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GREENING ANIMATION:
11 LESSONS FROM LOCKDOWN

The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic has forced animation companies to adapt and embrace remote working. 

 

Has this had a positive impact on the animation industry’s carbon footprint? 

 

What learnings can we take forward post-pandemic? 

 

As part of our Clwstwr R&D project on Greening the Animation Industry, we spoke to some Cardiff animation companies and freelancers to explore the lessons we can learn from animation in lockdown.

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Much of the animation industry has been able to adapt to home working

Between March and August 2020, the Guardian, Forbes, Los Angeles Magazine, the Times of India, the Irish Examiner, The Times and many more reported on a boom in the animation industry during lockdown.

Remote working pipelines vary across 2D, CG and stop motion...

Studios have chosen between remote desktopping or cloud-based pipelines based on the needs of their projects. 

...and each remote work pipeline comes with challenges

From internet speeds to the learning curve of setting teams up to work from home, everyone we spoke to has faced challenges in establishing remote work pipelines.

Home working doesn’t necessarily reduce energy use…

...but reducing commuting emissions can make a huge difference

Cloud-based pipelines can cut overall energy use, as staff working from home tend to use less energy than if they were working in a studio. However, remote desktopping pipelines can increase total energy use, with staff using additional PCs at home to remote into PCs at the studio meaning each staff member needs two PCs running.

Total emissions from energy use (as a percentage of each studio's pre-lockdown total emissions from energy use)

All studios we spoke to reduced commuting emissions massively, making a significant dent in each studio's carbon footprint.

Pre-lockdown emissions from commuting (as a percentage of each studio's pre-lockdown total carbon footprint)

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Cloud storage can make a big difference to carbon footprint

Cloth Cat’s cloud storage usage has increased significantly. Were they using a cloud storage supplier using 0% renewable energy rather than a carbon-neutral supplier, their projected post-lockdown footprint would increase by 23% (4.3 tonnes more CO2e annually).

While direct comparisons aren't easy, many cloud storage suppliers claim to be carbon neutral, including Google, Apple and Microsoft.

Home working can be a much greener way of working – particularly in 2D animation

All studios we spoke to saw significant reductions in their carbon footprints due to home working.

Bomper Studio carbon footprint comparison – pre-lockdown vs during lockdown

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Bomper’s lockdown carbon footprint stands at only 42% of its pre-lockdown footprint, at 791kg CO2e over a two month period post-lockdown compared to 1874kg CO2e over a two month period pre-lockdown – a reduction of 58%.

Cloth Cat’s projected post-lockdown carbon footprint stands at only 27% of its pre-lockdown footprint, at 18.8 tonnes of CO2e annual emissions post-lockdown compared to 70.2 tonnes CO2e annual emissions pre-lockdown – a reduction of 73%.

Picl Animation carbon footprint comparison – series 1-3 of an animation production (2019 vs 2020 vs 2021)

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Picl’s lockdown carbon footprint stands at only 26% of its pre-lockdown footprint, at 373kg CO2e for an hour of broadcast animation during lockdown compared to 1415kg CO2e for an hour of broadcast animation pre-lockdown. Picl expects to maintain most of its 2020 working practices post-lockdown, projecting a post-lockdown footprint of 376kg CO2e per hour of animation, less than 27% of its pre-lockdown footprint – a reduction of 73%.

Cloth Cat Animation carbon footprint comparison – 2018 vs 2021

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There are pros and cons to home working beyond the environmental impacts

Our study focused on the environmental impacts of home working, but of course there are lots of other pros and cons to home working, including...

  • No commute means money and time savings for staff

  • Staff being able to work from anywhere in the UK (and sometimes beyond) could mean staff no longer have to move house to work on each new production, and studios can access a larger pool of talent

  • Effects on production (and/or staff putting in extra time to keep productions on track)

  • Communication challenges

  • Pros and cons for staff mental health

  • Challenges around recruitment, training and induction

  • Security and backup considerations

  • Studios based outside London no longer have the financial/time/environmental expense of travelling to London regularly for meetings

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Some of the changes made in 2020 will last beyond the pandemic

Some studios are considering maintaining home working longer term, particularly the 2D animation studios we spoke to, and many talked about reintroducing studio working but more flexibly, enabling staff to work more flexibly or work from home 2-3 days per week.

"People are going to want to have that flexibility to work at home, or to work in the studio for a couple of days, or go on holiday for a month with their kids and work from there. If we can provide that opportunity, why not?" – Jon Rennie, Cloth Cat Animation

Animation was already a very green method of TV production – and home working can make it even greener

According to BAFTA Albert, the average emissions associated with making a TV programme or series is 62.3 tonnes CO2e. One hour of TV averages about 8.2 tonnes CO2e.

Cloth Cat Animation produced around 16.5 hours of TV in 2018, at an average carbon cost of 4.25 tonnes CO2e per hour of TV – less than 52% of the average carbon cost of producing an hour of TV. Their projected output in 2021 is expected to be even greener, at an estimated 1.8 tonnes CO2e per hour of TV – less than 22% of the average carbon cost of producing an hour of TV. 


The total emissions for an hour of broadcast animation Picl Animation made in 2019 was 1,415kg CO2e, 17% of the average carbon cost of producing an hour of TV. Series two of the same production in 2020 is expected to produce a total of 373kg CO2e, and Picl Animation are planning to maintain most changes made during 2020 after lockdown – series three of the same production in 2021 is projected to produce very slightly higher total emissions of 376kg CO2e, less than 5% of the average carbon cost of an hour of TV.

Carbon cost of producing an hour of TV

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There are other ways we can make animation greener

Even when some studios return to a more familiar way of working, there are other ways we can make the animation production process greener. Bomper's Emlyn Davies has looked at installing solar panels on the studio. Cloth Cat's Jon Rennie cites remote learning as well as remote working as a potential area for carbon savings.

In April 2020, we came together with animation industry professionals, academics, heads of studios and climate change experts and explored how we can all work greener. Speakers from BAFTA AlbertJulie’s Bicycle and Be Inspired Films joined us for short, focused online talks to cut through the noise and tell us easy ways to make our animation practice more environmentally sustainable. Then we opened up the conversation digitally to learn from each other and talk about how we can work together to make a difference, in virtual breakout discussions led by innovative facilitators PDR. You can watch the talks and find out more here.​

Thank you...

This research is part of Cardiff Animation Festival’s Clwstwr R&D project on Greening the Animation Industry. Thanks to Clwstwr, PDR, Cloth Cat Animation, Bomper Studio, Picl Animation, Laura Tofarides, ftrack, BAFTA Albert, Julie’s Bicycle, Be Inspired Films and William Gold for their help and contributions.