Covid Creates Cartoons 

Photo by Mike on

The entertainment industry is undergoing unanticipated limitations. Can animation be the salvation?  

Student Commentary

By Marouso Pappas  / Matthew staff || Edited by Julissa Castro-Ruiz

Social distancing rules are altering the social fabric worldwide, with numerous businesses, brands, and institutions pressured to reform their modes of function. The film industry is not an exception. Live-action film production has been almost impossible for the last two years, with numerous health restrictions preventing large crew teams, multiple actors, and executive committees to co-exist in the same space. But when the whole world is isolated in their homes, the only comfort and connection provided are through the consumption of media from our reliable screens. With demand for visual entertainment skyrocketing, a solution had to be found and fast! So, what better an option than to revive a highly creative, considerably monopolized, and almost forgotten artistic medium? Why not bring back traditional animation?  

GIF by @emili 

Animation and Technology

Taking the role of a lifeline for the film industry, animation production and technology have collaborated to create a new trend. Remote working and lower budget costs are elements of animation production that have made it surpass its live-action counterpart over the past two years. New initiatives for virtual collaborations are starting, like that of animation agency Psyop. The CTO of the agency Matthew Herman was interviewed by TechTarget where he expressed their transition to only through Qumulo remote services has allowed Psyop to cut production costs, acquire a reliable cloud storage system and also hire creators from all over the world.  

Another example of a COVID-19 “success” story, as reported by Opportunity Network, involves the Indian company Toonz. Regarded as one of Asia’s most active production studios with a staff of over 1000 resident animators, Toonz took the opportunity to expand its influence into the realm of edutainment during the pandemic. With at-home entertainment demand increasing by 72%, Toonz tapped into the market of concerned parents seeking educational content for their children. They created the e-learning platform “MyToonz” where they use interactive family entertainment to engage children and establish partnerships with creators and producers globally. “In the last year, Toonz produced 5000 minutes of 2D and 3000 minutes of 3D animation content. This year, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, we were able to forge partnerships for new projects from across the globe,” notes CEO P. Jayakumar. The world is opening to the idea of new business models and creative visual outlets.

GIF by @pbskids  

Animation and Messages 

Another benefit of animation, which started to be utilized as early as 10 years ago by memorable shows like Family Guy, South Park, Rick, and Morty, is its capacity to approach controversial and complex subjects in a more easily accepted way. The “light and humorous” reputation that cartoons have masked the controversiality and boldness of the opinions and dilemmas they address, which would be considered unacceptable and inappropriate on any other platform. By embracing this freedom of expression, they criticize the human form and society in a way that no one else can. During the lockdown, colourful distractions from daily adversities appealed greatly to the masses, but what they found was even better. Humoristic social commentary informed, provided comfort, and made viewers see the situation with a critical eye rather than fearfully.  

Animation is a flexible and exciting medium; it is uniquely able to respond to many of the communication challenges facing brands today.

Dean Beswick, Creative Partner at Gorilla Gorilla! Production Company 

WagingNonViolence did a peace on animations potential to promote and build awareness around topics of social injustice and cultural resistance. The example used was that of the Film School of Lodz in protest of the late 2020 Polish abortion ban. In combination with the haunting music and vivid images, their animated short succeeded in encapsulating the emotions of women in the aftermath of the bill being passed. By spreading awareness, art has the power to open dialogue in the political realm. 

Video by Sprzeciw Polek

It can also serve to inform the public about scientific discoveries in a more efficient way. As did Stanford Medicine’s animated video on the spreading behaviour of the Covid-19 virus. The small two-minute video reached 1.2 million views in the span of just 10 days on their official YouTube channel. When asked about the video’s success by Scope Blog, creator Maya Adam said, “It was addressing a very scary issue in a way that was, to some degree, light-hearted and reassuring.” Health education videos are now used by medical professionals all over the world to educate a broad audience without the limitations of language barriers, lack of medical knowledge, or difficulties in understanding. Visual learning has redefined how we think about the world around us. 

Video by Stanford Medicine

Animation and Algorithms 

The culturally learned perception of animated shows or “cartoons” is dominated by very specific content and few prominent companies. An example of this is Walt Disney Studio’s ever-growing monopoly over children’s animated entertainment which raises questions about the lack of opportunities for smaller companies to compete. Ryan Fleming’s article in Deadline provides an overview of the Best Animated Feature category in the upcoming 2022 Oscar’s revealing the undeniable bias with 4 out of the 5 contenders being Disney animated features. So, the playing field may not be equalized yet, but this is one of the few examples in which the pandemic has benefited the “underdog.” Advancements in how content is being consumed have become the new thing, media platform algorithms have become so personalized that navigating streaming platforms is like having your curator at the tips of your fingertips. Gone are the times when top ten charts controlled the masses, now even the “eclectic” can find its rightful audience.   

Netflix is the top video streaming website worldwide, clocking in at 222 million users. To maintain its status Netflix is constantly updating its system with the algorithm-based recommendation program at the top of that list. Using machine learning and artificial intelligence the algorithm collects user data from past watches and tailors the homepage to the specific user’s tastes.  

GIF by @southpark

If I, for example, started off watching the Netflix original series “Inside Job”, which would be suggested to me because of its relation to the website, the AI would pick up that I enjoy animated comedies. That in time would make the recommendation system inform me about the show “BoJack Horseman” by creator Ralph Waksberg which was bought by Netflix. But a few shows in the AI would begin to pick up specific themes like animation involving social commentary, self-exploration, substance use, etc. which narrow the personalization further and further until it would lead me to the independent Italian animated show “Tear Across the Dotted Line.” Regarded as one of the most personal animated series of the year by IndieWire, this show reached its target audience because of algorithms created during the pandemic. 

The Future of Animation 

Taking all this into account the effects of the pandemic on the animation industry are undeniable. The use of visual communication in media is evolving every day and will continue to develop into our futures. The enormous boom in TV animation has attained its relevancy and brought it closer to being an equal competitor to live-action films. As technology continues to advance and the need for quickly produced, seemingly unlimited content increases, animation growth seems to be here to stay. What originally started as a last resort for production companies struggling to stay afloat during unprecedented circumstances has turned into a colourful, imaginative, and unexpected entertainment revolution. 

GIF by @emili