“Paperman” is a superb six minute Academy Award nominated animated short from Disney Animation that was shown in theaters before “Wreck it Ralph” last November.
Disney has wisely posted it to YouTube for all to see. [Not any more; see my 2015 addendum, below.]
Created by a small team at Disney led by first-time director John Kahrs, the film is beautifully conceived, designed and drawn, and is fluidly animated in a novel technique that seamlessly combines elements of CGI and hand-drawn animation.
The almost monochromatic film (except for touches of red) carries forward the feeling of early 20th century animation —particularly, to my eye, the beautifully done 1940’s Superman cartoons from Fleischer Studios.
Even though the latter were in color, and their action/adventure tone is very different from the wistful comedic romance of “Paperman”, there is something about the care and skill with which the atmosphere and feeling of the city is portrayed, particularly the use of value, light and shadow, that echoes the best animation of that era.
There are a couple of brief interviews with director John Kahrs, as well as a longer, more technical breakdown of the CGI process on It’s Art.
Kahrs said he wanted to bring the visual charm of the concept art drawings back into the final look of the film, and the result is remarkable. It’s also wonderfully in line with the Disney Animation lineage, bringing back some of the visual character of moving drawings on screen that is lacking in standard CGI animation.
The story, about chance meetings and “what ifs”, is told wordlessly, with expressive characters, effective but unobtrusive music, well crafted sound and a masterful appreciation for what animation can achieve when the aim is emotional subtlety rather than heavy handed attempts to dazzle.
Hopefully, this bodes well for the future of American animation.
[Addendum, 2015: Unfortunately, The YouTube link below is no longer viable. The MBAs have had their way, and Disney has restricted access to the video since it is now being monetized as part of a collection of shorts.
As of this writing, you can see it on DailyMotion, though the server is slow and you have to wait through 30 seconds of ads. You can also try searching for “Paperman” on YouTube, or Google, and you will find versions of the video, in varying levels of video quality, most of which have other music substituted for the original score.
If you manage to see the video, you can picture our hero’s office antagonist as the kind of person who makes these decisions.]