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Animation under lockdown: “The quality of output continues to be excellent”

Magic Light Pictures’ Daryl Shute gives an insight into how work is continuing at the animation company.

So much has changed in the world we know over such a short space of time. Magic Light has always been uniquely placed in that we manage all of our film sales and distribution, licensing and merchandising, marketing activities and production directly. We’re a small team of 20 working out of our London office and like any business, we have many partners all over the world.

There is no doubt that revenues from the licensing and merchandising side of our business will be hugely impacted by these recent events.

On the production side, we currently have two projects running: Zog and the Flying Doctors, our latest Donaldson/Scheffler production for BBC One this Christmas; and our first ever children’s series, Pip & Posy, for Milkshake! and Sky will be delivered in 2021, and both are on track. We’re fortunate that our primary type of production is CG animation which can largely be done remotely if necessary and we’re working with two experienced animation studios, Giant in Dublin and Blue Zoo in London.

As the shut-down approached, they both quickly and efficiently moved their crews to home working. They staggered the moves meaning their IT support team and crew were able to cope with the change of structure. Naturally there were teething problems, and some unanticipated technical hiccoughs, but things are running really smoothly now. The limitations of domestic broadband speeds are proving a challenge still, but we’re making up lost time. Most importantly, everyone is well and happy in their new surroundings and the quality of output continues to be excellent.

Magic Light Pictures is currently working on Zog and the Flying Doctors for BBC One this Christmas.
Magic Light Pictures is currently working on Zog and the Flying Doctors for BBC One this Christmas.

From an interpersonal point of view, Magic Light, its producers, directors and animators are holding daily animation catch ups via video conference. As much as we liked nipping out of the office and walking to Blue Zoo’s office round the corner, it’s not so bad to just jump on a Zoom or Discord call. The great part of working with creatives is they certainly know how to bring their new workspaces to life. We’ve seen a few imaginative backgrounds and animated characters joining us over the weeks which always brings laughter to our calls.

Voice recordings are a challenge. While the main recordings for Zog and the Flying Doctors have already been completed, Pip and Posy requires five child actors to record regularly over the next 52 weeks. We’re looking at how to record them remotely in their homes while still achieving the technical quality required for production. We recently held a casting session remotely with four parties involved. It’s amazing what we are achieving from the comfort of our homes.

Of all elements of production, the least affected has been the writing process. This has always been done remotely, and our head writer has organised bi-weekly video calls to bounce ideas around and to keep morale up amongst the writing team.

Our core Magic Light team in London have been set up for a long time with VPN access and several of our staff already worked from home. Extending this to the wider team has therefore presented less of a challenge as procedures and technical measures are already in place to ensure staff feel part of the team and connected to each other.

Some new tactics have been brought in to help keep us connected, such as a daily newsletter that is written by a different person from the team every day. Also, Magic Light’s unofficial social secretary has been doing a great job keeping morale high by running virtual film clubs and even a company ‘pub’ quiz – it’s BYOB.

Daryl Shute is brand director at Magic Light Pictures.

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