Paperman Review & Interview with Producer Kristina Reed

On Friday, November 2, 2012, Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph will be in theaters across the country. Prior to the start of the film movie goers will have the opportunity to view a short animated film called Paperman.

Here is a brief synopsis of the film;

Introducing a groundbreaking hybrid approach that seamlessly merges computer-generated and hand-drawn animation techniques, first-time director John Kahrs takes the art of animation in a bold new direction with Paperman, a new short from Walt Disney Animation Studios that debuts this November with the Disney feature Wreck-It Ralph. Using a minimalist black-and-white style, the short follows the story of a lonely young man (George) in mid-century New York City, whose destiny takes an unexpected turn after a chance meeting with a beautiful woman (Meg) on his morning commute. Convinced that the girl of his dreams is gone forever, he gets a second chance when he spots her in a skyscraper window across the avenue from his office. With only his heart, imagination and a stack of papers to get her attention, his efforts are no match for what the fates have in store for him.

It all began with a morning commute… 

Director John Kahrs began thinking about the basic premise for Paperman back in the early 1990s when he lived in New York City and commuted 38 miles each way to his job as an animator at Blue Sky Studios in Westchester County. “New York can be an intimidating place,” says Kahrs. “People tend to have their guard up when they’re going about their daily routine. I can remember being on the train wishing I could make a connection with someone and have more of a social life. I would come back through Grand Central Station and go straight home. I kept thinking, ‘Here I am in the most amazing city in the world and I’m just holed up in my apartment.’ Sometimes on my commute, I would see somebody and make eye contact and then that person would be gone forever. I started wondering what if that person was the one for me.

“I also began thinking about the notion of how a couple with a romantic connection would communicate across the big city,” continues Kahrs. “And this idea of throwing a paper airplane from one skyscraper to another was the visual hook that really got my gears turning. I started focusing on how this guy could reconnect with a girl he had made a connection with.”

I think we can all relate to this scenario. Even if it wasn’t from a romantic standpoint. I’m sure most people can relate to making a connection with someone, a total stranger, only to never see that person ever again. I think that is why Paperman felt very realistic – because it’s something that could easily happen in real life.

The film is only a few minutes long, yet in that brief amount of time it tells a complete story about how two people met, then met again through something as simple and innocent as a paper airplane.

It’s hard to describe the look of the film. It’s a combination of hand drawn animation and CGI (computer generated) animation. It has the look and feel of a classic 2-D (hand drawn) animation, but there are elements in it that provide the viewer with greater depth and details that hand drawn animations can’t convey (compliments of the CGI aspects).

The film is done entirely in black and white. I personally feel that it really adds to the film. I think it’s better in black and white then it would be in color. It’s a sweet, simple film. It doesn’t need any “bells and whistles” to get it’s story across.

When you go to see Wreck-It Ralph before to get there a bit early so you can catch the short film Paperman. It’s something you don’t want to miss.

When I was out in Los Angeles myself and the other wonderful bloggers I was with had the opportunity to learn more about the film from it’s Producer, Kristina Reed. Here are some highlights of the interview.

Q: How long did it take? (referring to making the film)

KR: It was about 14 months in all. And there was stretches of time where it was just like him (Director John Kahrs) and me. One of the things about making a short at Disney Animation is it has to fit in the cracks between our big features. So for most of the project, there were never more than 10 people on it. And then every once in a while, we’d get a phone call and it was like, okay, there’s ten animators available for six weeks. What can you do with them? And so we’d scramble around and figure it out and bring them all onto the show and have them work. And then they would go away again. In all there was quite a few people that touched it. But there was really a small crew of us that are the core of the project.

Q: What was the rationale behind the time period?

KR: He (Director John Kahrs)  knew from the very beginning that he wanted it to be in black and white. And he was very entranced by the black and white photography of New York. And then idea of these sky scrapers as sort of canyons and valleys and that you’re a human being are just sort of working your way across this sort of inhospitable landscape, surrounded by lots of people but very much alone. Unless you find someone in the world that you can connect with. So we sort of talk about it as (the) late 40’s, early 50’s New York.

Q: Will Disney do more of this technique?

KR: We want to play with it some more. We feel honestly like it’s somewhat our responsibility as one of the premiere in animation houses and certainly the house that invented this art. To put new visual looks out into the world for other artists to respond to. And so we’re hoping that this sort of inspires other folks to come in and and play with looks. I mean we feel there’s a vast frontier out there that is not just sort of hyper real CG, which is sort of where a lot of animation’s going right now. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s many stories that that form can tell very effectively. But it’s also partially responsibility to our roots. We feel like we want to make sure that we’ve explored every avenue of artistry that we can with the talent that we have. John is moving on to test this technique in color ’cause it’s very easy to say, whoa, that’s a cool technique. But it really lends itself to the story and only stories in the 40’s and only stories in cityscapes.

Q: Does this process take longer?

KR: It takes twice as long in animation ’cause you’re animating it twice. You’re running it through CG animators and hand drawn animators. And that’s the story because the world has been really captivated by the hybrid nature of that. That’s the story that sort of leads the pack. But the other technological innovation that happened on this project was the notion of simplified CGI. And we actually had a couple of guys on the show who had pioneered something internally. And we brought them on as well to help us. And what they saved in simplifying the CG helped us cover the cost of double animation.

Q: What does the CG contribute to what we’re seeing?

KR: Well, what CG has that hand drawn struggles with is a feeling of depth. Like you feel like you can step into the world. You feel like they’re running on real sidewalks and down real streets. And, you know, the way the light hits them. And you feel like there’s actually volume to those characters. They don’t just feel like two-dimensional paper. So, I feel like we’re very much sort of pulling the best out of both art forms. I feel like you could step into that world. I feel like I could stand next to George and stand next to Meg (referring to the characters in the film). When you go back and look at some of the early 2-D films, you don’t feel as much.

Q: Were both animation teams working at the same time?

KR: Unfortunately not just by availability. So things had to sort of get parked and then wait for someone to be available and then move forward. And that’s just the nature of producing something small when you’re in between other projects. But, yeah, if I were to do it again, I would love to have them work a little more closely. The crews ended up mingling more than they had on any other project. And both sides of the house claimed, wow, this was really a fun, fun project for that reason.

I’ll give you one example. Usually CG lighters are trying to add more volume and more space into a shot. On this project they were asked to flatten everything. Because if things weren’t flat, the line would look really out of place. You can’t go back to a scene from Tangled and add lines to her. It won’t live in the same frame. And so a lot of lighters were saying, wow, this was interesting having to think differently and pursue something different on this project.

Q: What are you doing next?

KR: I am actually moving onto a feature that hasn’t been announced yet. (It’s) coming soon. If you snoop around online, I’m sure you’ll find it.

Q: Live action or animated?

KR: Animated.

Look for Paperman, shown prior the the film Wreck-It Ralph, in theaters starting November 2, 2012.


*I was not compensated for this post. I posted this for the enjoyment of my site readers. Any opinions expressed are that of my own unless otherwise noted.

Related Posts:

About Kimberly

Kimberly Vetrano resides in the suburbs of New York City with her family and "mini zoo" consisting of five cats, a dog and a Goldfish. Kimberly is a teacher's assistant for a Kindergarten class. When she is not working or blogging, Kimberly enjoys taking photos of nature and hanging out with family and friends.