Animation Studios Coping with Covid-19

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Chris Colman and Gus Karam, executive producers at Final Frontier chat to company leaders on adapting to the global situation and how the world will look after
Animation Studios Coping with Covid-19

The consensus among production circles is that the animation industry, being able to work effectively from home, is actually benefiting from COVID-19. But do the practitioners agree? 

Curious to understand how the whole situation has really affected studios, Final Frontier's Chris Colman and Gus Karam talked with a handful of company leaders from the Final Frontier roster, located around the world, to find out how they have adapted, what positives they are gleaning from the situation, and how they see things going once the virus period has passed. 

Contributors:

Pablo Alfieri/Playful Studio (Barcelona) - (creative director) 

Le Cube (Madrid and Buenos Aires) - Ralph Karam (creative director, co-founder) 

Nerdo (Turin) - Diego Pizziconi (executive producer, co-founder), Alessandro Durando (co-founder and creative director)

Tendril (Toronto and São Paulo) - Christopher Bahry (co-founder, creative director), Kate Bate (managing Ddrector, Partner) 


Q> How have you practically adapted to the lockdown? 

Ralph Karam, Le Cube: Le Cube has always had a culture of remote work, sharing projects with offices in different countries and working with lots of freelancers, so for us, this was not exactly a big change. 

Diego Pizzicone, Nerdo: We were able to achieve a fully functional remote team before the total lockdown, relocating all the studio resources very fast, in just a day, without affecting production. 

Pablo Alfieri, Playful: I am working from home in my apartment in Barcelona. Playful doesn’t have a fixed studio, so it’s not so disruptive to workflow. 

Christopher Bahry, Kate Bate, Tendril: As strange luck would have it, we are in the midst of moving to a new location this summer and were anticipating the need to set up a WFH scenario, so we were prepared to put things in motion quickly. It was (surprisingly) a lot less painful than we thought it might be. We ran a small test group of 10 individuals before the lockdown and phased the rest of the team to WFH pretty quickly over the weekend. Most of our artists have capable at- home workstations and those that needed more horsepower were sent home with a studio workstation. We are all connected to the mothership via a combination of secure VPN for direct network access to the servers, TeamViewer/Anydesk for casual remote access and HPRGR and hardware accelerated remote access cards for super-intensive tasks like Flame or Nuke compositing. We also make good use of Dropbox, Slack and a ton of Hangouts and Zoom calls. Sometimes plan C becomes plan B and then plan A. One thing we have all learned is open- mindedness and flexibility around managing true unknowns. 


Q> Have you seen a change in the volume or nature of briefs since the Covid situation began? 

DP, Nerdo: We are experiencing an increase in enquiries for animation projects - 2D, 3D, mixed media - surely because live action production is almost impossible right now. 

RK, Le Cube: A couple of projects have been canceled or put on hold, but we are also receiving lots of scripts that were previously approved to be shot in live-action and now need to be adapted to animation. No one really knows what's coming next, so we are trying to live in the moment and give our best to what is still ongoing. 

CB/KB, Tendril: We don’t know yet if the volume has been affected but there is definitely a sense that things are paused. Advertisers understandably need to revisit their spending power and their messaging. With an acknowledgement that the virus has thrust us into a recession in a matter of weeks, clients will need a beat to make a plan. If they have already purchased media time, they will want to pivot their stories to feel appropriate to the time. Animation is a beautiful option, but a live action story does not always perfectly translate. It cannot always replace a heartfelt, funny, or otherwise human-centred story. It’s just different. 


Q> What have you learned from this situation so far? 

PA, Playful: It’s an opportunity to balance your life and personal goals. Ordinarily my professional work takes up so much of my time, energy, and focus, but right now, I’m together with my girlfriend and my puppy, in the present moment, and there’s so much value in those moments. Likewise, in normal times, we get used to communicating with friends and family through social media, and relationships can become very superficial. These days I’m talking regularly to friends again, which is really inspiring. 

CB/KB, Tendril: This situation has reinforced our appreciation for the studio family we have and how much we care about each other, enjoy each other's company and can rely on each other for support. We’ve learned that we can come together as a group of individuals, even despite so many obstacles and challenges. We can’t imagine how much harder this would all be if we didn’t have each other. We’ve even managed to keep our Friday happy hours going through a massive video chat. 

DP, Nerdo: We’ve just had confirmation that the people working with us in Nerdo are a bunch of wonderful human beings and great artists. Everyone is so willing to cooperate to keep the studio running, and that’s giving us the strength to face this situation. Until today, we were pretty much an ‘all-together-in-studio’ team, but we are now experiencing new ways to keep our ideas flowing and being very productive. We can be physically apart, but our minds can keep working together, perhaps even be er than usual. 


Q> How will this period impact on your studio? 

DP, Nerdo: We don’t know yet what lies ahead, but we really think this is a short and long term opportunity. We now have the chance to develop great projects and propose creative solutions to clients that weren't even imagining that animation (no matter the technique) can be a great alternative to live action. 

PA, Playful: Recently I’d been consuming a lot of social media and blogs and the amount of visual data is overwhelming. Now, in isolation, I’m being more selective and conscious about what I consume. For example, I’m currently creating a short film inspired by nature, so I’m watching a lot of documentaries about how technology is helping people better understand ecology. I’m also taking the time to learn how the fashion industry really works - about designers, shows, fabrics. I can already feel that conscious redirection of my attention improving my creative work. 

RK, Le Cube: A concern now is people’s physical and mental health. For those used to working in studios especially, we are in danger of entering burnout territory, since WFH makes it so hard to separate work from relaxation time, and considering the reduced outdoor activities, social life, and healthy distractions. We are always aiming for a working protocol that protects the sanity of our artists. 


Q> What would you like to see change in the industry after this period has passed? 

CB/KB, Tendril: Major Self Reflection, for businesses, individuals and our industry as a whole. This can be a real driver of business decisions. For us, when we choose between projects, we will always be asking ourselves ‘is this a product or service we believe in?’ and ‘is this something we would use or let our kids use?’ We take refuge in the idea that we can create things that help communicate important messages, provoke thoughts and even just put needed beauty and entertainment into the world. We have all been thrust into being so much more mindful of those around us, the interconnectedness of our countries and ecosystems and economies. The hope is that this experience will have lasting changes on the psyche and zeitgeist. A lot of creative people, who may not be front line workers, are asking themselves, ‘what can I be doing to be more helpful or useful in the world’ when this situation has passed, and ‘How can we use our creative powers?’ 

DP, Nerdo: We'd like to see this as a way to force people to re-evaluate animation in commercials and communication. This mindset switch will change the paradigm of advertising for the next few years. At that stage, hopefully more clients will recognise the real value of our work, how complicated and time consuming an animated production is and, in an ideal world, to have more flexibility on timing and budget. But for this we also need a cohesive approach from all creative and production companies, to try not to sell out our expertise cheaply. 


Q> What will be the actual impact on the industry? 

RK, Le Cube: The industry has changed, maybe forever, but communication will need to go on as it always has. Right now, we are seeing an increase in projects for which ‘fast and cheap’ are the primary requirements. But, as always, craft, and storytelling excellence will shine brighter than mediocre content, and eventually, our industry will again turn to quality. 

PA, Playful: The next stage will be challenging, but I feel at least we will keep experiencing a change in our behaviours. Big companies have a lot of decisions to make, thinking about how much all this consumption is impacting our planet. I would love them to think differently because these companies can start to give us new possibilities, based on sustainable and ecological products. 

CB/KB, Tendril: Even more increased importance of data privacy and security. We work on a lot of projects that require security and, in a work from home setup, really strong IT and infrastructure have been absolutely necessary and critical. Things like dual factor authentication, secure VPN, and drive encryption ensure that our clients and data are safe from harm. 

DP, Nerdo: We must bear in mind that our life will change for a long time, and may never be the same again: how we meet people, how we work, how we enjoy an event. So we hope to see a drastic change for humanity, in a good way. A change of priorities and values, a cohesive vision of global well-being for all of us. Hopefully this will also be the case with advertising. On the other hand, a lot of companies will suffer from the incoming economic crisis which will mean less investments in advertising and communication in general in the short term. Live action will likely take the hardest hit. In the long term we think that most of the companies who suffered the production lockdown will try to recover and stimulate economic growth with strong advertising efforts. Once breaking through the initial resistance to using animation, the number of companies that will use mixed media for their communication will consistently grow. As in the past, our industry - and the whole world - will eventually rise from the ashes. 

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Genres: Animation

Final Frontier, 2 months ago