In A Cartoon Studio/Making ‘Em Move (Harry Bailey/John Foster, 1931), The Reluctant Dragon addresses this curiosity through a mixture of humor and informative education. It featured New Yorker columnist and humorist Robert Benchley on a tour of the Disney studios as he is introduced to all the different stages in the production process from story and models, layout and backgrounds, to animation, sound, ink and paint. With significant passages shot in live-action, the film also features a number of animated sequences, including Baby Weems, a Goofy cartoon How to Ride a Horse, and the eponymous Reluctant Dragon story, which nominally Benchley is going to pitch as a story idea to Disney. In the sequence I want to examine, Benchley is guided through Ink and Paint or what he calls the “Rainbow room” by a white-smocked painter named Doris (actually played by actress Frances Gifford), who shows him how the paint pigment is ground in special mills, before being distributed to the painters. The sequence culminates with Doris showing Benchley a completed cel from Bambi.

As the Herman Schultheis Notebooks at San Francisco’s Walt Disney Family Museum reveal, sets were specially constructed for the sequence rather than filming in the real Ink and Paint department, which was far too small for the bulky Technicolor cameras ( 2009).[6] Along with Frances Gifford, extras were cast and interspersed with actual ink and paint workers, such as Barbara Wirth Baldwin. With Benchley as our surrogate, we are introduced to the pleasurable array of colors that populate the Rainbow room. Animation combines both color as pigment (the paint applied to the surface of cels) and color as light (optical color of the photographic reproduction of those cels). Whereas optical color is additive, using red, green and blue as primaries, pigment color is subtractive, using a different series of primaries, or red, yellow and blue. In animation these two modes of color, optical and pigment, come together in a sustained bimodal relationship. The Reluctant Dragon theatricalizes the production of color, displaying Technicolor as a dazzling new optical color process through the chromatic pigments of the Ink and Paint department. It further enhances these color systems through editing, canted camera angles, frequent tilts, dissolves and wipes of carefully staged color compositions that become increasingly abstract. Fake flasks of colored water and theatrical displays of pigment powder pouring from transparent containers, or rivulets of thick colored paint pouring into Erlenmeyer flasks, beakers and bowls and being mixed by extras in white lab coats, make the color machine visible, material and tactile, calling attention to its affective appeal. The transparency of laboratory glassware allows for the segmentation of color into tubular, rectangular or spherical form and this transparency also enables color’s detachment from the object, where liquid or powdered pigment become the temporary physical (and narrative) envelopes for semi-abstract Technicolor play, accentuating fluidity, process and transformation (see also Thompson, K 2010, p. 3-4). This display for our visual pleasure is echoed in the recollections of the ink and painters, which often have a visceral intensity to their memories. Painter Susan Ashley, who worked on Sleeping Beauty at Disney, described the pigment in this way: “[Disney were] known for the best paint in the business… they had bins of dry color and then they mixed it up from the dry. So they took us to the lab and you’d see bins and bins full of this gorgeous color, you’d go crazy” (1995, p. 2). For Sylvia Roemer, who started at Disney in 1944 and worked there for 33 years, the creative possibilities of color design were an essential part of the pleasure she took in her work:

“I was very fond of color, and it was a very interesting job being the supervisor of the color model department because you had quite a leeway in what you could do as far as designing the colors because they would ask you to show them something [to start with] …We made so many more new colors that the paint can never had. Things that looked very dark like a very dark olive for instance, it was almost black, would still look light, too light when you put it on the background… Then we’d have to come up with names too for these colors. I really enjoyed color a lot. I think I can remember color from something pretty much in my head, I can carry a color like some people can carry a note … (1996, p. 10)

