State of the art: Women call few of film's digital shots

Thu May 29, 2014 8:20am EDT
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By Mary Milliken

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It's too bad women can't computer-generate more of their own participation in the technical side of filmmaking.

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 generally.

"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 supervisors.

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.   Continued...

Munira Tayabji, the supervising technical director on the upcoming DreamWorks Animation film "Home", poses for a portrait on the Dreamworks campus, in Glendale, California April 15, 2014.   REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson