A New Era for Animation
David Prescott, SVP Creative Production, DNEG Animation
As the animation industry and wider world begin to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, we stand on the cusp of a second golden era of animation.
Producers and studios have had to radically rethink the way production flows and artists work. Almost overnight, studios across the world emptied into countless bedrooms and home offices. TV and film production had long been a hold out to the trend of working from home - the technology was there, but studios were always reassured by the certainty and security of the usual, centralized setups.
Animation has always relied on creative workforces and collaboration between different artists, both in imagining new scenes and the new technologies or processes to bring those scenes to life. Under lockdowns and with remote working, there were real fears that collaboration could be lost. What nobody expected was that by isolating everyone, suddenly nobody felt isolated.
At DNEG, we were up and running in a matter of weeks. There was no longer a barrier to collaboration between Montreal or London, Chennai, or LA in the same way: everyone was now separated whether by twenty minutes down the road, or by eight hours on a plane, and we quickly found routes around that separation.
For many of our teams, the pandemic furthered inter-studio collaboration; it didn’t feel weird that one artist was joining a meeting by video call, because everyone was doing that. The pandemic has made us more connected, and new ways of collaboration and more flexibility for artists are here to stay.
With more connection and more opportunity to collaborate, we can work more creatively to produce content, and find new ways of realizing the vision of filmmakers in our work. We’ve embraced the use of Bluescape as a whiteboard tool to plot out different ideas, and developments like that wouldn’t have been possible without DNEG’s world-leading tech.
Advances in technology haven’t just impacted the way artists work together, but the way we work with filmmakers. We’re beginning to explore the possibilities of new technology like Epic Games’ Unreal Engine to create realistic virtual worlds in real time and work with directors and producers in a more immediate way than ever before.
We’ve experimented with Unreal Engine for our first animated short, Mr. Spam Gets A New Hat, and found some very promising results. Working in a live environment means scenes can be lit as they’re animated, for example, and not as a different step. There’s a world of possibility for the industry’s future in embracing these technologies.
Nurturing new talent, too, will be key to our continued use of these technologies. It is wonderful to see so many young people begin to explore one of the most rewarding careers around, in my opinion - storytelling - with the power to take audiences out of the everyday into whole new worlds.
"DNEG is evolving its services to enable directors and filmmakers to bring their vision to the screen, combining world-class creativity with cutting-edge technology"
And no look at the state of the animation industry would be complete without referencing the huge demand for animation from those audiences.
Whether as a feature, episodic, or shorts – audiences love the power of animation in creating new worlds and telling immersive stories, and the rise of streaming has been key in the growing demand for animated content. With audiences no longer tied down to a theatre experience, many are becoming more adventurous and trying new shows and genres that they’d never have ‘risked’ before. To buy a ticket and travel to a theatre is a level of commitment that far outweighs flicking between videos on your sofa.
With different genres and styles of animation becoming more mainstream than ever before, it is also important to remember that just because you can use the newest piece of tech doesn't mean you have to. Our goal at DNEG is to always be able to say ‘yes’ to a filmmaker or storyteller, and our use of emerging technologies must enable creative visions and storytelling, not impede the material.
Technology gives us a tremendous choice of tools, and we’ll continue working with filmmakers and storytellers to map out how using any particular tool will achieve a result, and we’ll keep on finding new ways to bring scenes as close to their intended vision as we can.
At DNEG, we’re proud to work with an ever-growing suite of technology for those tools - and the talent to guide them - to aid in storytelling without overpowering it. Our audiences will be the ones who ultimately decide just how well they’ve been transported into those new worlds. Fittingly through such isolated times, it’s not up to just one separate element of our industry, acting alone, to usher in a second golden era of animation.
Between our creative talent and cutting-edge technology, between fantastic storytellers and eager audiences - we can all arrive in that new era together.