Brenda Chapman became the first female director of animated features from DreamWorks and Pixar, winning an Academy Award for ‘Brave.’
Who Is Brenda Chapman?
Born in Illinois in 1962, Brenda Chapman rose through the ranks at Disney in the 1990s, leading to her role as head of story for The Lion King (1994). She moved on to DreamWorks, where she became the first female director of an animated feature for a major Hollywood studio with The Prince of Egypt (1998). At Pixar, she again made history as the studio's first female director, for Brave; pulled from the project before its completion in 2012, she nonetheless shared an Academy Award for its direction. Chapman has since consulted for Lucasfilm and collaborated on projects with husband and fellow director Kevin Lima.
'Brave' Acclaim and Controversy
Not long after joining Pixar Animation Studios in 2003, Chapman began developing a deeply personal project based on her relationship with her strong-willed daughter. What followed was the basis for Brave, a story about a fiery Scottish princess named Merida who refuses to adhere to tradition and marry a royal suitor without her consent.
Brave made history in several ways, as it gave Pixar its first female protagonist and made Chapman the studio's first female director (the film was made in conjunction with Disney). Additionally, the feature made waves within the industry for the groundbreaking efforts made to animate Merida's wild red locks.
However, the feel-good nature of the project took a turn when Chapman was yanked as director and replaced by Mark Andrews in 2011. Chapman later chalked it up to "creative differences;" Andrews said it was a matter of timing, noting Pixar's history of switching directors when a project was in danger of missing its scheduled release date.
Although the change carried the potential of drastically altering Chapman's vision, she ultimately praised the final product, which hit theaters in June 2012. The following year, she and Andrews shared the Academy Award win for Best Animated Feature.
Breaking In With Disney: 'Beauty and the Beast' and 'The Lion King'
Following her early professional work on network cartoons like Heathcliff & the Catillac Cats and Dennis the Menace, Brenda Chapman began her career at Walt Disney Feature Animation Studios as a trainee on The Little Mermaid (1989). She moved on to work as a cleanup artist on Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) and worked on the storyboarding for The Rescuers Down Under (1990). However, it was her efforts on Beauty and the Beast (1991), both as an artist and story contributor, that thrust her to the forefront of her field, helping her land the role of head of story for The Lion King (1994). She was also involved with the making of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) and Fantasia 2000 (1999).
DreamWorks: Directing History on 'The Prince of Egypt'
In the mid-1990s, Chapman joined the brand-new DreamWorks Animation Studios, the brainchild of director Steven Spielberg, former Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg and music executive David Geffen. Making another professional leap, she was named co-director of The Prince of Egypt (1998), thereby becoming the first woman to direct an animated feature film for a major Hollywood studio. Chapman also contributed to the DreamWorks features The Road to El Dorado (2000), Chicken Run (2000) and Shrek (2001).
Chapman later returned to DreamWorks in 2013 to help develop Rumblewick, an adaptation of a popular children's book series.
Pixar Years: 'Cars,' 'WALL-E' and 'Up'
Recruited to join Pixar as a senior story artist in 2003, Chapman was involved with some of the studio's most celebrated productions, including Cars (2006) and Cars 2 (2011), WALL-E (2008), Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010). Following the difficulties of Brave, she left the studio in the summer of 2012.
Speaking Out for Women
Chapman has been an outspoken proponent of forging equal opportunities and providing strong role models for women in the film industry. In 2012 she penned a New York Times article, titled "Stand Up for Yourself, and Mentor Others," in which she argued why it was important for the few prominent women in the business to share their experiences with the next generation.
The following year, she blasted Disney's decision to market Brave's Merida as more of a traditional tame princess, adding her name to the 200,000 petitioners who also objected to the rebranding of the formerly fierce character.
Brenda Chapman was born on November 1, 1962, in the small town of Beason, Illinois. The artist has said that she's been drawing since she could hold a pencil, and she began considering animation as a career while in high school.
After earning an Associate of the Arts from nearby Lincoln College in 1982, Chapman headed to the California Institute of the Arts for its character animation program. En route to a Bachelor of Fine Arts, she developed her craft by making three short films, the last of which, A Birthday, helped lead to a position with Disney.
Chapman is married to fellow CalArts and Disney Animation alum Kevin Lima, with whom she has a daughter named Emma. Lima is known for his directing work on Tarzan (1999) and the acclaimed combination live action-animated Enchanted (2007), starring Amy Adams. Husband and wife also consult and develop projects through Chapman Lima Productions.
Lucasfilm and Other Projects
Chapman joined Lucasfilm as a consultant in 2012, where she helped deliver the fairy-tale jukebox musical Strange Music (2015).
Following her second go-round at DreamWorks, Chapman has pursued an array of individual projects, including writing her memoir, illustrating a children's book and developing a live action feature. She also co-founded the Lincoln Film Festival with a childhood friend and has been involved with the Bay Area International Children’s Film Festival.