While the animation industry has been still going, sometimes slower, amid the coronavirus crisis, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been deeply affected. Our discussions with animation studios, independent workers and production companies from ALICE’s territories reveal that if transitioning to working from home has been fairly successful, the crisis has still had a varying impact on production pipelines, productivity and revenues depending on the studio. Overall, the repercussions of the pandemic on the whole sector are still very hard to evaluate.
It appears that during lockdown, the majority of on-going and already funded productions have carried on. Studios in the industry took advantage of the fact that it’s not absolutely necessary for people to share physical space in order for projects to progress, and learned that much of the work can be done from home. But in a deeply collaborative genre, making a project move at the normal pace proved challenging in a Covid-19 reality.
A number of mid to large sized regional studios reported a 10% to 30% decline in productivity for technical, management and organizational reasons. Telework is not always effective for all types of workflows and operations requiring specific equipment could not be completed remotely. Physical distancing also considerably slowed down the information flow and revision processes: group reviews took longer, and creative directors had to put more time into notes and sketches to give feedback to artists. Onboarding a new team member, or supervising new hires also brought added layers of complexity.
Additionally, as the animated film market involves many actors along the production chain, a number of studios suffered from the ripple effects of having outsourced work delayed. A number of productions had to be rescheduled and deliveries postponed, sometimes even cancelled. Some companies suffered direct financial losses and missed opportunities.
Development has been less affected but launching new projects has been more complicated, especially when involving international partners. Studios who are delivering projects at the moment worry that not enough projects are coming in for future work. Revenues from broadcasters are already declining and, although it is still too early to know the cascading effects lower revenues may have in the near future, the lack of new projects is likely to result in temporary layoffs.
Professionals also regret the cancellation of a number of major festivals, which has greatly reduced business and marketing opportunities. Although the major Annecy International Animation Film Festival ended up going virtual this year, Matthieu Liégois from the Hauts-de-France-based animation studio Tchack, for whom the MIFA market associated with the festival brings new contacts and contracts every year, regrets that they’re “not going to see anyone this year." For Jordi Oliva from the Catalan studio Imagic TV, “the crisis has been very negative for our finished feature film with the cancellation of festivals and markets. Overall, I’d say (…) in marketing, distribution and sales, a 90% impact.”
It takes longer to produce an animated film than a live-action film. So even if the sector is not immediately in trouble, it could still suffer the consequences of missed opportunities in the years to come. A large number of studios and production companies said they had not applied for any support provided by local or national authorities during the pandemic, partly because they were too busy re-inventing themselves and keeping production on track, and partly because they have not suffered any immediate financial losses. But as they foresee an off-peak period coming in the last half of 2020 with no money coming in, they are worried about paying their bills if they are not supported by post-Covid aid measures that would specifically apply to the sector’s unique needs.
The animation industry is growing fast and creates jobs. Our regional studios have the potential to thrive in the new virtual landscape as demand for new content is surging. Thanks to their rapid adaptation and ingenuity, they have so far reported relatively few layoffs. These efforts should be recognized, and the industry classified as strategic for the economy at the local, national and European levels. Some companies have felt somehow abandoned in the midst of the crisis. They hope it will change.