The Importance of Disney’s “Paperman”

It’s been quite some time, hasn’t it?

I’ve just been busy, that’s all.

I’ve been meaning to write about this subject for quite some time, ever since I saw “Wreck-it Ralph” at the theaters.

However, at the same time I had no way of truly knowing how to properly express my feelings and opinions on this Disney Masterpiece.

I’m not talking about “Wreck-it Ralph”, which is an amazing movie in its own right.

I’m talking about the 6-minute short that precedes that film, “Paperman”.

To fully understand the relevance of this little short film, it’s important to know what has come before: A long history of Disney animation.

Walt Disney Pictures has always been at the vanguard of feature-length animation. Starting with 1937’s Snow White, the Disney Pictures guys have worked towards making some of the most memorable films of all time– And all of them, animated using traditional hand-drawn animation techniques.

Or at least that’s the way it was supposed to be, until 1995 rolled around and Disney released the first feature-length Pixar production: Toy Story. The film, made entirely with Computer Graphics, was an instant hit across all age groups. More importantly, however, was the fact that it was now possible to make animation using CG entirely, and that opened up Pandora’s Box: Animation studios everywhere began considering CG as a viable alternative to traditional animation. Just look at the list of films Disney has released since the year 2000: The number of feature films done in traditional style has diminished considerably. Most “traditional” animation is now made entirely for Television, and using modern animation packages such as flash.

However, that does not mean Disney is all about the commercial success of their animations. Far from it! Their traditional animation techniques survive, and they do so in Short Film form. The last short film made in Disney’s old capture system, “The Little Match Girl”, shows that the potential of the medium is not entirely lost:

Now wasn’t that magical?

The guys at Disney do know their stuff. We can watch another one, yes? Let’s see a classic Goofy short, made in the style of the Good Old Goofy Films, but with a mixture of paper and paperless animation:

In all honesty, I can barely tell the difference.

Also, it’s a hoot, so who cares?

Well, people who love this kind of animation care. People like me.

You see, I love animation as a whole. Hand-drawn, CG, even experimental stuff made from, say, cutouts, all is good to me.

However, each medium has its own strengths and weaknesses, and to me, the biggest weakness in CG is how “stiff” everything looks.

You see, in hand-drawn animation you are allowed to improvise, to make everything more flexible for the sake of expression.

Just look at the Little Match Girl’s expressions, how her face is made of incredibly emotive clay.

Or Goofy’s… Everything, really. The guy’s made of rubber all around, so hilarious and so expressive.

Now look at the faces in, say, Toy Story 3, or Brave, or Wreck-it Ralph.

You can tell they’re trying to give that same kind of flexibility, and it works, to some extent: Expressions have gone a long way since the first Toy Story.

However, it doesn’t feel the same. They stretch, true, but they don’t flow.

Now go back to Paperman. Look at heir faces, their interactions, their movements.

They look a lot like CG, but they don’t behave like CG. They feel like they are hand-drawn.

And they feel so goddamn right.

When I first watched this short, I instantly realized I was watching something special.

Unlike my friends, who were impressed at the general look and feel and the story, I constantly praised how close it seemed to good old hand-drawn animation.

They heard, but they didn’t listen. It just wasn’t that important to them.

Then, this video came about:

You don’t need to understand all the technology that goes into this.

It’s pretty awesome stuff, but stuff that only entices tech people who know about this, and animators who are bound to work with this at some point.

Being one of the former, this video was confirmation that what I thought I had seen was real: The film was CG, but the keyframes for the movements, the expressions, were all made by the hands of good old animators.

The worlds have finally collided.

I can’t wait to see more stuff made by Disney with this technology, which they call “Meander”.

It’s the stuff of my wildest dreams, come true.

Now, let’s hope this one wins that Academy Award.

It’s well-deserved, in my opinion.