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How Could The Lockdown Change The Future Of Animation?

You don't need me to tell you that we've all been going through something unlike anything we've ever seen before. Although its biggest cost has been in human life, there has not been any aspect of everyday life that has not been affected. Almost every industry has been hit, and that includes entertainment. Curiously though, animation is one of the sectors which has been best able to adapt to the challenges thrown up by the lockdown and continue relatively as before. While the crisis is far from over,  some aspects of life are at least starting to show signs of a gradual return to normal. But when this is all behind us, will the industry ever be the same? Or could these unprecedented times have a lasting impact? Today, let's take a look at how we could see animation's future shaped by these crazy few months.  Just what might we see change?


How Animation Is Produced


What with one thing and another, great swathes of the working population found themselves working from home for the first time. Most aspects of animation production essentially require individuals working alone on a computer, so the transition has been relatively painless. The aspects which may require more collaboration- such as writer's rooms or pre-production- can also be recreated using video conferencing. Most professional voice-over artists will probably have their own equipment to record from home (some may even have a home studio). So animation has been basically the only scripted film and television that has been able to continue production, hardly missing a beat.

So now that it's been proved it can be done when it's safe to return, will anybody even want to? Sure, many will crave the experience of working alongside other human beings, but for many others, the convenience of working from home will be hard to leave behind.

If the option of remote working was to become standard in the industry, the ramifications could be huge. Mainstream animation tends to come out of major cities- Los Angeles, New York, London, Vancouver, Tokyo, so unless you happen to live in such a place, it requires relocation. Not everybody has the luxury of being able to upturn their life and move halfway across their country, or even overseas.

This traditionally has locked many out of the industry. It has disproportionately affected women (often due to family commitments) but has also affected people with disabilities, older people and those from poorer backgrounds. It still requires having a decent enough computer and wi-fi, but studios could even provide that- sending it would be a lot cheaper than relocating.

So it could potentially lead to a much more diverse industry- studios could hire the best artists, no matter where they live. It could see producers saving money by reducing the need for studio space, bringing people together in person only for times when it is required. However, a combination of remote and on-site production seems like it could be the most likely outcome for the future.

More Animation?


Animation production has continued while live-action scripted content has had to be put on hold. This means that most animated content should be completed as close to on-schedule as possible, while so much other content is being delayed. The content drought that will hit in the coming months or year or two may be partly filled using animation. The NBC crime drama The Blacklist even used animation to complete its unfinished season finale.

Not only might it lead to more animation on our screens in the short term, but it also might increase investment in the medium overall. As animation has proved itself to be adaptable, it might seem smart to put more money into production. It can be seen as a kind of insurance in case a second lockdown or some other crisis should hit the industry in future. Animation has been performing very well for streaming services, so we might see more of it than ever.


How Animation Is Distributed

With cinemas shuttered, a sizable chunk of studios' annual revenue has been shut off. Although some were slow off the mark, the majority of the year's major theatrical releases saw delays. Not that there was much of a choice. Aside from a few scattered drive-ins, there wouldn't be anywhere open to show the movies. Not every movie was delayed though- some are being distributed by alternate means.

Universal were the first to try it, choosing DreamWorks Animation sequel Trolls: World Tour as the guinea pig for a new release model.  The film hit those few remaining cinemas simultaneously with an international release via digital. As a premium rental, $19.99 might seem a bit steep at first. But for families stuck at home, it seemed a small price to pay to keep the kids entertained, and so the release was reportedly a major success.

Despite loud protests from cinema chains, Universal signalled that the new model might continue post-pandemic. Animated family movies are ideal for such releases. That rental cost is likely a lot cheaper than the cost of taking a family of four or five to the local multiplex, which can often cost the price of a small car. And that's before you factor in the price of snacks...

Warner Bros was next, shifting Scoob! to a digital debut. In a different approach from Universal though, the Warner Animation Group movie was also simultaneously available to buy for an extra five bucks.

Disney is sticking to cinema releases, but it did bring forward the digital release of Onward and brought both Onward and Frozen 2 to Disney Plus months ahead of schedule (both in the US only). Major tentpole releases with $200 million-plus budgets won't be able to make their money back on digital only releases, but we may see more animation released in this way, even after cinemas are back up and running. It makes sense, both for family features and for smaller indie and international fare that is harder to find playing theatrically in many places.

Cinema owners can keep throwing hissy fits, but the audience demand is there. If people prefer to watch in their home, why should they have to wait? Release it a premium in the release window, before reducing the price after a couple of months. For the studios, it doesn't make sense to withhold their product from a large section of the audience.  Cinemas still offer the best visual and audio and can be a collective experience that cannot be recreated easily at home. People will still pay for this. But maybe to stay competitive, exhibitors will have to concentrate on making it a better experience overall.

It feels inevitable this is the way the industry is headed, and the shutdown has only accelerated the change. And its animation that has been leading the charge.

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