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So you want to make the tale of a severed hand longing for its old body more about tenderness than tendons? Or create a fun film about coughed-out phlegm particles carrying a killer virus? Well, animation is your friend. 

Both the above are examples of works over the last year that have caught the eye of animation industry experts, and both display the liberties the medium offers to present the unpresentable.  

In the first instance, a potentially gory story was turned into what online magazine The Wrap dubbed, “a life-affirming work of graphic poetry.”  

“I was blown away by I Lost my Body – it was poetic, cinematic, and stunningly beautiful,” says Neysa Horsburgh, Chief Strategy Officer of Psyop US. Jérémy Clapin’s animated drama won the grand prize at International Critics’ Week at 2019 Cannes Film Festival – it was the first time an animation had been selected. 

Netflix – I Lost My Body (Official Trailer)

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The second piece is Bad Better Best, a social distancing PSA created by Andy Martin and praised by Sam Gray, Passion Animation Studios’ Head of Business Development. 

“When tackling very serious issues,” he says, “it can be useful to take advantage of the freedom of animation to expand the visual vocabulary available.” 

Andy Martin – Bad Better Best

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Tiny Inventions, the animation duo Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata, who were behind last year’s Oscar-nominated short Negative Space, cite The Opposites Game as their favourite animation from 2019.  

Directed by Anna Samo and Lisa LaBracio, the film illustrates a poem by Brendan Constantine exploring antonyms for the word ‘gun’. It not only makes a powerful point about gun violence but is a beautiful example of the animation’s license to find a million ways to ‘see’ a word – and how it moves. 

“It may be obvious, but what you see in animation is always synthetic – a character may represent a human, but wouldn’t be mistaken for a real one,” explains Kuwahata, “instead of being a compromise, this actually opens up a lot of possibilities for storytelling: sensitive subjects can be made approachable through metaphor or avatars; complex or abstract ideas can be visualised.”

TED-Ed – The Opposites Game

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So, in corona world, not only is animation being employed as a conduit for tricky messages, but it’s also providing a practical solution to live shoots.

“We are talking with a lot of companies and agencies who haven’t engaged with or understood animation fully before,” says Sam Gray, Head of Business Development for Passion Animation Studios. “We’re using this time where animation is in high demand to build relationships and educate people about our processes.”

I’ve been doing a lot of animation education recently with agencies, doing little presentations – explaining how 2D is good for comedy, and 3D is good for emotion, all those kind of nuances that people tend not to realise.

Bart Yates, Executive Producer at Blinkink is also busy with the explanations, “I’ve been doing a lot of animation education recently with agencies, doing little presentations – explaining how 2D is good for comedy, and 3D is good for emotion, all those kind of nuances that people tend not to realise.”

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Trolli – Mouth Monster

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Trolli – Hiding Place

So, when pivoting a concept from live action to animation, what factors need to be considered? Kuwahata says creatives should open their minds up to the infinite options available: “even how the animation is made—the graphic treatment, materials, etc—can be a part of the story. Any script reworked from live-action to animation should explore the limitless potential of the medium.” 

Animation is not a poor man's imitation of live action.

Animation director Osbert Parker also advocates an understanding of the medium: “Animation is not a poor man's imitation of live action. It’s a powerful technique in its own right. Styles vary greatly and it’s important to think how an animation technique can enhance concepts/themes/emotional beats within a script in a way that’s not possible – or is harder to achieve – in live action.”

Osbert Parker – Life On The Move

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Though animation maybe in greater demand, a year ago many producers shots spoke to said shrinking budgets and clients wanting more for less, was a major issue. That’s hardly something a post-pandemic economic crash will ease.  

Kuwahata has had requests in recent years “to make short films for the same amount of money as a 30 sec spot. And a project with a small budget might also come with a lot of variations for social media. This might be a lack of understanding about the craft. Or simply the need to keep putting out more and more content.”

Some network agencies are coming to production companies with miniscule budgets where the notion of quality slips down the priority list.

Yates agrees that, pre-Covid, the hunger for content was growing with demands for “more iterations around the same idea. Agencies are realising if you make a 60-second film you can’t just cut that down to six seconds for Instagram. You need to make bespoke films for other platforms.” 

However, he goes on, budgets have also been polarising: “They have been getting both smaller and bigger – with the big projects the budgets are bigger than ever as they’re being used worldwide and – within the noise of TV and the internet – good quality demands a premium, so if something looks amazing, it's gonna stand out. But then some network agencies are coming to production companies with miniscule budgets where the notion of quality slips down the priority list.” 

Negative Space – Negative Space

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So how can animation producers rise to the challenge of offering more for less? Hurrying up is – obviously – one solution. “Production has had to speed up since Covid,” says Yates. “People are going, ‘wow! We made something in two weeks'. Well you can make something in two weeks. You don’t have to have 27 meetings for each decision.”

Tomi Dieguez, Partner and Director of animation collective, Tronco, says such streamlining is good for animation, and is also now aided by the evolution of technology such as real-time animation. “Clients want a certain story and we directors want that story to look as good as possible, but, if we want their money, we have to make some creative shifts to our classic animation pipeline. Mocap and Unity and Unreal engines that don't need to render are some of the ingredients to close the gap between clients’ needs and animation.”

Real-time animation and rendering is really finding its place in both the commercial and TV/feature production sectors.

“Real-time animation and rendering is really finding its place in both the commercial and TV/feature production sectors,” says Passion’s Gray. “We’ve seen it used on high profile shows like The Mandalarion, [the Star Wars live action web series on Disney+] that uses Unreal to create incredible sci-fi landscapes.”

