Interview with Disney Legend, Joanna Romersa

A skype call interview i did with Joanna Romersa about Women in the Animation Pipeline and what has changed over the years. I later typed up for anyone who is interested.

  1. You started your career in the inking and painting department of Disney, despite the obvious sexism of the job, was it an enjoyable experience? Did you always yearn to do more?

Well it really wasn’t very enjoyable in the beginning because it was really, pretty boring. They made me draw circles and loops and ovals and landing of a plane and taking off and gliding with the pen. It was really boring, and I almost quit, because I thought I can’t just do this. A dear friend of mine later said “Just sit down, shut up and learn it, and you’ll have a job for the rest of your life” and little did I know, just how true It was.


  1. Was it after sneaking into the animation building (and being caught my Walt) that your desire to animate grew, or was it always there?

No, I had no intention of animating when I started, it was just all kind of a fluke, but as I progressed as an inker and it was no longer a challenge, I realised that I needed to do something else. I actually asked the production manager if I could indeed train as an inbetweener and he said “no, because you are a woman you are going to go away and get married and have babies and never come back, and we invest too much time and money into your training and it would be for nothing, therefore you are delegated to the ink and paint department, or you could be a checker if you choose.” But that really was not interesting at all to me, and so shortly after that I left.



  1. What was it that made you decide to finally leave Disney and move to Hanna Barbara whilst studying?

Well, I didn’t go directly to Hanna Barbara, I took time off to have my son and I worked for a independent ink and paint company that inked commercials. We did the very successful commercials of the day, like ‘The Bank of America’, ‘The Western Airline’ and things, and it was a good entering job for me because I could work at home a lot of the time. Then as Joe (her son) grew, and was able to go to nursery school and kindergarten and what have you, that was when I went to Hanna Barbara.


  1. In relation to a man, were your wages equal? In recent years has this changed? Do you feel that the wage you were paid fairly represented the amount of work produced? Do you feel that it was enough money to live off.

For the time it was enough money to live on, and yes I was paid the same proportion to a man, because it was ‘union’. There were stipulations as to what your salary would be. You had automatic pay raises in the beginning, an inbetweener would be paid so much and an apprentice or whatever, And then you would skip to a different place in the system and you would be at the bottom of the barrel again. And you would have to go through the progression of pay raises, eventually, by the time I had gone through all of the stages of assistance animation, they made me an animator. So then I started at the bottom again, but it was quite a bit more money at that time. It was very comfortable.


  1. In more recent years of your long career, it appears that you have had the role of ‘timing director’ what exactly does that role entail and what led you to that job?


When the animation was being shipped over seas to Australia and Taiwan and the Philippines, there was no longer a job for Animators, so timing directing came in as a way to fill in the jobs for the animators that were still there at Hanna Barbara. And a timing director charts how on the timing sheet how many drawings it will take for a given action. We work with the storyboard. In the old days we didn’t have what they call ‘quicktime’ that they use now. We just used the storyboard and a thing we called ‘slug’ and each of the panels of the storyboard were designated an amount of feet and frames, footage written onto the exposure sheet, and that exposure sheet then followed the storyboard and the soundtrack too the animator. Also the dialogue was written on the exposure sheet and Bill Hannah was the one that invented the idea of mouth charts, and mouth charts were A, B, C, D, E, F and that indicated a closed mouth, a slightly open mouth, a wide open mouth and ‘Ooo’ sound. And because we spoke English, many of the places that the animation was sent too had absolutely no idea what that dialogue represented, so these letters would phonetically explain the sounds so that they would animate that the picture of the mouth witch would then of course bond to the soundtrack.


  1. In an industry swarming with men, what made you decide that this was what you wanted to do, and in fact something you as a woman COULD do?

Because it paid well, and all of the directors and producers were men and again the pay scale went up the higher you went up on the totem pole, so to speak. And since I was going to be spending all my time there, I just assumed make more money, and more interesting jobs, because the director does direct but he or she may influence the actors to annunciate certain dialogues, certain expressions and It was basically just more interesting. The industry swarming with men…well they kind of nice men, haha. I didn’t really suffer from being one of the only women in the building, but some people were real jerks, but for the most part they were friends of mine, and they helped me. It was hard wok, and that’s what it took, I think for any struggling artist or someone who is trying to get into the business, don’t think its going to be easy, because its not. Its going to take a lot of patience and a lot of hard work and I think one of the reasons I did succeed was that I was just very stubborn and I wouldn’t accept ‘no’. Many times I had to go around it because I was a woman. You can’t really confront somebody who is your boss, I did that once and I realised it really didn’t work. If your determined and you want to do it, you can do it. You just have to be smart about it and go for it, and if it doesn’t work for you do something else.


  1. Do you feel that being a woman has ever been a factor that has held you back or slowed you down in progressing through your career?

Oh yeah, in the beginning. They really didn’t want me in there because it really was like an ‘old boys club’ and I couldn’t talk about guns and cowboys and whatever else, haha…fishing gear etc. But it didn’t bother me, if the conversation turned to something I wasn’t interested in I just either left the room or shut up. In the beginning they just said “no, you can’t” but because technically the business changed because inkers were women but when the Xerox machine came in, that left room for us to excel or go back into Xerox or go ahead into animation. It was a good opportunity and they did accept women as assistant animators so when you became an assistant animator, that meant you eventually became an animator. So that was a door that opened naturally.



  1. What advice would you give to young women trying to get into the industry?

First of all, most of the studios nowadays demand a college education, and education is going to make you a broader person, through the years do better without, but initially if you want to get into a major studio they are going to look for that degree. So go to college, get your degree, major in film, or art or literature that will aid you. Always remember no matter how pretty the picture, if you don’t have a good story you don’t have anything.


  1. When starting your family, did you find it was difficult to remain in the industry?

I worked from home and It was no problem as long as I did my job and met my deadlines it was fine. I have to tell you, sometimes I worked very late at night because I was taking care of kids during the day, but because I could work at home, I had a salary, you just do it. I think it would have been easier if I didn’t have my children but that would not have worked, haha. I am glad I did have them.


  1. Discussing the topic of sexism and inequality, is there anything you would like to add?

Well, nowadays…I don’t know. The role between men and women is pretty much equal. I don’t really think, well…yeah if you get an old guy that’s just hard nosed about it then you might have a little bit of trouble. But for the most part the world is changing and its changing for the good as far as equality is concerned. I think just to be smart, considerate, to go for the opportunity when you see it. If you see something isn’t working don’t just sit there, and don’t become obnoxious about it, you back up and you find another avenue. Be persistent and go for it, pursue your dreams whatever they are.