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Brenda Banks

Pioneering animator Brenda Banks (Film/Video BFA 71, MFA 73) passed away on Dec. 31, 2020. She was 72.

Banks is recognized as an industry trailblazer for being one of the first Black women animators in America. Throughout her career, she lent her talents to iconic characters such as The Smurfs, Scooby-Doo, Charlie Brown, among others, and on series such as  Looney Tunes, The Simpsons, and King of the Hill, the latter cited by Cartoon Brew as her last known industry job.

Animator and educator Nancy Beiman (Film/Video BFA 79) commented on a Facebook tribute to Banks by animation historian Tom Sito, noting that she’d met Banks while in Jules Engel’s (founder and director of CalArts’ Film Graphics Program, later renamed Experimental Animation) program at CalArts. Beiman described Banks’ caricatures of The Three Stooges as a three-headed dinosaur as “brilliant” and “spectacular.”

Banks’ early animation credits appear on Flip Wilson’s television specials, produced in 1972 and 1974 at DePatie-Freleng Enterprises. She had broken into the industry by the time the legendary director Ralph Bakshi had met her, after which she worked on several of his films, including Wizards (1977), Lord of the Rings (1978), American Pop (1981), and Hey Good Lookin’ (1982). Jon M. Gibson and Chris McDonnell’s biography of Bakshi described Banks as a “veteran guiding the rookies” during the production of the fantasy adventure Fire and Ice (1983).

A tribute to Banks by Cartoon Brew noted:

Whatever studio she found herself at, be it Hanna-Barbera or Warner Bros., Banks was remembered for her kindness and humor. Many also described her as quiet—shy, even—and immensely talented. She animated well and fast and often giggled while doing so.