How an Oscar-Winning Film Was Produced Remotely

The Boy (voiced by Jude Coward Nicoll) and The Mole (voiced by Tom Hollander) in “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse,” now streaming on Apple TV+. (Image credit: Apple TV+)

Remote production, accelerated by the pandemic, can now do some incredible things.In fact, the animated holiday short film “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse” became the first remotely produced film to win an Academy Award. When it had its debut in December on BBC in the U.K., it drew more than 7 million viewers. The film is now available on Apple TV+.

To make the film, 120 people in 15 countries were tied together over LucidLink.

The Main Stage session “How to Win an Oscar With a Fully Remote Creative Team,” sponsored by LucidLink at last week's NAB Show in Las Vegas, featured two of the creative managers on the film, Mike McCain, an art director and visual development artist, and Ben Wood, animation senior support specialist.

Moderator Dave Leopold, LucidLink’s strategic development director, noted that this show was creating a playbook for remote productions going forward.

Being in charge of technology for the film’s art department, Wood said one of the first things he needed to do was to access the people working on the project and the electronic equipment they had to work with.

One important factor was bandwidth, he said, “because we were still deep in the COVID pandemic and it was important to know if I’d be able to remotely get into their system while they were on the machine.”

While the people hired had amazing creative abilities, he added, they did not have the best machines at home. “In about two or three cases people had to buy new iMacs because it can support the latest OS.”

“The remote aspect to leading this team was incredibly daunting,” McCain added. The team had some early Zoom calls to demonstrate techniques. “The early phases were laying the track for the train,” he said. “By the end of the project, we had a lot of momentum.”

The author of “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse,” Charlie Mackesy, used his own unique watercolor style to illustrate the book. That style would prove tricky to translate to film until they found the right kind of brushes to use in Photoshop.

“I think with any adaptation of a book, especially something that’s so beloved as Charlie’s book had become, I felt there’s always that sort of initial trepidation,” McCain said. But to the credit of the film’s producers, “pretty much as soon as I saw some of the early story animatics and storyboards, I was just excited and hopeful that we could make it through this whole thing and stick the landing.”  

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