Lines and Colors art blog


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.

[Via Underwire]

[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.]


10 responses to “Paperman

  1. Thanks for this, Charley. Long-time reader here. Just wanted to say I like the recent mixing of more modern art, comics, and now animation with your traditional selections.

    Great art is great art whatever the genre, and I look forward to seeing more beautiful short animations like this, in addition to the lovely classical paintings and occasional comic art.

  2. I second the comments of Etrigan.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I do try to keep the pot stirred — the original intention of Lines and Colors was to mix genres — but when I get pressed for time, which is often these days, it’s easier and faster to write a post about classic artists.

  3. Great animation and you said it all Charley.
    I particularly like the variously soft vs harder edges of shadows and hair which almost has a drawn in charcoal texture to it.
    We have had so much CGI (at least from the big studios) the last few years it’s easy to forget about the qualities hand-drawn animation holds.

  4. Sorry, I’m not so “impressed”. I like very much the end – a real great Disney’s tradition – with objets acting like if they had conscience. But I have a real problem with character’s animation in Disney’s movies for a long time. This time, I tried to analyse what felt me uncomfortable. It’s just that they have too much expressions. People cannot move and have so much expressions in so little time. And I found it: they move and have the energy and the face’s expressions of … 6 years children. Well, I suppose it’s like “cats videos” or “babies videos”. The more cute they are, the best it is. When looking at this movie, I don’t see a young man falling in love of a pretty woman: they are just regular Disney’s puppets moving like all Disney’s puppets. I suppose I’m just a grinding old guy jealous of all this beautiful talented people but it’s the way I feel it – sorry for my bad English.

    1. Thanks for the comments.

      Li-An, I understand what you mean, but I think they are just showing off, trying to explore the capabilities of the new technique.

      Perhaps I’m just being old and cranky too, but I’m tired of all the shiny, super-bouncy, hyper-kinetic CGI animation that has become the standard for animated features here in the US.

      In France you have an animation culture that includes the marvelous hand-drawn work of Annecy and the Gobelins students; here, the emphasis is on CGI — and I don’t think the major studios are about to throw over CGI and return to hand-drawn animation in a big way anytime soon.

      So if CGI can be made to have this much feeling of hand-drawn images, I think it heralds something of a revolution, and I’m all for it — not that I hope it will compete with hand drawn animation, but that it will replace some of the “plastic doll” CGI from the big studios with something much closer to looking like traditional animation.

  5. thanks for sharing this little beauty. the young and talented mr. Jeff Turley was the art director behind this piece. he’s a swell guy with mad art skills.

  6. I understand your feeling about CGI. I’m fed up with them too.

  7. How do I watch the video? The link says that it is private. Thanks

    1. Sorry, Disney has restricted access to the video. Please see the addendum I have just added to the post for the best info I can offer at the moment.