With animation steering in an increasingly 3-D, CG direction, hand-drawn animation can start to feel like a relic, but with Paperman, Disney’s Oscar-nominated short, director John Kahrs sought to rejuvenate the older art by fusing it with the advantages of modern computer animation.
“There’s something primal and very relevant about the hand-drawn lines,” Kahrs said. “But I’m not precious about hand-drawn [animation]. I’m okay with kind of nudging it and pushing it and changing it and trying to get it to speak and communicate with viewers in a new way.”
The short is a little urban fairy tale about a man who attempts to capture the attention of the woman of his dreams with paper airplanes he launches from his skyscraper office to hers – a story Kahrs began developing about 10 years ago. After working on Tangled with Disney veteran Glen Keane, who has designed characters and done animation for such films as The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, Kahrs began thinking about finding a way to fuse together Keane’s hand-drawn expertise with his 3-D animation experience. It was then “serendipitous,” the first-time director said, that just as Disney was looking for a project to keep animators busy between production on Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph that the technology became available to merge 2-D and 3-D animation. Paperman was created with Meander, new in-house software programmed by Brian Whited.
With Meander, 3-D animators create a digital base model that 2-D animators then draw over. (See that process in action here.) The hybrid technique gives Paperman the effect of both the depth and dimension of computer animation and the warmth of hand-drawn animation.
Paperman is a black-and-white (with the exception of a touch of scarlet), six-and-a-half-minute film, but it has already started to connect with audiences on the same level of colorful, feature-length Disney films since it began screening in front of Wreck-It Ralph in November. Kahrs was delighted to see fans cosplaying Meg and George (characters designed by Keane), the film’s couple united by paper airplanes.
“A lot of people more people than I thought really identified with that,” Kahrs said. “It’s so gratifying to see you put something out into the world, and people feel a real personal connection to it. They go, ‘That’s me!’ or they want that to be them or their hearts go out to them.”
Meander is not currently being put to use on another Disney project, but Whited is developing a new piece of software related to animating hair. Kahrs is delving into another form of hybrid animation that takes place in a “lush, colorful, organic environment,” he said. “Basically the visual opposite of Paperman.”
– Emily Rome
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