How has the COVID-19 Pandemic Affected the Animation Industry?

Animation is an industry which is always growing and changing. But how was it affected by the COVID-19 pandemic? In this blog, I explored some of the changes made to animation, some of which have transformed the industry completely.

Animation is an industry which is always growing and changing to keep up with advancing technology. I’ve always been passionate about animation, (and even chose this as my topic for my Artsmark Gold Award!) which is why I decided to research how the industry has been impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time a greater focus was placed on animation, as people were stuck at home during lockdown. For instance, streaming services like Disney+ came out during this time and promoted new animated shows. Animation was one of the few areas of tv production that could work safely. Animation companies therefore had to keep up with the growing demand. A benefit to this was that there was more content for a wider age range, as animation studios wanted to cater to everyone. The changes made during lockdown were not necessarily temporary, however. Many animation companies are now considering having a hybrid working system. This means that those who would prefer can work in a studio, but others are able to work remotely. However, this makes networking within the company very difficult, and it means they have no real loyalty to the company. 

As part of my investigation, I contacted some animation companies such as Carse&Waterman, Fudge Animation Studios and ToonBoom. The director of Toon Boom Animation Associates, Mr Andy Wyatt, explained how their staff and production continued working, despite the challenges during lockdown. He stated that many of their animators were used to working from home prior to the pandemic, so the impact was not as bad as it could have been. However, there were a few technical difficulties to begin with, meaning there was a few weeks delay in production. They soon caught up and before long, their staff could work from all over the world. They explained that overall, the pandemic actually had a positive impact on their company, as demand skyrocketed because more audiences discovered animation. It also meant that they were able to hire more international talent which was new as work could be done remotely. However, Mr Wyatt did mention that it could be difficult to find a work-home life balance, if they had young children for instance, but the hours were more flexible so many worked their own hours. 

Similarly to Toon Boom, Carse & Waterman had also begun to set up remote working before the pandemic hit. Director and founder of Carse & Waterman, Mr Daniel Waterman provided his knowledge and insight on the pandemic’s effects on animation. Although technology and communication sometimes proved a problem, overall remote working seemed to work quite well. Despite this, each individual encountered their own problems. In general, it was said that younger artists found the experience quite positive as they were able to “focus and create great work without the distraction of office noise”. Those with families, (and young children) however, sometimes had difficulty focusing. Although it was stated that it may be too soon to tell whether the impact of the industry was positive, Mr Waterman predicts that the hunger for more content, a hybrid working environment, and newer technological advances “can only add up to be a good thing”. A common challenge was not only technology, but also the networking between newer animators. Unfortunately, the lockdown prevented the in-person bonding between newer animators, and arguably made it a little more difficult for them to settle in properly. Furthermore, despite the flexibility that was allowed, many animators worked longer hours than they were required to. The biggest concern that Mr Waterman highlighted was that although animation can be done remotely, ultimately no connection or loyalty will grow amongst the staff as it is harder to develop when they’re not in the same room. 

Ms Laura Morton, head of production for Fudge Animation Studios also offered her outlook on the animation industry during the pandemic. She said that although it allowed their staff to develop a better work / home life balance, as it was more flexible and they were able to spend more time with their families, it did mean that many were tempted to work beyond their actual hours, causing a negative impact on mental health. Technology issues, again, proved a problem, as some people had very slow internet which slowed the speed of production. At the end of the day however, animators could continue working despite lockdown and has ultimately changed the industry, perhaps for the better. Ms Morton particularly mentioned that it was harder to give feedback and there was a lack of team building during this time. Ultimately, it was suggested that a hybrid working model for Fudge Animation Studios would probably be the most effective way of running the industry, as it allows their staff to balance their home and work life, build relationships and share knowledge with one another when in the studio.  

A few movies that were made during the Covid-19 Pandemic were Disney Pixar’s Soul, and Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon. Again, similar issues arose, regarding internet troubles and the lack of team building and face-to-face collaboration. Production wise, Raya and the Last Dragon was almost 100% completed from home, with 90+ animators and 200-300 other artists working on it. ‘Once the pandemic hit, everything changed’. Disney were worried, as a key aspect of making Disney movies is collaboration. However, their systems were up and running within a week as they had previously set up a way for artists to do occasional working hours from home. An interesting challenge that was faced by animators, was that due to the technical issues, there was a problem with the lip-syncing of the characters to the sound. 

Disney Pixar’s Soul was 52% completed when the lockdown was enforced, meaning they still had a large percentage of the movie to complete remotely. The studio had thankfully put in place a plan if there was to be a pandemic, so that staff were able to get the machines home and active. If they hadn’t set up remote monitors 5 years ago, then they wouldn’t have been able to work remotely. Although there were a few problems to begin with, like the typical internet issues, it ended up working quite well. People gained a better understanding of one another, through seeing their home lives. Although there wasn’t much in person collaboration, there was a sense of trust in others that was required for the production to run smoothly, which ironically, is one of the main messages in the movie. 

Overall, there are many positive and negative effects of the pandemic on animation. Over the lockdown especially, the demand for animated content increased, meaning people will want more animated seasons/movies and entirely new animated content to watch post-lockdown. Furthermore, this could lead to better job security within the industry, as animation companies need to keep up with this demand. It is also a benefit internationally, as many companies can now recruit talented people from all over the world and are able to have them log into their systems remotely. On the flip side, there may be more distraction at home, leading to less productivity and therefore companies may not want to pay for more staff as it takes longer to do the job. There could also be a lack of team bonding and personal bonds to the company, which could potentially lead to less collaboration between animators. Some of the drawbacks are mainly short-term consequences. These include the potential loss of money through the expense of having to set up systems at home as well as in the studio. During the lockdown, in which there were no cinemas, there was also a potential loss of money as it meant less people may have seen the movie and animation companies had to rely on streaming platforms like Netflix and Disney+ to broadcast their shows. This also could have had an impact on the popularity of the movie, as less people will have seen it, hence losing money through merchandising, even after the movie has been released. 

It is safe to say, however, that the pandemic has had a profound impact on animation companies. One thing that all the companies I spoke to agreed on, was that the animation industry will never be the same again, as the changes and developments made can help the industry become more efficient. Many are shifting to a hybrid working system, in which animators can work from home or in the studio. This allows a collaborative bond to form between the individual and the company, whilst also growing an intimate bond between staff by learning more about one another through their home life. In my opinion, this is quite effective as it allows more talent to be recruited from across the globe and allows staff to choose their preferred working style. This is important to me on a personal level, as it creates more opportunities for those like me, who are passionate about animation, but live in parts of the world which are perhaps not as famous for animation. I came away from this investigation feeling quite hopeful that it could be easier to access the animation industry for those that are passionate, which is quite an exciting opportunity, especially as it is often known as an industry that is quite difficult to get into.  

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Jessica Johnston

Jessica Johnston

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