Sallyann Houghton, Head of Business Development at Unreal Engine developer Epic Games, says it’s an “exciting time for creative content studios as they begin to embrace the potential of real-time. Creating 3D content in a fully interactive space is a game changer for animators and filmmakers. Any creative developments or iterations can be actioned and seen instantaneously, so it's incredibly time and cost efficient.” 

Among her favourite animations in the past year is Ada, with it’s “real-time unique” look. It was created as part of UK studio Blue Zoo’s in-house shorts competition with director Dane Winn and the team following a brief to create a film based on a true story using Unreal. The only creative limitation was that it couldn’t resemble a computer game. 

ada trailer – Ada Trailer

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The winning pitch was the survival story of Alaskan woman Ada Blackjack that the team realised in a graphite, painterly style. They found the real-time workflow not only enhanced collaboration, but brought an immediacy to artistic endeavour that’s become lost in the transition from traditional art tools to digital processes. “There's nothing more painful than having to wait for renders and look at hourglasses spinning,” says Blue Zoo Co-Founder Tom Box, “one of the really nice things about using Unreal Engine is the fact that it brings the fun back to animation.”

While gaming tech is aiding production, there is also a general growing synergy between the two sectors. Yates is noticing many animation studios “are all staying afloat on video game projects. They’re not slowing down, it's a busy sector, particularly now, and they've gotta keep trucking.”

There's nothing more painful than having to wait for renders and look at hourglasses spinning.

Psyop has been producing highly successful content with Supercell, while one of Horsburgh’s favourite projects has been the KFC game, I Love You Colonel Sanders, a free video game that parodies Japanese dating simulators and is elevated artistically with its eye-catching anime-inspired styling. 

Alexei Bochenek, our Creative Director, locked himself in a room with the creatives from WK Portland and came out with over three hours of gameplay goodness. Collectively, they landed on anime as the style that lent itself best to the concept. I have only seen something catch fire like this a couple of times in my career and it is a sight to behold.”

KFC – I Love You, Colonel Sanders! A Finger Lickin’ Good Dating Simulator

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  • Production Company Psyop



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Michael Feder, Co-founder of Hornet has noticed a movement away from purely figurative representations: “2D is certainly not new but I’m seeing more highly designed 2D work with more abstract character designs.”

“For years [advertising] clients wanted characters to have more human proportions, but that is less so now, allowing for us to work with a wider range of talent. There are so many great character folks out there to collaborate with. I really like what Katie & Abel at Cabeza Patata are doing.”

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Leukemia – Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

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Spotify – Spotify Premium

Many have noticed an increasing trend for mixed media work. Could this be a by-product of the age of social and the democratisation of content creation? “Much of what we consume on the internet is mashed up live-action,” says Blinkink’s Yates, “memes are formed by people taking a bit of this, a bit of that, turning it into a GIF, looping it, adding funny titles.” 

Bronwyn Sweeney, Creative Lead at MullenLowe, the agency that collaborated with Passion Animation to create Wagamama’s gorgeous Bowl to Soul campaign, is one of many to pick IKEA’s 2019 Christmas ad as among their favourite in the last year. 

IKEA – Silence The Critics

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“I loved the Silence the Critics. I think we’ll see a lot more blended reality with animated objects in the future.”

She describes how she and creative partner Loren Cook decided to blend, and bend, reality with the brilliant bonanza of dancing bras that is the Sloggi spot, Mind-blowingly Light, choosing directing duo WATTS to bring the surrealism of the concept to life. 

We love how animation allowed us to turn this crazy idea of dramatising lightness into a reality.

“We’re both 80s kids so we grew up on weird and wonderful animation and mixed media. We love how animation allowed us to turn this crazy idea of dramatising lightness into a reality – from an anime version of our protagonist, to bopping birds and an 8-bit unicorn.”

Sloggi – Mind-blowingly Light

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And back to a more realistic reality, what’s forecast for the animation nation? Looking for silver linings among the dark Covid clouds, the hastening of production streamlining should continue to benefit the industry beyond the pandemic, with hopes for more positive clouds on the horizon: “One of the big changes we were already in the middle of is the transfer to using cloud workstations connected to cloud servers,” says Passion’s Gray, “this means we can more regularly update our tech without having to overhaul whole studios over and over.”

Hornet’s Feder forecasts: “I can see a time when we will not have these tower computers under our desks. We’ll have terminals, at home or at the studio, and will just access software required on the go from the cloud. It will allow for great flexibility and less purchasing of hardware and software.” 

Feder goes on to suggest another corona adaptation that could well persist: “Perhaps we will learn that we don’t need such large studios, we may be able to have a smaller footprint that allows the teams to come together but also function seamlessly from home. Change will come from Covid.”

Though many say they miss IRL collaboration, remote working can suit some artists: “There are quite a few brilliant animators and lovely people, that have worked in isolation for most of their lives. I'm not sure if they've noticed anything different apart from a long line when they cue for Pot Noodles and ginger biscuits,” says Osbert Parker. 

California Milk Processor Board – Baseball

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Tronco’s Dieguez has been looking on the bright side of lockdown as a time for reflection and the honing of his artistic skills: “If you don't find inspiration now that you have a TON of time to dig deep and find your inner voice, it might also be a proper time to think about changing your profession. Ha! 

"I, particularly, have never felt so inspired in my life.” 

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