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Immersed in Movies: Talking Disney Animated Short Oscar Nominee 'Paperman,' See Full Video

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood January 30, 2013 at 3:56PM

Is Disney's hand-drawn animated legacy dead? Let's hope not. The new "Paperman" short may provide the answer for its survival. (See trailer below.) "Paperman," which just premiered at the Annecy Film Festival and debuts locally this week at the Los Angeles Film Fest (in 3-D), will play in theaters alongside Disney's "Wreck-It Ralph" on November 2.
'The Paperman'
'The Paperman'

It was all very serendipitous. Kahrs had first pitched "Paperman" to John Lasseter more than a decade ago at Pixar, but the bold project didn't get approved until after Glen Keane successfully merged 2D and 3D on "Tangled." Keane would draw over the CG animation to get a more organic look and more emotional resonance. Kahrs realized this is what "Paperman" needed.

"John really liked the idea of a story that took place in these canyon-like spaces among the skyscrapers of Manhattan, and the idea that it would be in black and white and have a bold sense of light and shadow," Kahrs continues.

At the same time, Disney was searching for a technique to leverage the "Tangled" experience. A young programmer named Brian Whited found the answer with his vector-based tool and producer Kristina Reed says it all coalesced around "Paperman," with Jeff Turley art directing the photographic look of Manhattan and Patrick Osborne supervising the experimental animation.

"We would sit in dailies and John [Kahrs] would say it looked too CG," recalls Reed. "Effortless lives in that nebulous space in between -- put it back there."

"I was after two things," Kahrs admits. "We should totally confuse the audience and they should be totally accepting of it at the same time. When watching, it's really difficult to tell if it's 2D or 3D. But it's an easy-to-watch technique. The best thing about 2D is the expressive line; and there's a lot of appeal in the drawings. And the best thing about 3D is it's so stable and dimensional and it doesn't crawl and boil."

Kahrs and Disney are definitely experimenting further with this potentially ground-breaking approach that empowers animators. Kahrs even hinted that it might find its way into a feature, which would mean the next iteration for hand-drawn. "It's so fast and responsive and expressive and the power of being able to manipulate the lines after you've drawn them is nothing like I've seen before," Kahrs marvels.

Like this year's Oscar winner, "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore," "Paperman" taps a similar retro vibe. See if it delivers the storytelling goods as well below.


This article is related to: Animation, Walt Disney, Shorts, Short Film, Oscars, Awards, Awards

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.