If you are the kind of person who arrives at the movies just as the opening credits are beginning, set your watch early when you see Wreck-It Ralph because before the movie begins Disney has a special treat for moviegoers – Paperman.
Sometimes silence speaks volumes, and when Disney Animation combines that silence with hand-drawn animation and CG effects, the result is loud and clear perfection.
Introducing a groundbreaking hybrid approach that seamlessly merges computer-generated and hand-drawn animation techniques, first-time director John Kahrs takes the art of animation in a bold new direction with “Paperman,” a new short from Walt Disney Animation Studios that debuts this November with the Disney feature “Wreck-It Ralph.” Using a minimalist black-and-white style, the short follows the story of a lonely young man (George) in mid-century New York City, whose destiny takes an unexpected turn after a chance meeting with a beautiful woman (Meg) on his morning commute. Convinced that the girl of his dreams is gone forever, he gets a second chance when he spots her in a skyscraper window across the avenue from his office. With only his heart, imagination and a stack of papers to get her attention, his efforts are no match for what the fates have in store for him.
The idea for Paperman came from the director John Kahrs when he was reverse commuting from New York City and working in Blue Sky, the suburbs of New York. Everyday he’d be travel through Grand Central Station as a single guy in his 20’s. And there’d be throngs of people moving through the train stations. And every once in a while, he’d make a connection with somebody, eye contact in the station and think is that the girl of my dreams? And then she’d be gone.
The visually compelling story is told in black and white through a brand new technology developed by Disney Animation, which takes all of the best of hand-drawn animation and CG to create a unique and beautiful new form of animation. The way the wind blows through Meg’s hair is stunning, and the entire short is captivating. After watching the seven-minute short, and falling in love with the characters, we talked to the producer Kristina Reed about film.
How long did it take to make Paperman?
Kristina Reed: It was about 14 months in all. There was stretches of time where it was just the director and me. One of the things about making a short at Disney Animation is it has to fit in the cracks between our big features. For most of the project, there were never more than 10 people on it. Then every once in a while, we’d get a phone call and it was like there’s ten animators available for six weeks. What can you do with them? So we’d scramble around and figure it out and bring them all onto the show and have them work.
And then they would go away again. In all there was quite a few people that touched it, but there was really a small crew of us that are the core of the project.
What was the rationale behind the time period?
Kristina Reed: He knew from the very beginning that he wanted it to be in black and white. He was very entranced by the black and white photography of New York. Then idea of these skyscrapers as canyons and valleys and that you as a human being are just sort of working your way across this inhospitable landscape surrounded by lots of people but very much alone. We talk about it as late 40’s, early 50’s New York.
Will Disney do more of this technique?
Kristina Reed: We want to play with it some more. We feel honestly like it’s somewhat our responsibility as one of the premiere in animation houses and certainly the house that invented this art to put new visual looks out into the world for other artists to respond to. We’re hoping that this inspires other folks to come in and play with looks. We feel there’s a vast frontier out there that is not just hyper real CG, which is where a lot of animation’s going right now.
There’s nothing wrong with that. There are many stories that form can tell very effectively, but it’s also partially responsibility to our roots. We feel like we want to make sure that we’ve explored every avenue of artistry that we can with the talent that we have. John is moving on to test this technique in color because it’s very easy to say that’s a cool technique. It really lends itself to the story and only stories in the 40’s and only stories in cityscapes.
So he is going on to try and test foliage and color and see what that technique will look like and telling a different kind of story. And we’ll see where that goes.
Does this process take longer?
Kristina Reed: It takes twice as long in animation because you’re animating it twice. You’re running it through CG animators and hand drawn animators. The world has been really captivated by the hybrid nature of that. That’s the story that sort of leads the pack. The other technological innovation that happened on this project was the notion of simplified CGI. We actually had a couple of guys on the show who had pioneered something internally. We brought them on as well to help us and what they saved in simplifying the CG helped us cover the cost of double animation.
What does the CG contribute to what we’re seeing?
Kristina Reed: What CG has that hand drawn struggles with is a feeling of depth where you feel like you can step into the world. You feel like they’re running on real sidewalks and down real streets. You feel like there’s actually volume to those characters. They don’t just feel like two-dimensional paper. I feel like we’re very much pulling the best out of both art forms. I feel like you could step into that world and I could stand next to George and stand next to Meg. When you go back and look at some of the early 2-D films, you don’t feel as much.
Paperman is now in theaters opening for Wreck-It Ralph. Make sure you get your popcorn early so you don’t miss it!
Disclosure – I was invited to attend this premiere as part of a blogger weekend. All air fair and lodging was provided, however, all thoughts and opinions are my own.