The BFI National Archive’s #BritainOnLockdown project is building a map of how online video has reflected and at times influenced the UK’s COVID-19 experience. As the crisis continues to evolve, we’re still asking for your help in suggesting videos that build a picture of lockdown Britain.
None of the British screen industries has been left unchanged by the impact of coronavirus, and that includes the animation sector. The idea that animators can all beaver away independently in their homes unaffected by social distancing is a naive summary that has cropped up too often in mainstream reporting. Productions have suffered many of the same setbacks as their live-action counterparts, and have had to improvise a variety of patchwork solutions for what is an intensely collaborative process.
The real strengths of animation in these times is its ability to engage and communicate with a broad range of audiences while packaging complex, at times unsettling, information into concise, palatable nuggets. At its best, it can do it all with an illustrative flair that can touch the heart and enlighten the mind.
Animation studios are often thriving social hubs for creative minds, and adjusting to working from isolated domestic bubbles has been as hard as in any other sector. The London-based Animade studio made this delightful mute message on how to stay sane when working from home, mixing good practical advice with a sprinkling of the catnip of social media – a cat:
Commercial work is still being commissioned and often produced with an artistic flair that belies the swift turnaround times and strained circumstances. Promotion for the BBC’s Make a Difference project included three animations, with my favourite being Gravy by the uber-talented Anna Ginsburg:
Many freelance animators have kept themselves busy on personal projects while in lockdown. Ryan Brotherston’s Stay at Home: A Little Film is a neat day-in-the-life summary that might have minimal graphics but will elicit maximum recognition for many parents of young children:
Hearteningly, there have been a number of self-initiated public information films supplementing and sometimes improving on more official ones. Andy Martin’s Bad Better Best is a good example, offering a colourful bitesize message on the value of social distancing to prevent the spread of germs in an immediate and engaging style:
Though separated, the animation community has found ways to keep together, most notably through the Flatten the Curve project initiated by Emily Downe and Katrin Steinbacher at Studio Desk. They put out a call for animators to submit a short piece about staying positive in lockdown, and garnered more than 90 responses from around the world. With thought and skill, the works have been compiled into three films, offering an eclectic but heart-warming kaleidoscope of creative life in lockdown.
Doing it for the kids
As the imposition of lockdown measures changed life in immediate and striking ways, children had their daily routines completely upended. In this confusing and scary time it was beneficial to see reassuring films from some animated favourites, along with important health information.
In the world of Hey Duggee five young animal friends make up the Squirrel Club and in each episode they earn badges based on various activities from their leader, the very knowledgeable dog Duggee. Produced by the award-winning Studio AKA, Hey Duggee is delightfully inventive and has featured informative episodes on the water cycle and the correct way to brush your teeth. So the series is well placed to deliver a strong message to a very young audience about what they can do during lockdown restrictions.
This short clip (normal episodes are seven minutes long) shows the Squirrels achieving their badge for staying at home by keeping busy with lots of games and activities. Clips from previous episodes have been combined to make this new short – it’s likely that this was a necessity during lockdown, and re-editing clips enables speedy production too. Another animated series from CBeebies, Tee and Mo, also used re-edited clips to produce a lovely song about staying at home.
Peppa may only be a little pig but she’s a global superstar and a great ambassador for the below message from the World Health Organisation. Though she’s usually happiest jumping in muddy puddles, here Peppa, Rebecca Rabbit and the Pig family demonstrate how important it is to wash your hands and make them ‘bubbly scrubbly’ nice and clean:
Animation for public information
The animated moving image has for generations been a key weapon in the armoury of official and other institutional messaging, often – but far from always – when dispensing its messages to children and families.
Many adult-oriented government online public information films have been animated in a very basic sense, mixing graphics with moving text, but there’s been the occasional more characterful effort, like the below for-families Easter weekend video. Published by the 10 Downing Street Twitter and YouTube accounts, it benefits from Lego making its brand available for public service, and effective use of limited animation:
Public agencies beyond central government are also deploying the animator’s craft. The video below was published by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust: an explainer for children, fluently mixing characters, cyphers and extensive movement in and of the frame with the reassuring voices of fellow children. It was published on 23 March, the same day as the Trust’s seminal live-action and for adults #StayAtHome video.
The Maudsley Charity, partnering with South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London, has built a web resource, Families Under Pressure, containing 12 engagingly animated films giving parents tips for navigating lockdown family life. Each is voiced by a celebrity: Danny Dyer gives Tip No. 3…
Finally, organisations outside the public sector have also been releasing their own info-animations. For example, as early as 20 March, The Telegraph published this lucid social distancing primer, neatly blending infographics with characters: