Last week, Disney released Paperman, the new CG/2D hybrid short film, on YouTube and it already has about 14 million views.
Shortly after it went viral, the industry honored Paperman with the Annie Award for best short film.
The response at the Annecy Animation Festival was also inspiringly positive.
The director recently confirmed that Disney is pursuing the Paperman process further.
Could the Paperman process be a picture of the future for Disney Feature Animation?
Read on to watch full short film, The Making Of Paperman videos and learn what I think it all means for the future of hand-drawn animation…
Updates for March 2013:
- Paperman also won the Oscar. The win is significant because indie shorts are generally favored in this category.
- Disney pulled Paperman from YouTube and Hulu about a week before it became available on iTunes and Home Video.
- To watch the full short film, you now have to buy the Wreck-It-Ralph blu-ray or buy Paperman on iTunes. [affiliate links]
The Making Of Paperman: The Idea, The Drawings, The Look:
Start the video player below to watch all three featurettes about The Making of Paperman.
(They should just play through in order, automagically…)
- You can scroll down to watch the Paperman Technical Reel for all the super-geeky details about how the Disney TD’s, animators and compositors achieved the deceptively-simple style.
- For those of you who love concept art, you can find more Paperman sketches and designs on The Character Design Blog.
The Question On Everyone’s Mind…
Director John Kahrs presented Paperman to us at DisneyToon Studios about six months before it premiered in front of Wreck It Ralph and, of course, pretty much everyone cried.
From the breathtaking appeal of the character designs, to the whimsy of the 2D/CG hybrid animation style and the resonant story of hope and love, there was a collective understanding that John and his team had crafted something very special…
After the Paperman screening at DTS, a bunch of our technical directors, my buddy Mike Greenholt (animation director) and I hung around and drilled John Kahrs with questions about the film.
Everyone was then (as the rest of the industry is now) wondering:
“Could we do a feature this way?”
Obviously, I can’t speak for The Walt Disney Company, but as a fan, I am convinced that we will see a CG/2D hybrid animated feature from Disney in the relatively near future.
…and here’s why.
1.) John Kahrs Is Still “Pursuing” This Process At Disney:
During our conversation with John Kahrs after the DTS screening, it was clear to me that all we really needed was time and a budget to streamline the technical process.
According to this interview with AWN, John Kahrs’ current work at Disney involves “pursuing” this CG/2D hybrid technique further.
Historically, Disney and Pixar shorts have often been experiments which advance the state of the art.
Steamboat Willie introduced sound and it is generally accepted knowledge that the feathers in For The Birds were an early test for Sulley’s fur.
The point is, Paperman is a technological and artistic advancement of the state of the art.
Personally, I don’t think Paperman was initiated to test the viability of this medium for feature production, but I am convinced that John Kahrs’ new assignment ‘to explore the techniques further’ is.
Although John Kahrs’ statement about his mysterious “pursuit” of this process is probably the most concrete reason to believe that a Paperman-style feature is on it’s way, it’s not the only reason…
2.) Animation Artists Are Insane:
Here’s (basically) how the Paperman process works:
- The CG animators animate the scene in CG pretty much the same way they do in any other CG film.
- The computer renders the CG animation in a flat, “cel shaded” or “toon shaded” kind of way. (There’s no line art/ drawing at this point, just the fills.)
- The lines are drawn by hand onto the key frames inside of what appears to be the custom software that was designed for the production.
- This software “sticks” the drawings to the CG models in the keyframes and auto-generates the in-betweens the animation… Sort of.
- The auto-generated in-betweens are not as artful as the completely hand-made keyframe drawings so the animators still have to go through and tweak the in-betweens to look authentically hand-drawn, appealing and organic.
- The paper texture is added in compositing. …but I can’t tell if the paper texture is added before or after the drawings.
Watch the silent, super-geeky Technical Reel that shows each stage of the process. It’s awesome.
UPDATE: Fast Company interviewed the ‘Paperman’ software engineer Ben Whited.
Needless to say, the process is extremely labor-intensive.
…but I just know that the team at Disney will take everything they learned on Paperman and streamline the process enough to do a feature.
It just has to happen. It’s time. …it’s just time.
I just can’t imagine that Disney would give up on this process – especially after the creative, critical and commercial success of this film and the wide public interest in how it works (more on this later).
Disney and Pixar both have a legacy of artistic mastery and innovation:
- …the exhaustive research and appeal in the character animation.
- …the sophisticated backgrounds in Sleeping Beauty and Bambi.
- …the fur in Monsters, Inc. …the ocean in Finding Nemo.
- The Incredibles. …basically all of it.
- …not to mention that Disney invented traditional feature animation and Pixar is responsible for the first CG feature (Toy Story).
Sure, the Paperman techniques are labor-intensive but that’s nothing new to this industry.
The term “labor-intensive” is basically synonymous with “animation.”
The question isn’t “Is the process too labor-intensive?” but rather, “How do we streamline the production process to be affordably labor-intensive?”
3.) Humans Crave Texture:
When the iPod was introduced, every physical product everywhere started to look like the iPod. White, shiny and minimal.
I remember the time I found a toaster at Target that looked just like an iPod and thought to myself “Alright, people. This has gone on long enough.”
But right after the iPod craze, Etsy happened.
Audiences crave texture, imperfection, things hand-made.
I know we’re all way past the CG/ hand-drawn debate but the current popularity of stop-motion is Exhibit A in the defense of hand-made animation as a viable medium for feature animation.
Imperfection in art is humanity in art.
…and this is the emotional reason to make a feature like Paperman.
Pitched explicitly, this concept might not persuade the numbers people, but this emotional undercurrent is, nonetheless, present and powerful.
4.) The Animation Industry Loves Drawing:
Watch this short clip where animation auteur Brad Bird says what pretty much everyone in the animation industry thinks about traditional animation:
John Kahrs said in the first Making Of Paperman video that when he came to Disney (from Pixar) he noticed that ‘drawing was everywhere.’
Everyone I can think of who works in the animation industry in any capacity LOVES traditional, hand-drawn animation.
UPDATE: Disney CEO Bob Iger recently made an official announcement that there are no traditionally hand-drawn features currently in development or in the production pipeline. …which means it will be at least five years before the next hand-drawn Disney feature. …and that’s if they start development today.
Despite the recent rumors that there are no hand-drawn features in the works at Disney, John Lasseter, Ed Catmull, Jeffrey Katzenberg and basically everyone in the animation industry (execs too) are fans of the medium.
Again, this reason is emotional, but it’s there and it’s not going away…
5.) The Movie Would Market Itself:
Disney legacy is tradition AND innovation. …and that is the perfect marketing position for a Paperman-style feature.
Even though, aesthetically, I prefer hand-drawn animation, I still love the medium of CG animation. I love the subtle nuance in the character performances, the gorgeous effects and the freedom in the cinematography.
…and though you can find the classic Disney heart, appeal and decorative secondary motion in Tangled and Wreck It Ralph, even mainstream audiences know that those movies are distinctly different than the hand-drawn films from which they grew.
But there are a huge number of CG movies these days and Paperman is genuinely unique.
…an exciting, noticeable, marketable innovation like Sulley’s fur, Nemo’s Ocean or The Incredibles.
The Paperman process gives the marketing department a very distinct message. The classic Disney legacy combined with a new, exciting technological frontier…
It gives audiences something new to “ooh and ahh” about and a new look which is appealing and unprecedented in the minds of the general, worldwide Disney audience.
The Bottom Line:
- If Disney can streamline the Paperman Process enough to make a hybrid film, they will make a great film with a great story just like they have done recently with Tangled and Wreck It Ralph and thus, it will be successful.
- The potential movie is, in itself, the perfect marketing position: Disney’s legacy of hand-drawn animation led us to our next technological innovation.
- A successful hybrid would, at least, increase the likelihood of another completely traditional, hand-drawn feature.
- Regardless of the outcome of John Kahrs’ current experiments at Disney, audiences have proven that the worldwide appetite for hand-drawn images in mainstream animation is only increasing. …which is good news for traditional artists.
Even if a Paperman-style feature is the closest thing we ever get to classic Disney animation, the Disney traditions, including those of creative mastery, innovation, drawing and appeal will live on.
…but I can also guarantee that the good people at Disney are paying close attention to the audience response to Paperman.
So be sure to tweet, share, like, reblog, pin and post about the film and your love for hand-drawn animation because now, more than ever, the audience is in charge of what gets the green light.
What Do You Think?
Does the Paperman process predict the future of Disney Animation? Will old-school, hand-drawn Disney animation ever come back?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below! I’m excited to hear what you have to say…