Unlike Warner Bros. and MGM who purchased their paint from the Cartoon Colour Co., Disney’s paint was made on the premises ground from pigment in old pepper mills, although Disney may have begun purchasing some paint from the company in the fifties (Furniss 1996, p. 61), and did buy Higgins Black Magic ink (Worth). The number of hues was reported as being between 800 to 1500 pigments, tints and tones, although a 1941 promotional pamphlet from Disney claimed “the colors and shades of the paints and inks total over 2000” (Walt Disney Productions Publicity Ephemera, 1941, n. p.). Becky Fallberg, who worked at Disney from 1942 to around 1986 summarized it this way, “We had about 850 colors that were just standard colors but if you allow for cel levels, you’ve got about fifteen hundred colors… And that doesn’t mean that you use them all in features, but you have to have them because you never know. It seemed like they never had the right color to match a background… and when the feature was finished we threw the special colors out. … But because each picture they’ll find something, some reason to make more special colors, and then we probably would have three thousand colors in the lab” (Fallberg 1996, p. 12). Marc Davis observed that the reason for Disney’s production of paint on site was not only consistency “I think it also had to do with economics as well too laughs). It was less expensive to do it yourself than to hire somebody else to do it” (1997, p. 110). According to Wilma Guenot, “Ray someone milled the paint. They had a mill. They made the top colors—the strongest colors” (1995, p. 18).

As The Reluctant Dragon sequence cranes in to one of the reconfigured mustard mills which Disney used on site to grind pigment, we hear Benchley comment “that looks very tasty,” which underscores color’s synaesthetic appeal to our gustatory and olfactory senses. Benchley’s observation is the signal for an extended montage sequence and upbeat musical track celebrating Disney color’s material beauty, while underscoring its variety in powdered and liquid forms. Color is staged contrastively, arranged in primary or triadic configurations, ascending analogous sequences of the color spectrum or juxtaposed in complementary combinations of green and red, as the paint pigment is measured, scooped and poured. Of course, although paint measuring and mixing did occur on site at Disney’s Ink and Paint department, the steps we actually see in The Reluctant Dragon are entirely fictional displays in the creation of color, foregrounding color’s visibility, fluidity and exuberant saturation.

Benchley’s banter with Doris domesticates the female labor of ink and paint, connecting it to other traditional tasks of femininity (“don’t tell me you cook all this yourselves?”) to which Doris replies “secret formulas and everything!”) Extraordinarily, we see a gas mask-wearing employee, who adds red liquid to a frothing, bubbling flask, followed by another employee who carefully adds black liquid to a beaker, as we hear Doris’ (fictitious) observation that “the girls add a couple of hundred chemicals” to the pigments, “and then it all goes to the paint mill” Possibly also motivated by the war, this hyperbolic staging with its gas mask props suggests that women artists are potentially transgressive yet domestically recuperable—for chemists can become cooks. Like the Wicked Queen’s transformation scene in Snow White to which it alludes, in which the Queen adds a test-tube of black inky liquid to a blue goblet, an almost identical close up shot of an unnamed ink and painter (or actress) adds a test tube’s black liquid to a beaker. Through this sequence the Reluctant Dragon suggests that offscreen color production is intrinsically connected to its onscreen version, and that the diabolical arts of the wicked Queen are comedically echoed in the theatricalized experiments on display in the Rainbow room’s ‘chemistry lab.’ Like the wicked Queen whose vanity motivates her transgressive desire to always remain the fairest in the land, the scenes of the female workers on display in the Ink and Paint department suggest that femininity, color and surface are at the heart of Disney’s color machine. This is exemplified in one of Disney’s promotional films for Snow White, in which a story is told of painters in the Ink and Paint Department who used cosmetic rouge and other makeup directly to Snow White’s cheeks on the cels, to give her a more realistic appearance. When Disney expressed concern about the painters being precise in their application of makeup to the surface of the cel, a painter was quoted as saying “But Mr. Disney—what do you think we do every day?” Surprisingly, there is some archival evidence for this story’s truth, according to Francis Arriola’s oral history (Snow White, 2001; Arriola, 1995, p.13).[7] Repeatedly then in Disney promotional materials, the aesthetic skills of the painters are located, indeed authorized by their femininity. This linkage of femininity with the ink and paint department was further underscored in an anecdote recalled by Disney painter Barbara Baldwin who reported that after ink and painters decided they would wear hairnets to prevent “dandruff and stuff” falling on the cels, that “some of the men revolted. They wouldn’t wear hairnets” (1995, p. 16), presumably because of their feminizing associations.

As Doris, our fictitious ink and paint worker in the Reluctant Dragon, completes her tour of Ink and Paint, she takes Benchley to a table of an artist named ‘Barbara’ in the painting department, who makes the final touches on a completed cel of Bambi. Picking up the cel, Doris observes “let me hold it up to the light”, asking Benchley “like it?” to which Benchley replies, “it’d be all right if you could get that reindeer out of the way,” the camera then cutting to Benchley’s implied point of view shot. The frame now shows us Doris’ face as the desirable plane of focal interest rather than “that reindeer” Bambi, which is now out of focus. Doris then laughs and says, “I’ll see if I can scare up the background,” to which Benchley replies “Nothing wrong with the one I just saw.” The sequence is remarkable, for it foregrounds the ways in which gender is at stake in the material production of animation. The foregrounding of the material relationship between opacity and transparency in animation’s production process here becomes relocated to a literal focalization through gendered surface, one which recalls the chromophobic associations of color and femininity pace Batchelor. From the domestication of chemistry into the culinary arts, which suggests that the (fictional) chemistry of color production is transgressive yet comical, to these concluding shots which privilege the female body as the center of visual interest even over the very artwork that is being promoted in this film, the animation color machine repeatedly reinscribes female labor as femininity.


Returning to the title of this paper, ‘Quick– like a bunny!’ struck me as a very odd, yet creepily appropriate invocation to speed in the context of Disney’s production machine—ironic, because it zoomorphizes the female labor of the ink and painters, recalling of course Funny Little Bunnies (Wilfred Jackson, 1934, Disney) and many other Silly Symphonies in which the labor of color production is magical, effortless, bucolic, performed by and produced from nature, where bunnies paint Easter eggs with paint drawn straight from the rainbow. We might also recall other studio productions such as Walter Lantz’s Egg Cracker Suite (Ben Hardaway and Emery Hawkins, 1943, Walter Lantz) where rabbits- those avatars of industry and reproduction- are milking Technicolor from flowers in order to paint Easter eggs. What I am suggesting here is that the discursive representation of speed and mass production links on-screen animated bunnies with off-screen female workers, who are themselves invited to work quickly like bunnies, as the oral histories overwhelmingly confirm the studio’s unrelenting demand for maximum productivity. The quality and consistency of Disney’s paint, previously remarked upon by painters like Susan Ashley was also matched by Disney’s physical workspace with only 20 painters per room as compared to the 40 or even 45 typical of Warner Bros. Ashley again: “Disney was spotless…and the desks were huge. They were metal as I remember. And very very clean” (1995, p. 12).

Yet according to Auril Thompson, who worked at Leon Schlesinger in 1938 and intermittently at Disney, despite these superior tools and work environments the long hours and repetitive nature of the work was brutal. “In Ink and paint, the painting was on Betty Brennan’s desk…they had a process of working whereby you were timed on what you did. And of course, the one who was the faster was the one whose job was more secure” (1995, p.5). On the other hand, Thompson also acknowledged that “once I got into it, to be able to ink and just swing into a lot of cels, there’s something almost euphoric about it…” (p. 4). Virginia Swift recalled of her time at Columbia, that there was a quota for production: “I can’t remember the count but it was way up there and if you didn’t make it and didn’t do it, you didn’t stay long. You had to be real quick with them. It was a big number. It was like a factory…” (1995, p. 9)

