With COVID-19 forcing thousands of animators into a work-from-home environment, many software and tech providers are seeing higher demand and are trying to ease the transition and extra financial burden by offering free home-use licences, more flexible products and additional IT support.
Teradici—a Canadian provider of virtual workstation and cloud access software to animation and visual effects (VFX) companies, including Jellyfish (Dennis and Gnasher: Unleashed, Star Wars: The Last Jedi), Atomic Cartoons (Nate Create) and DNEG (Ron’s Gone Wrong)—is offering shorter-term subscriptions for its cloud access software that don’t require studios to pay a premium that would normally be included in the cost.
The company’s temporary three-month licence for cloud access costs US$30, while a more powerful graphics processing version for animation workloads is priced at US$60. The subscriptions are a quarter the rate of Teradici’s yearly cloud access licences and are available through June 30. The software lets artists use public or private clouds to build secure remote virtual workstations. Key for animators is the tech’s ability to encrypt and transfer moving screen pixels from an artist’s studio workstation to their home monitor without losing any of the same performance and playback. Before the pandemic, many prodcos that were expanding to new locations, including UK-based Jellyfish, were already transitioning to virtual environments to save money on studio infrastructure. (Jellyfish recently transitioned all 235 members of its staff to a work-from-home environment.)
Teradici’s VP of product management and marketing, Ziad Lamman says the British Columbia-based company is helping the industry any way it can during this critical time. “We’ve experienced a huge uptick in calls from clients over the last few weeks, and I don’t expect it will slow down for at least another three months,” says Lamman.
The company most recently helped Vancouver, Canada-based Atomic Cartoons—the animation studio owned by Thunderbird Entertainment—and it’s staff of more than 700 get set up remotely, as well as Brown Bag Films (Doc McStuffins), which is now fully remote across its studios in Toronto, Manchester, Dublin and New York. Its newer Bali studio is currently in the process of going remote.
Technology VP John Brady says Brown Bag began looking into working remotely late last year as the company’s slate of work forecast for mid-2020 meant that it might exceed its building capacity from a headcount point of view. It was in the middle of a testing phase with Teradici when the coronavirus hit. “This background work proved vital when the global pandemic resulted in us having to roll out a complete remote working scenario, which we completed over a two-week period,” says Brady. “We currently have deployed more than 800 Cloud Access Plus licences from Teradici allowing artists to connect directly to their workstations in the office.”
Meanwhile, UK-based 2D animation software developer CelAction is providing free home-use licences of its software for existing clients for the duration of current projects, which benefits schools the most because students aren’t usually allowed to use the software at home.
CelAction2D lets artists create high-quality animation very quickly using skeletal-based rigs and allows for effects and camera motion. Current kids toons made with the software include Peppa Pig (eOne), Luo Bao Bei (Cloth Cat, 9 Story) and Bluey (Ludo).
The company is also bolstering its technical support to help animators operate from home. “In the last few weeks we’ve dealt with the needs of more than 1,000 customers and there may be a few hundred more in the next week or so,” says CEO Andy Blazdell.
Producer Sam Moor of Australia’s Ludo Studio says the company was already using a CelAction licence on its popular ABC series Bluey, but required logistical support for its remoting efforts, which will have all 25 members of the prodco’s four animation teams set up at home as of today. Ludo normally accesses CelAction2D via a dongle (a physical adapter) that is plugged into the studio’s server, but to have everyone working remotely each person would need to have one of the dongles.
“CelAction would have to put the program on each dongle and then ship them to us, and we would make sure everyone was working off one at home,” says Moor. “That would have been very time consuming for CelAction, and would have delayed us working remotely.” In the end, CelAction expedited a system it was already prototyping that provided access to the licence over the net.
Despite the increase in animators working from home, VFX artists are still petitioning the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to let them work remotely because many often have to sign NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) with larger studios stating they can’t work from home due to privacy and safety concerns around projects. The petition was launched by Vancouver-based artist Mario Rokicki, a color supervisor at DNEG, and has amassed more than 10,000 signatures from artists worldwide to date.
Global entertainment organization Visual Effects Society (VES) also recently joined the effort. In a statement, the group is encouraging “all employers—large or small—to grant permission for their employees to work remotely during this unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.”
For artists making the transition to work remotely, the technical committee of VES has issued best practices guidelines curated from various studios and tech providers including Teradici.