With their latest short from director John Kahrs, Disney have shown that they are once again at forging the way forward for animation.
When Walt Disney died, he left a studio that was the very best at 2D animation. No other studio could ever, or has ever, come close to matching them, and Disney the studio continued that tradition for 30 years after his death. But what they seemed to forget, was that Disney, above everything else, was a pioneer, an experimenter and a pusher. He was responsible for the first feature animation (sort of), the first cartoon with synchronised sound, the first colour cartoon, the first use of stereoscopic sound, the first use of the multi-plane camera… the list goes on and on!
After his death the studio stalled, so afraid of protecting Walt’s legacy that they spent their time trying to replicate the successes of the past rather than looking to the future.
With Paperman, it’s clear that Disney is right back on track (probably thanks to John Lassiter restarting the shorts program there). The film utilises both 3D and 2D – mixing the best of both worlds to achieve the director’s vision – adapting the technology to the vision rather than modifying the vision to what the technology is capable of.
The film is animated in 3d, using a minimal polygon count, basic shapes and an extremely limited colour palette to create a very gestural, subtle style that looks flat. This animation is then drawn over by 2D animators, who put in the lines and the details and so were able to put back the grace and expressiveness that can so often be missing from 3D.
The look is based on old fashioned, 50s photography and lighting techniques of shooting in to the light to create a ‘halo effect.’ The film, while remaining true to Disney’s ideals and tone, presents a beautiful new style that I’m sure will be widely copied over the coming years.
“The short follows the story of a lonely young man in mid-century New York City, whose destiny takes an unexpected turn after a chance meeting with a beautiful woman on his morning commute. Convinced 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.”
Paperman debuts before Wreck it Ralph in November, and you can check out a quick interview with director John Kahrs here: