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Paperman: 3 Things That Make This Disney Short Both Classic and Groundbreaking


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The Animation
Photo © Disney
"Paperman," the Disney short released in theaters along with the feature film Wreck-It Ralph, may seem like just a beautifully animated black and white short. But if you really pay attention, you'll notice something a little different; something that's never been done before. "Paperman" was created using both CG and hand-drawn animation. We had a chance to talk with producer Kristina Reed at Walt Disney Animation Studios, and she walked us through the process and explained why this melding of animation styles was so integral to the look and feel of the film.

Kristina, along with director John Kahrs, wanted "Paperman" to have the best of both worlds, and she really wanted the two animation departments at Disney to work together for the first time. So "Paperman" was first animated by CG animators. Then, the facial features and some other details were erased, and the images were flattened. After that, Kristina describes:

At this point, we have one of our hand drawn artists come in and design how the lines are gonna work. And the hand drawn artist decides, okay, there’s going to be a very thick pen going down the right side of that airplane and thinner ones on the left. And here’s how her hair will be shaped and will flow. And here’s the heaviness of lines we want to use for the top of her eyelid.
Kristina goes on to explain why using traditional animation layered on top of the CG was so important to her and John:
John and I, we’ve spent over 20 years working in computer graphics. And when we both came to this company, around about the same time, we were both blown away by the ability that line artists have to put expression just in a single line. Just how by lifting a lip up a little bit or turning an eye, there’s so much expression that can be conveyed.
And when you’re trying to do that in the CG world, it’s really, really hard. And you get very separated from the actual art. There's a lot of different people left to come in and set up the model and do the rigging inside the model and get her eyelids and her eye lashes right. And it’s very intricate and complicated. But in hand drawn work, it’s a line. And there’s just this beauty to that.
The hand-drawn facial features and hair, along with other details, add a very traditional and genuine feel to the characters. But, we still get to see them in a 3D world. Here is what Kristina said the CG part of the animation adds to the film:
What CG has that hand drawn struggles with is a feeling of depth. Like, you feel like you can step into the world. You feel like they’re running on real sidewalks and down real streets. And, the way the light hits them. And you feel like there’s actually volume to those characters. They don’t just feel like two-dimensional paper. So, I feel like we’re very much sort of pulling the best out of both art forms.

The main characters names, which we don't find out in the wordless short, are George and Meg. Another little touch that adds style to the film, is that a few details such as Meg's lips are red. The red stand out against the black and white and really ads a touch of class and intrigue to the film. Another classic component of the film, is the setting...

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