Animation Production Soldiers on as Live-Action Shows Shut Down Due to Coronavirus

     March 25, 2020


Animation: It’s a medium (not a genre), an art form that’s defined by creativity, innovation, and versatility. The talented professionals who have chosen this industry as their calling can be described in much the same way. Long have animators had to make more with relatively less than their live-action counterparts: smaller budgets, stricter censorship, and the stigma that animation is just for kids. Voice actors have also grappled with this stigma as they’re rarely taken as seriously as “face actors”, in part because they’re never seen on screen to reinforce their pop culture awareness (despite their incredible range) or because their work can reliably be done off-set or even at home.

Thankfully, this trend has started to shift in the last 20 years or so as the internet has allowed fans of animators and voice actors alike to share their support and admiration. And now, as the coronavirus pandemic is shutting down live-action productions left and right, the animation industry is thriving thanks to its scrappy, can-do attitude. Sure, they’ve had to make adjustments like everyone else, but since their projects are by and large not predicated upon getting a huge group of people together in a relatively small space, animated productions are in a better situation than most. That means fewer jobs in animation will be lost due to furloughs or shut-downs, fewer titles will miss their release dates, and more attention may be paid to those titles than ever before thanks to less competition as the live-action well dries up.

Image via Showtime

THR reached out to a few animation industry veterans, namely those in the Fox production biz, to check in on the state of production in the time of coronavirus. The article reads in part like a first-timer’s dive into the industry, offering a pseudo-revelatory analysis of the flexible and adaptable practices of the folks who have been doing much of the same since long before COVID-19 arrived. One has only to look at the insane production process of shows like South Park or Our Cartoon President to get a glimpse into how the animation industry has kept evolving over the years. Secondly, the write-up might as well have referral links scattered throughout it for the amount of product placement dropped throughout. Animation mavens should be quite familiar with the terms Toon Boom / Harmony, Cintiq, and Avid–they’re nothing new–and just about everyone has heard of the video conferencing app Zoom in recent days, despite its privacy issues and the existence of other similar programs like Skype or Google Hangout that have been around for a while now. But even if you have been paying attention to the animation industry longer than just the last couple of days, there are some interesting tidbits here:

Basically, shows like The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers, Duncanville, Netflix’s Hoops and Apple’s Central Park are going along as usual with few hiccups in the process. As The Simpsons showrunner Al Jean told THR:

“Production hasn’t skipped a day or lost a beat. We intend to do the 22 shows we were contracted to do. … There’s been no change in how we do things.”

Image via Showtime

Other shows that have been in production for a while, like Justin Roiland‘s new show Solar Opposites on Hulu, have been able to pivot into the work-from-home mode more easily than live-action counterparts that now have to delay premieres, postpone finales, or split their existing seasons entirely. And for animated shows that are still in pre-production, like the highly anticipated adaptation of the D&D RPG livestream saga Critical Role: The Legend of Vox Machina, there is still time to future-proof their production pipeline.

Animation production is essentially a compilation of pieces that are independently created under the direction of one guiding principle; in-person table reads and animators putting in a traditional 9-to-5 at studios have been more a matter of convenience and tradition than anything else. This can all be done remotely as it has been done and now continues to be. There are just some slight tweaks to the way they do things. Disney’s Big City Greens and T.O.T.S. are soldiering on, as is Jorge Gutierrez as he works on Netflix’s upcoming animated series Maya and the Three:

While live-action productions may be scrambling, the future is bright for animated series and even movies (though the work-from-home approach seems to break down on titles that are the scale of Minions 2). Interest is high in the animation industry right now and creatives who might otherwise have put their talents to work in live-action are already starting to shift towards the more adaptable medium. Expect audience attention to shift in the same direction as fewer new live-action shows are available to saturate the market, allowing animated fare to show off what they’re capable of in a much bigger way.