Francis Arriola, who worked at Disney on Snow White and who used to sneak over to the commissary at MGM to see the movie stars, reported “it was a blur. And I would just fall into bed and keep painting in my sleep” (1995, p. 1-2). Barbara Wirth Baldwin (whose sister Mary Jane Frost was also a painter, and who was later fired for her work in the 1941 Disney strike) said: “I know they used to work us five days a week and then Saturday morning with no pay. We used to work overtime and take a shower and stay up all night, take a shower and go back to work on Saturday morning, no sleep. These are the Disney days” (1995, p. 5). Baldwin organized with Art Babbit, Bill Littlejohn, Herb Klynn and Dave Hilberman. She may be the worker whom Frances Gifford names as “Barbara” and who hands her the finished cel of Bambi at the end of the Ink and paint sequence in The Reluctant Dragon. Baldwin was the most outspoken in her contempt for Disney. “Disney stank, it was terrible. You will never get a good word from me about Disney. Disney, he walked out one day from the gate with a rose between his teeth and kicked the cat and did a lot of stupid stuff. Disney was a sick guy, he really was. He was sick” (1995, p. 3).

According to Wilma Guenot, women were regularly let go when they got married (4), although Susan Ashley contradicted this, claiming female staff could be married, provided it was not to another Disney coworker (1995, p. 15). However, all painters agreed that gender segregation was very strict, with animator Marc Davis recalling that the animators’ building was known as ‘the monastery’, and the ink and painters, ‘the nunnery’ and “there wasn’t much cross pollination going on (laughs)” (1997, p. 158). The work’s intensity and degree of concentration executed tremendous mental strain, but many of the animators’ interviews approached the subject with humor, as demonstrated by Frances Arriola’s anecdote: “You know, people did get hysterical, that kind of work, constant. Somebody would go screaming off, they would sort of spirit them away. And as a matter of fact at MGM (purportedly on Rudy Ising’s Sleepy Bear ) I think, an animator killed himself. And it was over shingles, a storm and millions of shingles all flying off the roof. They were all animated, every one of them, and you had to paint every one of them too. I didn’t go crazy but I could have. But no, they said the animator, he killed himself, I don’t know if it was the shingles, but I think it was (laughter)” (1995, p 13-14). Arriola’s tale of the animator’s suicide is more than likely apocryphal, yet telling in its mythic details: to work like a bunny could make you as mad as a March hare.

I want to conclude with one final observation about the subtle parallels between on and off-screen labor practices in The Reluctant Dragon’s representation of the color machine. The non-diegetic melody playing in the Ink and Paint Dept. sequence in The Reluctant Dragon is from one of Snow White’s most famous sequences, the diamond mine sequence in which the dwarves sing “Heigh Ho” as they walk to work. With music by Frank Churchill and lyrics by Larry Morey, the dwarves sing of the joy of work, a theme repeatedly reiterated in other Disney films, and most famously by Snow White herself, who sings “whistle while you work” as she cleans up the cottage. As with many other cartoons in the thirties, the Fordist assembly line is transformed into creative play with helpful animals and cheerful dwarves. And if nature is sometimes cozily bucolic it is always musical, with the domestic and the pastoral conjoined (Thompson K 2012, p. 375).

The dwarves sing of their pleasure in labor (We dig dig dig dig dig dig in a mine the whole day through/To dig dig dig dig dig dig is what we like to do), while they obliquely acknowledge its pointlessness, “though we don’t know what we’re digging for.” In the Disney universe, labor is transformed into song and sometimes dance, just as the diamonds the dwarves extract appear as colorful polished stones, as commodity rather than raw material. The rhythmic repetition of the word ‘dig’ along with the score also aurally mimes the repetitive and labor intensive nature of animation production, and more particularly of the ink and paint department, who engage with the final transformation of animated drawings into colored objects. The repetition of the off-screen assembly line becomes metrical play onscreen in the rhythmic chorus of “Heigh Ho, Heigh, Ho, it’s off to work we go.” Ironically, The Reluctant Dragon’s release occurred at the very time the famous 1941 strike at Disney unfolded; a strike which sought to address the low wages of the ink and paint staff who were paid $18 while animators were paid as much as $300 a week. Yet whether on screen or off, labor in Snow White and The Reluctant Dragon is simultaneously represented yet erased. The small, quick and very precise gestures of the ink and paint machine become theatricalized, sensual, affectively mesmerizing and rhythmically languid displays of pure color. Dangerous chemistry and diabolical magic become domesticated, cosmetic and ornamental; color production spectacular, playful and feminine. In the Disney universe, to be ‘quick – quick like a bunny! ’ was labor without effort and commodity without cost.

