Recently watched Paperman in theaters along with Wreck-It Ralph; which were both very solid pieces! Since this blog is a 2D animation blog though, I will only be talking about the former here, but really, Wreck-It Ralph is a must watch too with its homage to many pop culture and video game characters. Anyway, I’ll discuss about both the artist and origin of the idea behind Paperman.
John Kahrs was an animator who has worked for both Disney and Pixar; in other words he has always worked with people who were experienced with both 2D and 3D mediums of animation. Kahrs didn’t want to completely revert back to traditional animation though considering even films like Princess and the Frog nowadays are mostly done with computers. Using CG in the process of animating is also a much quicker process than drawing every frame by hand, as frames on the computer can be replicated and tweaked through fewer clicks than pencil strokes, and this requires less skill as an artist (including from himself) than doing it the traditional way. 3D also makes actions flow in a way that imitates real life more, but he didn’t want this kind of animation to be the only type of 3D audiences should be exposed to.
As an animator who wanted to be able to send a message in more ways than what photorealistic animation usually brings to the table, he still wanted to bring back the smooth fluidity of animated paper drawings back into the picture of animation as well. This is something I appreciate because I know many artists fear that 2D animation will eventually go away and be replaced, even if drawings and quick sketches are still needed for pre-production and storyboarding. With Paperman, the plan to execute the combination of digital and traditional animation was to “get these drawings to move on top of a base layer of computer generated forms”. As a result of this technique, there was the characteristic 3D movement found in the characters and overall feel of the environment they’re in, but there is also that 2D style that is apparent, especially in still frames.
However, just merely drawing and lining over the 3D layers alone didn’t bring out the traditional aspect: there were strategies that was employed to make this look like it was really on paper, such as the paper texture on top, and making sure some lines don’t close or connect in certain areas of the character. The lines don’t appear cleaned up like CG lines on 3D characters. And because of those line breaks, the eyes of the female character Meg look more 2D with varying ink/pen stroke size, and lays flat on her facial features instead of concaving in, making the eyes appear more crisp.
Even though it appears to be the first animation to employ such tactics, this isn’t what completely dominated the audience since many people who commented about the shorts online talked about the story idea within Paperman as well, including Perry Chen who thinks this style fits the 1900’s well. Ultimately, his goal wasn’t to show off this new style in a grandiose manner, but he wanted to demonstrate with his vision another way to portray stories on screen. He doesn’t feel that one style is more superior to the other, but instead as two potential ways in one to deliver here both feelings of nostalgia, and a refreshing new way to create a motion piece.