Dynamic Womxn in Animation

In Animation, mostly if not all lead characters are “strong” men who go save the damsel in distress. The damsel in distress is represented as perfect standard of beauty, and their only dimension to their personality is being nice and thankful for being saved. We see this in movies, mainly from Disney like Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, etc. But, where are the womxn characters who are dynamic? Who are multi-facted and are more than just a pretty face and hot body. As a Filipino-Italian womxn, I have my own stories to tell. I know I am a talented, strong, funny, ambitious, cultural, loud woman. But, where is that side of me and other girls like me represented on the screen? For too long, we have had a one sided narrative of a strong cis white male saving the day. But, I want more than just flipping that narrative for womxn, I want animation to show other sides, perspectives, and stories of women. Stories should be shown of women even with negative feelings because that is what’s real. We are not just always happy, nice, pretty beings. We are dynamic and powerful; which should be demonstrated on screen to many other girls growing up and older women watching too. In this post, I wanted to shed light on some of my favorite womxn characters that are dynamic and challenge the norm in animation.


Mandy, from Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, is a 9 year old girl from Endsville. She is very intelligent, sarcastic, devious, and quiet. She is very opposite from her best friend, Billy who is very dumb, loud, happy, and talkative. She is known to never smile, and when she does it throws off the natural order of the universe. She is an anti-hero and at times an antagonist. She can be very stubborn, unsympathetic and has a superiority complex. Mandy aspires to dominate the world and rule it cold heartedly with her intelligence and intimidation.

Mandy is a very different take on what we usually see as a little girl. She isn’t particularly designed to have a pretty face such as Disney girls. She is represented in a normal pink dress and headband like a normal young girl would wear. But, her hair is curved liked horns implying her deviousness. She is a great representation of what an average young girl would look like, but with a different take on her personality. Young girls are often represented as sweet, innocent, and cute. But, Mandy is anything but and would hate to ever be associated with any of those terms which makes her a great unique character.


Heather, from Total Drama Island, is an Asian-Canadian young adult who is the antagonist of the series. She is extremely manipulative of anyone in order to try to win the show. She knows what she wants and how to get it. She will only be kind when it benefits her. She is not a team player and is a control freak. Heather could be very rude and employs many mean girl tactics to get her way.

What Heather represents to me is one of my first representations of an Asian womxn who looked liked kind of like me. She wasn’t at all any of the usual asian womxn stereotypes. She was loud, mean, ruthless, and manipulative. She was attractive and at the top of the chain which wasn’t common in animation at all. An attractive asian womxn villain was not a thing, and her character serves as a showcase of successful asian representation without stereotypes.


Azula, from Avatar the Last Airbender, is the princess of the Fire Nation and key adversary of Team Avatar, which was in charge of hunting Avatar Aang and her brother, Zuko. Azula is a prodigy at Firebending and a skilled strategist. She is confident, sadistic, narcissistic, and a perfectionist. She does not have empathy, and was very hostile. She has a one track mentality and has extreme composure and focus making her very cunning and perceptive. Although she was intelligent and talented, she harbored a fragile mentality because she believed her mother loved her brother, Zuko, more than her and thought she saw her as a monster. Living in an environment where she received no affection from parental figures, her will strove her for perfection and maintaining relationships through cruelty and fear.

Azula is a great representation of a character who was given a multi-facted story that explained why the way she was. She was given a narrative where she was strong, talented, and powerful yet the deeper aspects of her personal life hindered her success in relationships and for the throne. Azula was often seen as this cruel, power obsessed girl who’d do anything to win, but there were moments where she broke down, where you can see her be heartfelt, or a normal teenage girl. Azula for me was my first animated character who I saw a girl as strong, with crazy abilities, and had layers to her.

Why is this occuring?

In Animation, a huge problem is making the female characters sexualized and a separate entity as a narrow role. Lino Di Salvo, the head animator of Frozen, even said himself, “Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, because they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very — you have to keep them pretty… So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough.” This statement is very telling of what the current perspective character designers in the animation industry have of the need for female characters to be pretty and that there is one standard of beauty in the industry. This limits the designs and concepts of female characters due to pressure from marketing where the decisions are dictated by mostly men who have the most say. And due to scarcity of female leads, no one notices the one formula of beauty for female characters and the lack of willingness to attempt to make something different. The need for female characters to be beautiful was very apparent in early 90s and 2000s shows where the male gaze was apart of even more “feminist” shows like Powerpuff Girls and My Life as a Teenage Robot. In Powerpuff Girls, to offset their female anger the designs and aesthetic would be hyper-feminine and pretty like bright backgrounds, or ultra pretty representations of their abilities. In My Life as a Teenage Robot, Jenny struggles with being beautiful or being a strong super-hero. Should she wear a pretty human girl exo skin or be herself? This dilemma illustrates the message that women can’t be both.

Although many animated shows and films have included womxn, they are often one-sided, forgettable, and are one standard of beauty. By providing diversity within a department where more female artists can dictate new perspectives and ideas of the female narrative and look. There can be new concepts and fresh looks to the industry that many kinds of people are wanting to see. It is very important to show complex personalities, cool character arcs, relevancy on their own, and diverse looks because without that it disempowers females and sends the message that we can’t and aren’t able to have those things.



New Creation Platform of Our Wildest Dreams?

Have you heard about DREAMS? Not the dreams that one day you will work at Disney, Pixar, or Riot Games, but Dreams as in the new PlayStation 4 game. Developed by Media Molecule, Dreams is a game that lets you create games, and play the games made by others from around the world. It is a platform where you can create characters, environments, art, assets and even music from scratch. You can go as far as recording cinematics for your games or short animated movies. The style of animation is not necessarily very hyper realistic, or stylized 3D, it is whatever you want it to be, including 2D. “The level of capability in Dreams is sort of shocking, as if Media Molecule bundled Unity, Garage Band, Final Cut and Photoshop into one package, along with a social network” (Hornshaw). While the creation range Dreams provide is quite wide and as complex as it gets, the interface is extremely user friendly. It is made to be easy to use by anyone and everyone. On top of all this craziness, any asset, character, instrument, sound or game itself that you have created can  be shared online in a giant library to be played or used by others to create new content. With this kind structure the possibilities of creation are endless.

When I first heard about this game from a friend I did not believe it. “So you create games by putting together premade assets?” If you want to you can, but the idea is that you can create everything from scratch, the way you want them to be, even the game dynamics and the rules of your world. “Then it’s all 3D sculpted characters?” No, you can have drawings, anything. “It must require a lot of coding, and figuring out hard interfaces.” It is as simple as a swing of DualShock 4 controller. “There has to be a catch.” There is none, it is what it is. “Then why do I melt my brain trying to learn all these softwares like Maya, Harmony, Unity, Animate, if it is as simple as it is on a single platform?” I will admit when I first heard about this game I did not want to believe it. It made me think why spend four years in college learning about all these programs this one platform can single handedly outdo. Now, that is an exaggerated statement, however, not thinking only about Dreams, but coming from that and asking in a more broad sense, how would our futures change (in the animation industry) if a platform where you can create anything and showcase it was to be made accessible to anyone in the world?

Think of it this way, the greatest benefit of college for a path in animation is that it provides us with industry used equipment such as softwares, computers, tablets, so we can have experience creating, and build a portfolio. What if this was available for everyone? There are so many talented people out there unable to attend college, or major in animation, due to various reasons, what if they had a chance to put themselves out there? Would they be the ones filling up the empty spots in the industry before college graduates? What does a college degree in animation mean if what is important is what you are able create? It is an interesting idea to think about, also kind of intimidating. Although, we should not forget, animations majors are in college and in that major because they have shown talent and proven themselves to an extent. I will admit, it is also true that despite the safe feeling college environment provides, getting a degree does not mean you are guaranteed a future. There is only so much we can learn from professors, and friends in a path of artistry and we need to put in most of the work in order to grow. However, college provides us with resources to be able to do just that. Furthermore, we can never forget the power of networking, and the role of college friendships play in that. All in all, it seems that we are on the same grounds as anyone in achieving our dreams, if not a step ahead. I would still ask though, could such a platform where creation of anything and everything is possible as well as easy become the new industry standard, leading us to forget all we have learned and master this new software?

I was just trying to pick your brains with some questions that sparked in me earlier this year and introduce you to this new masterpiece of a game whose release date is still to be announced. Feel free to check out these links for more info and dope demos:


Hornshaw, Phil. “‘Dreams’ is a game about making games, and it goes as deep as you want.” Digital Trends, Designtechnica Corporation, 11 December 2017, digitaltrends.com/gaming/dreams-preview/

Let’s Talk Mental Illness in Animation

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 43.8 million adults experience mental illness in a given year. And when it comes to kids, 1 in 5 children ages 13-18 have, or will have a serious mental illness. The bottom line is this: millions of Americans are affected by mental health conditions every year. As an animator and filmmaker who has dealt with depression and anxiety, I can’t help but wonder about the ways mental health is depicted in media and how it truly affects its audiences. Growing up, it felt like many times when a character was shown to have a mental illness, that was their defining characteristic and it ultimately led to some offensive stereotype that was way off mark. According to Stephen Hinshaw, a professor of psychology at U.C. Berkeley, “The worst stereotypes come out in such depictions: mentally ill individuals as incompetent, dangerous, slovenly, undeserving. The portrayals serve to distance ‘them’ from the rest of ‘us.’” I couldn’t agree more. However, while there are some notoriously flawed depictions of mental illness in media, I wanted to look at two more honest depictions of mental health conditions that are out there in animation. With such honest and more positive depictions of mental health conditions in media, I believe it can greatly impact those who tune in to watch it. So let’s discuss —

The Legend of Korra

Image result for legend of korra ptsd

A truly legendary animated series, Korra follows the adventures of its protagonist as she attempts to master the four elements and bring peace and harmony to the world. In her journey, however, Korra is poisoned by one of her enemies and survives, albeit with severe trauma. Though her mental health condition is not explicitly diagnosed as Post-Traumatic stress disorder within the show, it shows all the signs. After Korra survives from the poison, it is clear that she is not her “usual” self; as a direct result from the event, she is weakened and can’t function by herself.

What is amazing about The Legend of Korra is that unlike other shows with a hero protagonist, it displays mental health as something that can happen to anyone. Not only this, Korra shows how mental health is acquired, how it can affect someone, and how someone can support a friend struggling with mental illness. The character of Asami, Korra’s friend and ultimate love interest, writes letters to Korra and takes time out of her day to support her physically and emotionally. Eventually, Korra is able to make an improvement in her health and recover, ending the series with her and Asami taking a trip to the Spirit World together.

That last bit is especially significant as it showcases the importance of relationships for someone suffering with mental illness. One of the biggest reasons mental illness is misrepresented in the media is because people living with them are are almost always shown as people who simply cannot recover. Dr. Otto Wahl, director of the graduate institute of professional psychology at Connecticut’s University of Hartford states, “Recover is seldom shown. When people [are shown seeking] therapy, when they go to psychiatric hospitals – rarely do they get better. [And if they do get better,] it’s enough that they’re stabilized, but not enough so that … they’re integrated with the world, and have friends and jobs.”

Bojack Horseman

Image result for bojack horseman depression

Upon first examination, the premise of Bojack Horseman seems entirely unrealistic: a show about a washed up sitcom star who also happens to be a walking, talking horse. While others see it as just that, many viewers recognize the animated series for its realistic depiction of depression and addiction. Bojack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg states, “The goal was never like, ‘Let’s really create an expose, let’s really investigate this kind of thing, let’s diagnose BoJack in a certain way.’ I think it was more about just trying to write this character truthfully, and taking him seriously. The idea [was to take] a character trope that is maybe a little archetypal, or that we’ve seen before, but really believing in it, and trying to be honest and respectful to it.”

To many people, Bojack Horseman is an honest portrayal of depression. In contrast to the problem that Korra combats, Bojack fights the notion in many TV shows that mental health conditions can be fixed in a simple episode or 30 minutes. You see this kind of problem in so many other shows, like in Full House when D.J. had anorexia for an episode and it was never mentioned again, or in Hey Arnold! when Sid is implied to have OCD but it also magically goes away.

Not only does the show focus on Bojack’s mental health condition and his struggles, it also gives the audience insight into the struggles of almost every other character. Bojack Horseman showcases a multitude of different ways someone deals with depression through not just the stereotypical one depressed protagonist, but everyone in the universe itself. You see it in Diane Nguyen’s character when she shuts down and disappears, Sarah Lynn when she consistently turns to drugs, and Mr. Peanutbutter as he puts on a fake smile.

Why is this Important?

These two examples of representation are extremely important. Especially in the case of Bojack Horseman, it allows people to feel seen and heard. Good depictions of mental health conditions really make a difference for audience members. They show people with mental illness as complex, relatable people. It can also give people insight as to what loved ones with mental illness could be feeling, which really helps in the long run when you want to support those loved ones. Back in 2010, a UK study found that almost half of fictional characters with mental illness have storylines depicting them as violent. That kind of negative portrayal in media can have a similarly negative impact on those with mental illness watching it.

When you watch shows in the future, try looking out for how they portray those with mental health conditions. Are they referred to as crazy? Are they shown as someone with violent tendencies? What is the show saying about those with mental illness? I believe that with more positive depictions of mental health conditions, media and animation can make more of a genuine difference in someone’s life.