Inside Disney’s New Animated Short Paperman
DS: Will the success of this hybrid technique on Paperman lead to an expansion of its use on other projects at Disney?
KR: Definitely. John has already been asked to explore other environments where this technique can be applied, other looks this can stretch into.
DS: What’s the driving force behind the continued production of shorts at Disney?
KR: From Disney’s very beginning, shorts have been a main thrust of innovation. It started with synchronized sound on Steamboat Willie in 1928. We were the first studio to put color in animation on Flowers and Trees. The multi-plane camera was used for the first time in the 1930s on The Old Mill. That ended up being used for Snow White. We have a rich history of using shorts to further new ideas. This dovetails beautifully with how we viewed Paperman. In addition, the other reason we make shorts is to groom new talent. John Kahrs is a first time director. Jeff Turley, our art director, was just a trainee four years ago. It’s exciting to watch young talent learning to supervise. Those are the two main thrusts of shorts within Disney. Pushing technical innovation and pushing development of talent. For those reasons shorts will always play a role here. They’re not necessarily all earmarked to be released with feature films the way Pixar has done consistently. Putting them out into the world is not necessarily our primary goal.
DS: Describe the incubation process for shorts. Why did you make Paperman as opposed to any of the other shorts that had been pitched?
KR: We have a whole studio filled with artists dying to make shorts. Pitches happen constantly. At the time Paperman was being considered, there was a lot of conversation at the studio regarding taking advantage of the talent in our hand-drawn team as well as the CG team. Coming out of Tangled, seeing what Glen Keane had been able to do, how could we continue that legacy? That was the conversation that went on when we took on Winnie the Pooh. So Paperman was a natural extension of that exploration and discussion. How can we blend these talents together? How can we get the best of both worlds? It’s a given computer graphics are moving towards photorealism. But, like John said, what are the other visual frontiers we can explore? When you see the film, you’ll see we haven’t even begun to explore all the ways this technique can be used.
DS: How long did it take to make the film? What type of crew did you put together?
KR: The film took a little over a year to make. Our core team was less than 10 people. What would happen is whenever there was a blip of availability of other artists, we would grab them and use them for a bit. Then they’d go back to whatever project they’d been working on.
JK: Part of the design of making shorts is that they’re supposed to be done between productions. Part of the year spent making Paperman was me, by myself, storyboarding and re-boarding for three months. There was one person on the short, then eight. Then all of a sudden, I’m told, “You have 14 animators for six weeks. Go!” So, we had to get all the CG elements done in that amount of time. It’s hard to really measure, but there was a pretty small core group at the center of the film’s production.
DS: John, what’s next for you? Will you be traveling the festival circuit in support of the film’s release?
JK: I’m doing three things. One is animating on Wreck-it Ralph. I’m also supposed to pursue more with this hybrid technique. That will probably happen in the fall. The third thing is I’m doing the festival circuit with Paperman.
DS: Kristina, what’s next for shorts at Disney?
JK: I’m not sure I can talk about it! [laughs] I’ll just say this is the first of many attention grabbers. Sorry I can’t share more.
Dan Sarto is publisher and editor-in-chief of Animation World Network.