Saturday Matinee #97: "Paperman" (November 2, 2012)
Published November 10, 2012
by Albert Gutierrez
On Tuesday, my sister and I went to the theatre to see Disney's newest animated feature, Wreck-It Ralph. I greatly enjoyed the film, and found it to be a refreshing and edgy alternative to Disney's usual animated features. However, as much as I loved Wreck-It Ralph, I was most taken by the animated short that preceded it: Paperman. I had been hearing plenty of good things about this short from various Disney sites, and much of its praise is well-deserved.
The short's story is told through pantomime, with no dialogue used at all. In some ways, spoken words could ruin the charming meet-cute between George (our protagonist) and Meg, a young woman who catches his eye (and paper). Likewise, the expressions drawn to convey emotions often do so with better effect than if served with a line of dialogue. The stern look of the boss, for example, is more intimidating than if he were to simply utter "Get to work" in a stentorian tone to George. The black and white cinematography also lends itself nicely to the serious work environment George is trapped in. We do get a few instances of color, which helps give such a humdrum "glum and blah" world enough semblance of magic to make us believe in the fantastical journey both characters will take. This bit o' magic helps Paperman become a modern fairy tale set within the sprawling, mechanical, and urban world.
The animation in this short blends CGI and hand-drawn in a way never done before. Truthfully, even I still don't quite understand the full mechanics behind it all. To give an extremely simplified explanation - which I'm sure someone better qualified will tell me is completely off the mark - but the short employs a CGI model that has the hand-drawn "look" overlaid on top. This model is animated through CGI techniques which take advantage of methods hand-drawn animation could not accomplish. Thus, when the hand-drawn overlay is applied, and also animated to suit its own needs, the character's movement is that of CGI, while the look is entirely hand-drawn. If you want to really see some of the technical wizardry that went into Paperman, there's an excellent "Paperman Breakdown" video from the "It's Art" blog (check it out here: http://www.itsartmag.com/features/paperman-breakdown/#.UGtQALu7xbm). Since the breakdown video features shots and moments that could spoil the short for you, I'd recommend not viewing it until after watching Paperman.
Blending these two styles of animation makes for a very beautiful piece to watch, a marriage between two methods that can sometimes be light years apart. I know I'll be going back to the theatre to see both Paperman and Wreck-It Ralph once more, this time to better appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship of both works.
Overall, Paperman is a sweet, slightly quirky, but entirely romantic short film. The animation style - dubbed "final line advection" - is quite amazing. In the future, I hope to see Disney do a whole movie in this way, and I know I won't be disappointed. As LeVar Burton used to say on PBS's "Reading Rainbow," you don't have to take my word for it. Just check out these three informative videos, in which the short's director John Kahrs discusses this landmark animation style:
Paperclip: "The Idea"
Paperclip: "The Drawings"
Paperclip: "The Look"
Currently, the only place to watch Paperman is before Wreck-It Ralph. The film and short opened in U.S. theatres last week, November 2. It was intended to open on March 22, 2013, but was moved up to this November when production was going ahead of schedule (always a good thing, if you ask me). The originally-slotted Pixar prequel Monsters University has been moved to a summer release on June 21, 2013. For our international readers, be sure to consult your country's branch of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International for when Paperman and Wreck-It Ralph will be released to your area. Release dates are always subject to change; hopefully they'll be pushing up releases earlier in countries.
Stills courtesy of Walt Disney Animation Studios and the Official WDAS YouTube Channel