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With live-action production largely shut down across much of the globe, more has been asked of the post-production community -- whether in animation, visual effects community, music and audio post -- to creatively take up the slack. At least that’s how it seems from the perspective of Wayne Brejcha, Creative Director/Co-Owner (along with Executive Producer Sean Henry) of acclaimed Chicago animation studio Calabash. “Our pipeline is almost miraculously geared to allow everyone to work remotely,” Brejcha says.
We spoke with Brejcha about how the company has navigated the pandemic, their current work and what the future holds for boutique creative animation studios like Calabash.
PH:How are you? What are your days looking like lately?
WB: The Calabash staff has been well. We all either took our workstations home from the studio, or already had production capacity from home. We pop in now and again to keep an eye on things at the office, but our pipeline in which we all work remotely has been solid. My personal home scenario includes two little kids and a wife who is also working from home and joining calls with an international team in the middle of our night. I have to get much of my work done after the kids are asleep. But my own work station at home looks pretty much like what it does at the studio — a Cintiq, a bunch of sketch paper, some camera gear and a couple of lights. I have ventured down to the studio to set up a tabletop photo shoot that I couldn’t do from home.
PH:How has Calabash been weathering the pandemic?
WB: Our staff has been great in terms of teamwork and maintaining the discipline it takes to work this way. I sometimes joke that animators are by nature a little immune to the travails of social distancing, but there’s some truth to it. So much of an animator’s work is done within the their imagination. It requires the ability to shut off external noise and get into your own creative groove. Even in more normal times at the studio, when we are all together in one physical setting, lots of our communication is done via text notes accompanying visual files.
PH:What have been some of the biggest challenges?
WB: We had a couple of weeks with absolutely no work on the horizon, which is always unnerving. We busied ourselves with internal projects. But, as we kept hearing would happen, things did begin to heat up as clients and agencies reconfigured their strategies to get messaging done under these peculiar circumstances. Now we’re strategizing for what could be a large volume of work that could come in.
PH:What are some of the ways you've had to become more innovative as a company?
WB: For us, it isn’t so much about innovation as it is about keeping communication thorough. We’ve made more use of group video calls to go over the state of projects more efficiently.
PH:Can you talk a bit about the content you've been creating for General Mills' brands?
WB: We’ve been creating these clever shorts for General Mills/Lucky Charms Instagram stories, as well as these fun GIFs that cereal fans are able download via the Lucky Charms site. We’re also finishing a new Starkist ad featuring Charlie the Tuna on a Zoom call. It’s not only a fun spot, but also highlights how much we were able to achieve as a company while working from home.
PH:How else are you staying creative?
WB: Myself and others on the team building up ideas for little short subject pieces, drawing sketches and jokes for our social media and creating self-promotional pieces to let clients know we’re open for business. We’ve also been catching up on various bits of R&D and experimenting with animation techniques that we want to explore.
PH:Do you think the industry will be forever changed moving forward?
WB: I think the experience of getting stuff done under the stay-home orders will expand. Some companies will change forever, but a business model where everybody always works from home is probably not going to be effective across the entire animation industry. There’s too much stuff that either doesn’t happen very well that way or can’t happen at all. You could argue that every day something happens that changes the industry forever. Brilliant scientists will create the vaccine for covid-19 on the same day we get clobbered by the asteroid nobody saw coming, and then we’ll have to figure out how to get animation done with the surface of the planet heated to 700 degrees Fahrenheit. That will definitely change everything.