The animation studios in California are rapidly adjusting to the outbreak of Coronavirus, which has had an immediate impact on their workflows. Employees are being encouraged or required to work from home, some productions have been temporarily halted, and the announcement from Universal that DreamWorks Animations’ “Trolls World Tour” will break the theatrical window with same-day VOD on April 10 offers an alternative revenue stream to combat theater closures.
Here’s a rundown of the studios’ official policies during these uncertain times:
Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios
Status: Per the Walt Disney Company, “employees who are able to work from home are being asked to do so, including those at The Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Television, ESPN, Direct-to-Consumer, and Parks, Experiences and Products.” Meanwhile, in compliance with Northern California’s “shelter in place” decree on Monday (mandating nearly seven million residents to stay home), Pixar shut down its Emeryville studio and employees will work remotely. “I can confirm that Pixar (and every other company in the Bay Area) is following the guidelines from county officials,” said a studio spokesperson.
Releases: This year, Disney is scheduled to release “Raya and the Last Dragon” (November 25), the fantasy adventure scripted by Adele Lim (“Crazy Rich Asians”) and inspired by Southeast Asian culture. Additionally, the studio also has Fox’s “Bob’s Burger’s: The Movie” slated for July 17, the big screen debut from series creator Loren Bouchard.
Following the March 6 release of “Onward” (whose box office has been adversely affected by the pandemic), Pixar has a second movie scheduled for 2020: “Soul” (June 19), the latest from director/chief creative officer Pete Docter (mixing jazz and The Great Beyond, featuring Jamie Foxx voicing the studio’s first black protagonist). No postponement has been announced.
Status: The Glendale campus is adhering to the work-at-home edict mandated by CEO Jeff Shell of parent company NBCUniversal. Margie Cohn, president of DreamWorks Animation, sent her own memo last week about working remotely:
Dear DreamWorkers —
You recently received a memo from Jeff Shell regarding our company-wide response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation. As the situation continues to evolve rapidly, I hope you’re taking recommended precautions for the health and safety of you and your family.
We know that the direction in Jeff’s note regarding work from home is not one size fits all, as it’s easier for some to work remotely than others. At DreamWorks, over the next few days, we will begin a phased roll out to reduce the number of people in our workplace. As Jeff mentioned, those who can work remotely should speak with their manager as soon as possible about a work from home schedule.
On the production front, we have been exploring and testing work from home solutions and show leadership will be sharing unique plans for each production soon. In the meantime, our studio will remain open as many of our production and post-production workflows require access to campus. As you’ve seen, we are continuing to take proactive measures to deep clean and disinfect our work areas.
Releases: In addition to “Trolls World Tour,” DreamWorks also has the “The Croods 2″ sequel scheduled for December 23.
Status: The streamer closed one of its L.A. offices last week after an employee was suspected to have contracted the coronavirus. All L.A. employees have been working from home and all productions in the U.S. and Canada have been temporarily shut down through March 27.
Releases: This will impact to some degree the animated feature slated for release in the fall, “Over the Moon,” directed by legendary animator Glen Keane and handled by Sony Pictures Imageworks. However, Netflix’s next animated feature, “The Willoughbys,” a quirky comedy about unconventional family values (based on the children’s book by Lois Lowry), is still scheduled for April 22.
Status: Paramount has implemented a mandatory work from home policy. In the span of a week and a half, Paramount Animation became a complete “virtual studio” moving four active movies to completely remote production. They have 112 people, previously operating on the lot, now working from home and partnering with the global animation collaborators in Montreal, Dallas, and Paris, who are also working remotely
Release: “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run,” directed by Tim Hill, is scheduled for July 31.
Sony Pictures Animation
Status: The Culver City studio is encouraging everyone to work from home, but is actively exploring solves for remote work and more flexibility for employees who remain at the studio.
Releases: Sony is doing everything possible to keep its two 2020 features on track: “Connected” (September 18), a tech uprising comedy from Oscar-winning producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”) and directed by Mike Rianda (“Gravity Falls”), and “Wish Dragon” (Date TBD) a genie-in-a-bottle fable from China-based Base Animation.
Warner Bros. Animation
Status: All WarnerMedia employees have been encouraged to work from home, per last week’s memo from John Stankey, president and COO of AT&T and WarnerMedia’s CEO. That includes Warner Bros. Animation (which has “Scoob!” Date TBD) and Warner Bros. Television Group, which released the following statement last week:
“With the rapidly changing events related to COVID-19, and out of an abundance of caution, Warner Bros. Television Group is halting production on some of our 70+ series and pilots currently filming or about to begin. The health and safety of our employees, casts and crews remains our top priority. During this time, we will continue to follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control as well as local officials and public health professionals in each city where our productions are based.”
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