For the latest entry in our series, which looks at the coronavirus crisis from the standpoint of individuals in the industry, we speak to Arslan Elver (Lady and the Tramp, Christopher Robin) and Pete Warbis (Avengers: Infinity War, Paddington 2) at Framestore, where they are working as animation supervisor and senior animator respectively on Warner Bros.’s forthcoming hybrid feature Tom and Jerry. Elver and Warbis are based in Framestore’s London studio, but, like the rest of the company’s 2,500-strong global workforce, they’re now working from home.
In normal times, part of Elver’s role as a supervisor is to liaise with clients overseas, typically in L.A. In this respect, his job hasn’t really changed in the crisis: he reviews work with Warner Bros. using the online conferencing system Cinesync, much as before. But when it comes to conducting dailies and managing his team at Framestore, the physical distance is more of an issue. In practice, it means constant meetings on Google Hangouts.
“One slightly tricky thing,” he says, “is that when we’re in the same studio, we can sit next to an animator … and explain things or show tips and tricks.” He and his colleagues are compensating by creating videos that instruct more junior animations in how to use rigs, facial controls, and the like.
The studio has also set up a secure screen-sharing service, enabling artists to present work during dailies. Warbis explains: “Our supervisors can then draw over the shots as they would in the studio. If any colleagues need support from other members of the animation team, we’re able to [remotely access] their machines to show them how to use a tool, or a certain part of a rig.”
While Warbis had previously done some freelance animation from home, remote work on this scale is a new experience. He’s found the transition remarkably smooth, not least thanks to Framestore’s strong technical support. “We now log into our machines in [the studio] using a Teradici PCoIP (PC-over-IP) client … The current limitations are company-wide support for dual monitors (due to the bandwidth bottleneck) and support for Wacom tablets, but the systems team is hard at work to solve the latter.”
Warbis lives outside London, and he’s glad not to have to commute for now — this arrangement is both less stressful and more environmentally friendly. But for Elver, the relentless series of Hangouts is “a very intense experience from a supervisory perspective.” Yet it has an unexpected advantage: “Because we’re all at home, everything happens on time. I haven’t seen this many meetings happen on time in my life!”
Naturally, Tom and Jerry will have a strong comic element. Humor is a delicate thing in animation, dependent on close personal communication, but this particular creative process doesn’t seem to have been disrupted too much. “As in the studio, we can film reference to express ideas and to show timings,” notes Warbis. “We all have access to the complete Tom and Jerry back catalogue, so we’re constantly looking to the original shorts to analyze what made them so funny.”
Elver agrees. “There has been a lot of sketchvis and previs beforehand, but it’s important to remember that filmmaking is a creative journey where things evolve during the production. And I’ve got to say, a lot of this is the same as before.”