I knew SIGGRAPH would be the perfect venue for Disney’s hybrid breakthrough Paperman short. The confluence of art and technology was a natural and the crowd was very appreciative. Director John Kahrs led a discussion about the making of the short that included art director Jeff Turley, animation supervisor Patrick Osborne, animator Amol Sathe, and programmer Brian Whited.
Kahrs proclaimed that stylized realism isn’t the only way to go so he embraced a black and white photographic aesthetic inspired by the WPA New York pictures in the ’40s and ’50s. It fit perfectly with his rom-com about the canyon-like spaces between skyscrapers and silvery light. Paperman celebrates the drawings (especially the power of the line) and makes them move, but at the same time takes advantage of the dynamic appeal and performance of the CG animation. The search for a new technique began with Osborne experimenting with polygons in Maya; he reached out to Turley for his input. Turns out Whited was working independently on the vector-based Meander interface, which was discovered by Kahrs and “hijacked” for his project. The challenge in drawing over the CG was getting the line to move frame to frame in a stable way — this was not toon shading. It was in-betweening and motion tracking simultaneously. Backgrounds were comprised of matte paintings that were texture mapped. However, it helped having Glen Keane drawing Meg. Her eyes are unmistakably his.
Meanwhile, Paperman will play with Cinderella Aug. 15-21 at the El Capitan before going wide with Wreck-It Ralph on Nov. 2 (in 3-D).
The next step will be applying this to color, where the lines could break up and get lost. Kahrs and company will be doing a test in the hopes of applying it to a feature in the near future. I briefly spoke with Kahrs, Turley, and Osborne.
So the underlying base for this is CG?
Kahrs: I’m a CG guy and as a director I had to plant my flag there because I needed an acting foundation to rely on.
But it’s become clear that hand-drawn and CG are two different techniques even though you’ve blended them together so beautifully.
Osborne: They totally are and you have to respect that. But I think with Paperman you make that leap back into the clean line of the 2D again.
But you found the perfect story to explore the hand-drawn metaphor by not throwing the airplanes away in the story.
Kahrs: I felt bad saying how we really weren’t using paper.
That in itself is an evolution. So when experimenting with color you’re going to have to bend this interface?
Turley: I think we’re going to have to break it. With Paperman, we were able to get everyone up to speed in a consistent way. But it probably will become a little bit more difficult because everyone has to become a better animator.
At least no one will complain about a lack of empowerment.
Osborne: I think it’s empowering that the line has the last word.