As we close-out the third month of the entertainment production shutdown, there’s one industry that is still powering through it all. In fact, Animation has hardly missed a beat thanks to the ability to work from home.
Since March, I’ve spoken with some animation makers for Q&As at AnimationScoop.com and my LCJ Q&A Podcast about what it’s been like to have a show or film be released during this time – and still be working on it and promoting it.
One of the first people I interviewed was “Steven Universe” (CARTOON NETWORK) creator Rebecca Sugar on the eve of the “Future” finale: “Right now I’m just worried about the health and safety of my family and friends. I’ve wondered for a long time how I’d feel when I finally finished on the show. I was preparing for an existential crisis, but I wasn’t prepared for a literal one. Counting my blessings and staying informed. Grateful to have spent all these years working closely with artists I admire and respect.”
“Trolls World Tour” (UNIVERSAL) shook-up the movie world with the successful VOD release. Director Walt Dohrn’s thoughts: “I am so excited and so honored to be able to share the movie this way. I have three kids – two little, little kids at home – and this is how we watch movies. We worked [for] 3 years on a film, and everyone puts their heart and soul into it. The whole goal is to share it with as many people as we can. And I couldn’t think of a better way.”
Here’s what “TWT” producer Gina Shay had to say: “I think I would’ve actually been a bit bummed if we couldn’t bring the movie out in this time right now. In these unprecedented times, I feel like this movie has joy in spades. There’s so much interactivity with the music and the possibility of dancing and bursting out in song is absolutely real. I’m really happy that Universal made the decision to bring it to people’s homes so people can watch it with their families… people of all ages can watch it. It just feels right for right now.”
Similarly, “SCOOB!” (WB) director Tony Cervone wanted his movie to be released for families through at home viewing now: “The studio talked to me about it, but we were all kind of on the same page. The movie is done, and the decision [was] whether to hold it until theaters re-opened or kind of let it out now. And I think we were all of the same mind that this is kind of an important time to let the movie out. This is a bright, fun, silly summer movie with a lot of action and a lot of heart. And it’s a really good movie for families… and not just families. It’s a really good movie for fans.
I know it’s just a cartoon dog movie, but I think it could do a lot of good right now. Scooby-Doo is kind of comfort food, and if you look at all the kind of things people are eating during a pandemic, like banana bread and sourdough bread, it’s all heavy carbs. And Scooby-Doo is a heavy carb. He’s [the] warm banana bread of entertainment. I think now’s the time to do this.”
John Harvatine IV of “Crossing Swords” (HULU) is glad the episodes of his stop-motion were already completed before the shutdown: “We were lucky that we did all the animation last summer – actually late spring, summer and early fall. And then they’ve kind of been sitting in the can for a little bit. So we were ready and waiting to unleash this on the world.”
“The Midnight Gospel” (NETFLIX) co-creator and star Duncan Trussell shared with me what he was up to in Quarantine: “When I was a kid, there was a movie that came out called “The Last Unicorn”. I sat down with my wife and was like, “Let’s watch this. This meant a lot to me when I was a kid. When I was a kid, it blew my mind. It didn’t age well, man. But still after having done animation and having the experience with it, it’s like, “Oh my God. Look at that. It’s beautiful.” My respect. In the old days, I would watch some animated thing and be so intensely judgmental of it – not understanding the amount of blood, sweat and tears that goes into every frame that any animation of note.
I’ve also been watching “Pinocchio” with my son, which is a mind-melter, having made an animated series and understanding what technology they were using to make that movie – knowing what they must’ve gone through to make that. And looking at the artistry and the beauty behind it, it literally makes me tear-up watching it… also because I’m watching it with my son. Just seeing someone witness “Pinocchio” for the first time is pretty transcendental.”
“Hello Ninja” (NETFLIX) author N.D. Wilson also told me about how he and his family have been doing heading into the debut of Season 2 of the family series: “It’s really interesting. I got a whole pack of kids – my own built-in focus group. My oldest is 18 and in his senior year (of high school). His littlest sibling (I have five kids) is 10 and in the fourth grade. Now I’ve got an 18-year-old doing Calculus next to the 10-year-old reading her little middle-grade books at the same dining room table. They’re having fun being with each other. It’s a weird family solidarity moment. My little one is thrilled that her classmates are now her older siblings. And of course the older siblings are a little more restless. But it’s been great for us as a family to come together and get through this thing.”
“Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth” (APPLETV+) producer Sue Goffe reflected on the special being released in time for Earth Day: “The film was green-lit eighteen months ago and was completed in early 2020, before we had any inkling of the enormous changes about to envelop the planet. Now, as we launch the film, the story is more meaningful than ever. At a time when we are more uncertain than ever about our place in this world, we have a beautiful story to share with everyone on Earth.”
“The Willoughbys” (NETFLIX) has been a huge hit for families. Director Kris Pearn: “When you start a film five years out, you don’t think about what it’s gonna look like on the release. We all have families, and we’re all worried about the people we love in this time. So it’s hard to square that circle. Ultimately I’m thankful that the hard work and all the efforts put in by the crew will have access to an audience, and I really hope it makes people happy out in the world. I think the timing is something that we just can’t predict.”
Anca Damian, of “Marona’s Fantastic Adventure” (GKIDS): “I always thought that Marona’s Fantastic Tale should be seen on a big screen: there is so much beauty in the image that the size of the screen to contemplate it should be much bigger than human size. At the same time it is a film that was done to be seen, it is conceived to have a “heart opening” effect on the audience. We are living transforming times, so maybe instead of waiting for the ideal moment of the opening of the cinemas, it is better to make it available now. The film speaks about humanity with our weakness and dreams, about what is important in life- the purpose of life that is a perpetual love lesson. The values that are deeply rooted in the film – the love and compassion, are a solid base while we rethink our lives. “Happiness is in small things” and “life is love lesson” is a good starting point for humanity’s restart.”
“Solar Opposites” (HULU) EP Josh Bycel says Season 2 of the animated comedy series is still in production: “The scripts have all [pretty much] been written and all the animators are working away. We’re seeing cuts of animatics and storyboards. Everyone’s working from home. Animation, it took a moment, but the great thing about animation is you can actually keep going. So everyone’s working away for the second season. We don’t know when it’s gonna be out yet but we haven’t had to slow down much at all. A lot of the voice work had already been recorded, and what we haven’t gotten we’ll get farther down the line.”
And while streaming service QUIBI (which has a lot of animation content on the way) has been in the headlines lately for some not-so positive reasons, here’s what co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg told me in April: “Well actually, it’s been pretty incredible. We have over 3 million downloads and… hundreds of thousands of people every day watching content and clearly loving what they’re watching, which is the most important thing. It’s been really exciting. The feedback has been great. There are always naysayers as there are with anything. But I have to say the enthusiasm and excitement and appreciation for the content is a thing that has got us most excited. Clearly difficult times, and like everyone else, we’re facing the head winds of COVID-19. But I think we’re weathering the storm okay.”