A stream of articles have been published over the last few months touting the work-from-home advantages of animation over live-action production during a pandemic, however, while it’s possible produce animation from home, the model is not proving sustainable for larger studios.
The latest studio to open up about its difficulties is Ottawa, Canada-based Mercury Filmworks, whose CEO Clint Eland told Kidscreen that work-from-home is not a viable long-term option for a company of Mercury’s scale. Here’s more about the situation at his studio, which currently employs 320 staff.
Most of Mercury is still work from home. Responsible for animated Disney series like Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure and the Mickey Mouse shorts, as well as the Netflix series Hilda, most of Mercury’s staff is currently work from home, but Eland says that 30-40 people came back to the studio in June. A second wave of employees is expected to return in the fall as schools and child care services restart in the Ontario province and workers with children no longer have to take care of kids at home.
The studio hasn’t been as efficient. Each crew for the studio’s seven shows in curreny production is working at a different capacity. Some are producing animation at 100% capacity, while others have suffered big drops and are producing 30% from home what they would have normally produced in-house. Overall, the studio is “roughly 75% capacity.” Eland says that, “Getting everybody out the door is one thing, but then getting everybody working efficiently was something else.”
Key problems the studio has faced: Eland cites a host of issues of work-from-home, chief among them, while senior staff can operate with few problems, younger and newer staff require mentorship and guidance to be able to work effectively. With upwards of 100 people working on a show, Eland explains that, “the level of craftsmanship is constantly being pushed, and isn’t dependent on a few individuals, but rather the combined skill of the larger team,” and thus, if some crew are falling behind, the entire production falls behind.
The end result: The studio is losing money. Eland says that to compensate for work-from-home, the studio either has to extend production schedules or add more crew onto a show, both of which increase the budget. He says the increase in costs is “not a studio-killer” but if work-from-home continues, the studio will lose “significant sums.”
There are other issues as well says Eland, such as the isolation and the lack of communication. “It has surprised me how much information I take in and give out just walking around the studio, having water cooler meetings or quick side conversations,” he told Kidscreen.
Mercury’s experience is not unique. Earlier this month, we reported how Filipino service studio Toon City had suffered a 28% drop in productivity during quarantine. The company’s CEO Juan Miguel del Rosario put some of the blame on the Philippines’s weak infrastructure and the fact that many employees did not have strong internet connections at home.
Bottomline: Eland wants to get as many Mercury staff back into the office as quickly and safely as possible, and he’s ready to transition to work-from-home if future lockdowns become necessary, but he’s not keen on work-from-home as a permanent solution to running his studio.