This is a revised and updated version of the paper presented at the Society for Animation Studies, Melbourne, Australia, June 24-27, 2012.

Kirsten Moana Thompson is Professor of Film Studies and Director of the Film Programme at Victoria University, in Wellington, New Zealand, , and previously Associate Professor and Director of the Film Program at Wayne State University in Detroit. She teaches and writes on animation and colour studies, as well as classical Hollywood cinema, German, New Zealand and Pacific studies. She is the author of Apocalyptic Dread: American Cinema at the Turn of the Millennium (SUNY Press, 2007); Crime Films: Investigating the Scene (Wallflower: 2007), and co-editor with Terri Ginsberg of Perspectives on German Cinema (GK Hall: NY, 1996). She is currently working on a new book on Colour, Visual Culture and Animation.



[1] See for example a form letter sent May 9, 1939 by Disney Studios to Frances Brewer which stated “ Dear Miss Brewer: Your letter of some time ago has been turned over to the Inking and Painting Department for reply. Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that work is performed entirely by young men. For this reason girls are not considered for the training school. To qualify for the only work open to women one must be well grounded in the use of pen and ink and also watercolor. The work to be done consists of tracing the characters on clear celluloid sheets with India ink and filling in the tracings on the reverse side with paint according to directions. In order to qualify for a position as ‘Inker’ or ‘Painter’ it is necessary that one appear at the studio on a Tuesday morning between 9:30 and 11:30, bringing samples of pen and ink and water color work. We will be glad to talk to you further should you come in. Yours very truly, Walt Disney Productions. Signed By Mary E. Cleave.” [Online] June 19, 2006. Available from 1939-girls-are-not-considered.html. [Accessed July 26, 2013]. See also Furniss (1996, 63). An internal studio pamphlet An Introduction to the Walt Disney Studio (Los Angeles, 1938) clearly stated the discriminatory policy, “All inking and painting of celluloid, and all tracing done in the Studio, is performed exclusively by a large staff of girls known as Inkers and Painters. This work, exacting in character, calls for great skill in the handling of pen and brush. This is the only department in the Disney studio open to women artists” (18 cited in Barrier, 130). Similarly, the 1943 Disney Employee Manual “The Ropes” also stated on its Employment page that artists “should write Hal Adelquist, stating briefly experience and training. An application will be forwarded to the artist, and if he qualifies, he will be granted an interview.” “Non Artists” are directed to “Write Personnel Department and a similar procedure will be followed.” Accompanying this are two illustrations, with a male and female figure. The female figure is shown placing a large envelope in a mailbox labeled “Walt Disney Personnel.” See Beck, Jerry, 2007. Cartoon Brew. “The Ropes At Disney.” [Online] January 29. Available from, Jan 29, 2007. [Accessed: 14 July 2013].

[2] There were 158 ink and painters listed for Snow White, Studio Press Release, 1938 Hyperion Studios (Walt Disney Productions Publicity Ephemera, n. p.)

[3] See Oral History transcripts conducted by Women in Animation. UCLA Performing Arts Record ID: 4436179. 2 boxes which contain 22 transcripts of interviews with Frances Arriola, Susan Ashley, Barbara Baldwin, Betty Brooks, Martha Buckley, Xenia De Mattia, Becky Fallberg, Mary Jane Frost, Grace Godino, Wilma Guenot, Julie Harvey, Anneline Liu, Joan Orbison, Sylvia Roemer, Martha Sigall, Virginia Swift and Auril Thompson. Record ID: 4436179. 2 boxes, and hereafter abbreviated as WIA/UCLA archives.

[4] Here we might consider the key role that Max Factor’s inventions of lipstick, blush, mascara, foundation and other makeup played in the history of motion picture cinematography and the continuing theoretical connections between color, cosmetics and cinema. See also Basten in bibliography.

