Coupled with Wreck-It Ralph, Disney’s Paperman is the latest animated short from the House that Mickey Built. Combining the life and soul of 2D drawings with 3D models rendered in stylish black and white, does the short inspire confidence in what some are calling “the future of 2D animation?”
Paperman is the child of director John Kahrs, who dreamed up the possibility of the short while working as an animator at Blue Sky Studios. It follows a meeting between a nameless man and woman at a mid-20th century train platform in New York City. A chance gust of wind blows one of his work-related forms into her face, leaving a bright red lipstick stain. Before he can talk to her, she boards a train and it speeds off.
The man proceeds to his workplace in a skyscraper downtown, but discovers with joy and surprise that the woman from the station is in the building just across the street. It’s too far to yell in such a noisy city, so he begins crafting paper airplanes to fly across the void and get her attention. This makes up the bulk of the film as he goes through an entire stack of his work forms making the planes, including the lipstick-marked paper from earlier. Alas, none successfully reach her.
Abandoning his desk, he rushes to the street to try and catch her as she leaves, but is unsuccessful. Distraught, he turns to leave. Suddenly the hundreds of paper airplanes he created come to life and cover every inch of him. They pull and shove and corral him onto a train as the original lipstick-stained airplane leads the girl to the same station and reunite the couple.
Style and Animation
If you were to try and define “artsy animation” you might look no further for an example than Paperman. From the staging to the character design to the simple black and white (with symbolic pop of red) color palette, the film is visually brilliant. The combination of 2D expressions on the 3D characters fits perfectly and produces a quality that is near-impossible to capture in 3D models alone. Though “black and white with red” is nothing new or revolutionary, Paperman uses it with simplistic beauty.
The animation is just about as good as 3D animation gets, taking its cues from the masters of the Golden Age of 2D. Using a new in-house program called Meander, animators were able to break models and even erase parts of the 3D characters one frame at a time if necessary. One of the major downsides to 3D animation has always been the difficulty to “cheat” in situations that called for it, without breaking the models or causing terrible rendering errors. Meander appears to allow for such cheating with ease, and the result is gorgeous.
Paperman will no doubt make the Oscar short list next year and I’d be hard-pressed to argue against it winning the award. While the style and story are classically tried-and-true, the advancements that Meander has allowed the animators to make to traditional 3D animation cannot be discounted. If ever an animated short cried out “Vote for me” in any competition, Paperman is it. Whether you are a bigger fan of 2D animation or 3D, Paperman NEEDS your attention. See it as soon as possible.
Disney’s Paperman can be seen before the film Wreck-It Ralph, now in US theaters. According to sources close to Disney, it will also be available online after a set period of time. (Truly, if you can, see it in theaters on the big screen. It’s worth it.)