As Hollywood production has ground to a halt over the escalating COVID-19 pandemic, there is one area that been able to keep the lights on for the most part — animation.
As new episodes of The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers and more just this past weekend made it to air, many animated series are still in production, with their creative teams working in sync from home. And voiceover jobs are among the very few opportunities for actors right now, as many in that field have recording facilities in their own homes.
“Disney Television Animation is fully functioning with the team successfully working on a remote basis,” the company said in a statement to Deadline. “It took a few days to smooth some wrinkles but with strong studio leadership, the team of animation pros and support from IT and HR, the animation and editing is on schedule.”
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Nickelodeon Animation Studio, another heavyweight in the genre, and CBS Television Studios have all their ‘toon series up and running remotely too.
Warner Bros. Animation also is still in various stages of production on more than 30 series, including Animaniacs, Green Eggs & Ham (season 2), Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai, Little Ellen, Looney Tunes Cartoons and DC Super Hero Girls.
Some platforms used by animators have pitched in the efforts to keep the industry going. Toonboom, used by many shows to storyboard — including all 20th Century Fox TV series — granted free licenses to artists for a month.
The Bento Box productions, including Bob’s Burgers, Duncanville, Hoops and Central Park, all have in-house animators that use the program Harmony to handle retakes or new animation with a tight turnaround.
And amid a wave of coronavirus-related layoffs, the Fox-owned Bento Box is actually hiring.
The individual shows are trying to be creative too. The Simpsons and Big Mouth already is doing virtual table reads, with other shows likely to follow suit; the Family Guy composer is attempting to do a remote score by having musicians play their instruments from home; and Bless the Harts is conducting edit sessions with the show creator via Skype video.
Nick Kroll, co-creator, star and executive producer of Netflix/Titmouse animated series Big Mouth, recently shared a glimpse into the show’s remote table read.
Most if not all animated shows are coming up with their own fix to record the actors remotely. While tests are being conducted, Bless the Harts is using the popular Zoom teleconferencing app for capturing temp actor audio to help artists.
However, as streamlined and inventive as that sounds amidst a TV production industry that has otherwise essentially stopped in recent weeks, the animated process is not moving along without bumps.
In fact, as animated Hollywood settles into the new normal of stay-at-home in this time of coronavirus concerns, we hear some shows are talking to networks about shifting from new episodes every week to every two weeks in an effort to ease the newly emerging and unforeseen strains on their systems and schedules.
The strains stem partly from everyone working remotely.
We hear scripts are moving at a fairly normal pace, but the spillover effect of production teams being apart has the process of getting animated series ready to air slowing down on another level – considerably. In a deeply collaborative genre where the likes of the timely South Park and others have been known to finish new episodes with less than a day before broadcast, those tight delivery schedules could prove challenging in a COVID-19 reality.
“Usually you have everyone working together in a studio with the director and review and revisions got from Person A to Person B quite quickly,” a top animation producer explained to Deadline. “With the way things are now, that is taking a lot longer and we’ve lost some of the ability to screen together, which also slows things down.”
When it comes to speed, another major obstacle for animated series producers working during the outbreak and “safer-at-home” orders has been residential Internet connection.
When working from studios, animation productions have the benefit of long established higher power business lines for their connections. That is not the case when working from home.
Besides the overall strain on internet providers and broadband lines that is occurring with millions of Americans now at home for the foreseeable future, the blunt reality is your home Internet was constructed largely for buying not for selling.
Subsequently, like most of us, animation production teams are finding it relatively easy and fast to download footage and other materials. Yet, when it comes to uploading animated footage, the process can take much much longer and some times require repeated attempts – another significant factor contributing to a potentially condensed delivery schedules.
In this could lay one of the most important differences between small screen animation and big screen ‘toons. “Files sizes for animated movies are huge,” one producer noted, “and I’ve heard that people are having a hard time sending them to each other.” To that end, studios like Disney are said to be developing a work-around ASAP to either jump start the power of internet connection for their sequestered staffers or further compress files.
Then there is the global component of the animation industry with outlets in Asia and in Canada often providing much of the material to producers back here in L.A. “If those studios were to close or their animators had to work off-site, we could have a real problem,” an senior animation studio executive warned.
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