Guest Column | How the ‘World of Animation & VFX’ fared in 2020

The Outlook for 2021

The world of Visual Effects was turned upside down when the Coronavirus hit the world. They rely on being able to go on location everywhere in the world to shoot films and TV shows. And only after the on-set filming has been completed can the VFX work begin. In addition, when working on films and TV shows, there are often very high requirements for confidentiality that required the existing agreements to be modified to suit an at-home workforce.

Joan Vogelesang

At first, studios wanted their at-home workers to be able to work in a locked, secure room. But many artists don’t have their own office in their home.  And as such, were ineligible. When the impact was seen, studios started to accommodate different types of at-home configurations.

At the beginning of March, there was still plenty of work to go around, as projects that were in progress had to be finished. But once this work was complete, the new projects were no longer starting. At a standstill, almost all visual effects employees, including animators, were either furloughed or let go. Many had opportunities to switch into the world of gaming. Others took time to attend classes, such as the Unreal Academy for Virtual Production. However many were left without any opportunities.

As 2021 approaches, studios are finding ways to begin shooting again, and once the shoots are complete there will be plenty of work on the horizon for artists in the year to come.

Gaming has had an easier time adapting to a remote work environment.  Given that there are not the same limitations as we see in the world of visual effects, these projects were able to resume with little to no interruption. Only the time it took to send everyone’s equipment home with them and set up their home offices.

In the more traditional areas of animation, the industry fared very well in 2020 and anticipates continuing to do well in 2021. This was consistent internationally. This sector was already technologically advanced before COVID became a reality, as a result, they were not forced into a total lockdown. The major challenges for the studios was ensuring that employees were up and running with appropriate equipment to be able to work, communicate and deliver on time and to the right quality level. This did imply an increase in technical budget and the deployment of IT staff to ensure the correct workflow was possible. There was the additional challenge of incorporating new employees into teams without the personal contact that usually ensures a seamless integration.

North America and Europe succeeded quickly with the transition of working from home and many studios are hiring additional staff. Companies have found a new fluidity with personnel not tied to a specific company location. The ability to start and stop projects quickly has provided a great deal of flexibility. Studios are able to contract with the best talent who do not have to worry about geographic location. This is having the effect of people becoming in essence “gig workers” with more opportunity but less job security. The other consequence is that the larger studios can lower their headcount and overhead costs. The new graduates looking for their beginning opportunities will have a more difficult time due to not having the formal environment where they get a great deal of on the job training. This implies a new look at education and work experience going forward.

The Asian, Philippines, African, and Middle Eastern geographies also came through COVID in a solid-state. The Philippine studios saw a surge in projects that will continue into 2021. This demand is largely driven by demand from online channels. Africa is seeing a surge in local content driven by comic books with local characters and content and an exciting contract has been signed with Disney. Egypt has moved towards more 3D content and smaller studios are growing with a full pipeline for local Ramadan content, and Saudi Arabia is tooling up for production with a big focus on training. People are actively looking for international co-operation.

The industry is strong and healthy. 2021 will be an excellent year!

(This article has been contributed by International Consultant Joan Vogelesang who’s been the CEO of Toon Boom Animation and has been a big promoter of Indian animation globally. AnimationXpress does not necessarily subscribe to these views)