Though Retta Scott’s career at Disney was brief, she left an indelible mark as the Studio’s first woman animator, receiving screen credit on the 1942 classic Bambi. As Bambi former supervising animator Frank Thomas recalled, “Retta had an astounding ability to draw powerful animals. She seemed to have a keen understanding of their moods and attitudes.”
Born in Omak, Washington, on February 23, 1916, Retta graduated from Seattle’s Roosevelt High School in 1934. She moved to Los Angeles to attend Chouinard Art Institute on scholarship and spent much of her free time sketching wildlife at the nearby Griffith Park Zoo.
While her heart was originally set on a fine arts career, the school’s director encouraged Retta to apply at Disney. In 1938, she joined the Story department working on Bambi. Her stunning story sketches and character development caught the attention of Walt Disney and director Dave Hand, so when the film went into production she was assigned to animate scenes featuring hunting dogs chasing Faline.
As she later recalled, “I developed the hunting dogs into vicious, snarling beasts… running and scrambling, trying to climb the cliff and sliding back.”
After Bambi, Retta worked on Dumbo and then animated the weasels in the “Wind in the Willows” segment of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. In 1941, she appeared in Disney’s feature film The Reluctant Dragon, starring Robert Benchley.
Later that year, when the Studio hit a slump, she and other artists were laid off. Retta returned to Disney’s Story department in 1942, when the Studio was producing military training films during World War II. Four years later, she resigned from Disney to move east with her husband, a United States Naval officer.
She continued to contribute to Disney as a freelance artist, illustrating the Big Golden Book of Cinderella and Cinderella Puppet Show, published in 1950. The cover of the Cinderella Golden Book was released by Disney Art Classics in 2000, as a color serigraph with gold enhancements, under the Art of Disney Storybooks line.
Creative Director of Disney Publishing Worldwide, Ken Shue, described Retta’s work: “Her Cinderella storybook illustrations are very stylized,” he observed. “I keep the Cinderella cover framed on an easel outside my office. It’s a very detailed, complex composition that informs and inspires our art staff daily. It’s show-stopping.”
In 1980, Retta worked on The Plague Dogs, a non-Disney animated film directed by Martin Rosen. She also helped animate television commercials produced by Luckey Zamora for such products as Cookie Crisp Cereal.
Retta Scott passed away on August 26, 1990, at her home in Foster City, California.