Believe it or not, I have covered the impacts of the Anime Industry due to Covid-19. However, we still didn’t know the full impact back then, until now. This just didn’t happen overnight. Animation studios faced problems such as poor working conditions, a packed production schedule and noticeable delays in 2019.
As expected, the coronavirus situation made the whole thing worse. Sure, a handful of titles suffered minor delays. Eventually, the coronavirus situation worsened with more than forty titles facing delays. As a result, studios had no choice but to delay productions. Eventually Japan declared a state of emergency on April 16, weeks after delaying the Olympics. This does not come at a surprise since the workplace at these studios clamped. As a result, this makes social distancing efforts nearly impossible. With that, I want to focus on some thoughts on the whole situation.
It’s obvious that the working conditions are not the greatest at animation studios. With the lack of available talents besides the demand issue is poor pay, most studios rely on freelancers and outsourcing. The dependence on outsourcing is one of the factors of these delays. Studios in South Korea and mainland China need to close down temporarily to deal with containing the virus. As for freelancers, they tend to work at home, which is not usually an issue.
Of course, while drawing key frames and in-between animation can definitely done at home, there is one big issue. The compositing aspect of animation to bring everything together requires specialized equipment or if done digitally, special software. Since the photography studios cannot do their work from home, it’s obvious where this is going. If you curious about what is compositing, you can read about it in this article by Washi who goes over the whole process. Sure, you can do compositing digitally, but it’s a mystery why animators can’t simply remote in to do the work. More on that later.
In other words, while you can do coloring digitally providing you can scan the drawings, you have another problem. How are you going to get the frames scanned without scanning equipment? Even if you can get them scanned, this wouldn’t matter. There is a work stoppage mainly because of the need to use specialized equipment or software to do compositing.
This is why so many animators are concerned as studios can’t get the finished product out to broadcast. Even if voice actors and actresses manage to set up their own recording studios and do recordings over the internet, this wouldn’t matter. As the saying goes, you cannot have a chicken without the egg. Of course, this means that animators are not working, thus not making any money. The same goes for voice actors and actresses who are on the same boat.
While some people argue that this can be a good thing. Animators can take a break and relieve the stress. However, this is ironic since animators already face low pay for their work. Moreover, they probably don’t have any emergency savings either. Either way, they need to have a source of income to survive. Otherwise, they will face mental issues that can lead to suicide or starvation, which is just as bad as getting the virus. Either way you look at it, when you lose talent, it’s hard to get that back.
I think the problem why animation productions are in a standstill is mostly a cultural issue in Japan in regards to work which prevents employees from teleworking. In the western world, teleworking started to become the norm during the coronavirus pandemic for most companies and also governments. Believe it or not, I have been working at home weeks before Washington, DC started to lockdown. Since my work involves using a computer, there is no impact.
On the other hand, despite Japan being a technologically advanced country, they are behind when it comes to telework. Traditions and hanging onto old technologies like the fax machine are some of the main issues. Believe it or not, there are regulations that require people to go into the office. This includes stamping papers with a small stamp called a hanko (判子, lit. seal) to sign documents, which is an old tradition. Yes, you can’t just sign them digitally through services like DocuSign or Adobe Acrobat Document Cloud.
Believe it or not, this is not too surprising for many reasons. Japanese businesses still rely on old technologies such as fax machines. Add that to the resistance to change and the worry of productivity going down from telework, this can explain the resistance towards telework, until now. After all, your company has to continue their operations somehow. Without doing so, they will either lose a lot of money, go out of business, or face potential legal issues in regard to contracts.
I think from this Covid-19 pandemic, animation studios need to adjust to the new normal. Perhaps they need to embrace the idea of teleworking and embrace digital drawing. Sure, animation studios do not have to go full CG, but there are some benefits of this. You don’t need to have your production grind to a halt. Also, animators can continue to work on their work. While there is a learning curve since drawing on a digital pad or on a screen is different than on paper, there are a lot of benefits to the animator.
Moreover, a shift to telework can increase productivity through the use of technology. You can send those frames through the internet to have them checked before sending them for coloring and compositing. You don’t have to wait for someone to pick them up or mail them. Not only that, if studios do more work digitally and remotely, there won’t be a need to halt a production. Just give animators powerful workstation laptops with the necessary equipment and software so they can do their job. If they need to use specialized software, they can simply remote in using a virtual private network.
In general, I think telework can become a possible solution to fixing the low pay and poor working conditions in the Japanese animation industry. Telework will of course improve the life and work balance. They can create drawings on their own time while dealing with family. Not only that, they don’t have to spend time commuting to work just to sit in a camped work area. He or she can work in the living room or bedroom, thus solving the working conditions issues.
At the end of the day, I feel that the Japanese animation industry as a whole need to modernize in the new normal. Technologies such as content management systems, email, video conferencing, virtual private networks, and instant messaging makes it possible to do most work remotely. Besides paying animators a living wage, they need to embrace technology, not be afraid of it. This does not mean that they need to go full CG.
In the end, studios cannot keep productions in a standstill forever. People who work on anime productions need to work and earn a living. At the same time, studios need to have their productions completed so that they can begin market and sell merchandise and make money back on their productions. After all, with any disaster, a business needs to come up with a plan so they can continue operations.
In short, studios shouldn’t be afraid of embracing the digital and telework to support social distancing efforts. They can still find innovative and creative ways to still bring traditional style animation that Japanese animation is known for. Moreover, I believe that this shift to being able to work at home will become beneficial. This includes improved working conditions and most importantly, work and life balance.
With that, do you agree that studios need to adjust and embrace digital without going full CG and telework? Also, what would you suggest studios should do to improve the situation. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. ¶