[5] Wilma Guenot reported that the ink and painters at Universal were locked in their department and there was a cult of secrecy about their work. “We had a key and people could only come in that had keys because it was a big secret. In those days [inking and painting] was considered very secretive” (1995, p. 8).

[6] Hermann Schultheis worked at Disney from 1938-1940 on a number of the earliest features. He was a German engineer who kept a detailed log book containing drawings, sketches and technical notation of all the plans and special effects used in various Disney features including the construction of the ink and paint dept. sets for The Reluctant Dragon, along with other effects for Bambi, Pinocchio and Fantasia. The notebook was purchased by the Disney family and is now on display at the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. See also Bibliography for works by John Canemaker.

[7] Francis Arriola confirmed the use of rouge. “And I don’t think Snow White had different paint except they put rouge on the top side of the cels” (1995, p. 13)


Arriola, Francis, 1995. “Interview by Christine Ferriter March 18.” Oral history transcripts, conducted by Women in Animation, 1994-1997. UCLA Performing Arts Record ID: 4436179. 2 boxes. Collection also includes transcripts of interviews with Susan Ashley, Barbara Baldwin, Betty Brooks, Martha Buckley, Xenia De Mattia, Becky Fallberg, Mary Jane Frost, Grace Godino, Wilma Guenot, Julie Harvey, Anneline Liu, Joan Orbison, Sylvia Roemer, Martha Sigall, Virginia Swift and Auril Thompson. Hereafter abbreviated as WIA/UCLA archives, 1994-1997.

Animation Guild. May 3, 1939 “Letter from Walt Disney Studio to Mary E. Cleave.” [Online] June19, 2006. Available from [Accessed July 26, 2013].

Ashley, Susan, 1995. “Interview by Rita Street, March 17.” WIA/UCLA archives, 1994-1997.

Baldwin, Barbara 1995. “Interview by Rita Street.” Dec. 10, WIA/UCLA archives, 1994-1997.

Barrier, Michael, 2007. The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney, Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Basten, Fred, Robert Salvatore and Paul Kaufman, 1995. Max Factor’s Hollywood: Glamour, Movies, Makeup. NY: General Publishers.

Batchelor, Steven, 2000. Chromophobia. London: Reaktion, 2000.

Beck, Jerry. Cartoon Brew, 2007. “The Ropes At Disney.” [Online] January 29. Available from, Jan 29, 2007. [Accessed: 14 July 2013]

Canemaker, John, 1996. Mar/Apr. “Secrets of Disney’s Special Effects: The Schultheis Notebooks.” Mar/Apr. Print Magazine.

—, 2014. The Secrets of Disney’s Visual Effects: The Schultheis Notebooks. San Francisco: Walt Disney Family Foundation Press, forthcoming.

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Davis, Marc Davis, 1997. “Transcript.” Interview by Douglas Bell August-December 1997. Oral History Program, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: 397 pages.

della Vacche, Angela, and Brian Priceeds, 2006. Color, The Film Reader. New York: Routledge.

Fallberg, Becky, 1996. Interview by Christine Ferriter, Jan 27, WIA/UCLA archives, 1994-1997.

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—, 1994. Painting a Plausible World: Disney’s Color Prototypes, in Eric Smoodin (ed). Disney Discourse: Producing the Magic Kingdom. New York: Routledge: 106- 117.

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Thompson, Kirsten Moana, 2012. “Classical Cel Animation, World War Two and Bambi, 1939-1945” History of American Film1929-1945, eds. Cynthia Lucia, Art Simon and Roy Grundmann. Vol II. New York: Blackwell: 358-378.

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Worth, Stephen, 2011-13. Correspondence and Interview with Author.

Yumibe, Joshua, 2012. Moving Color: Early Film, Mass Culture, Modernism. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Zohn Patricia, 2010. “Coloring the Kingdom.” Vanity Fair. 281-291; 310-311.

© Kirsten Thompson

Edited by Amy Ratelle