A Woman to Know: Retta Scott

No one could match her ability. — Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston

No one could match her ability. — Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston

(image via Wikimedia)

You know her work, even if you don’t know her name.

Retta Scott’s brushstrokes brought many of childhood classics to the screen, including Fantasia and Dumbo. She was the first woman to have a screen credit in any Disney animation, for her work on Bambi.

But in the 1930s, getting a seat at the animators’ table was no easy feat. Female animators were routinely rejected from Disney jobs or forced to work for no screen credit. Women were allowed only in the ink and painting departments for “less laborious” work.

But Retta broke through the “celluloid ceilings” when some “vicious, snarling” hunting dogs she’d storyboarded for a scene in Bambi caught the eye of two male animators. As they later recalled:

We wondered who at the Studio could have drawn this terrifying situation so convincingly and would have guessed that such virile drawings could have been done only by some burly man, probably with a bristling beard and the look of an eagle in his eye. We were amazed to find instead that they were done by a small, delicate, wonderfully cheerful young woman with winkling eyes and a crown of blond curls piled on top of her head. Retta was strong had boundless energy, and drew powerful animals of all kinds from almost any perspective and in any action.

But her gorgeous work on Bambi wasn’t enough to protect Retta from industry sexism. The Studio laid her off in 1941, then briefly hired her back the next year — only to work on educational animations and short videos. After her wedding five years later, she retired from animation and moved to Washington, DC with her husband. She continued to illustrate as a freelancer, even painting Disney characters again, this time for Golden Book Classics.

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