If you went and saw the retro gaming-inspired flick Wreck-It Ralph at the cinemas, you'd have also seen the excellent short "Paperman" that plays before it. Walt Disney Animation Studios recently uploaded Paperman to YouTube, where it's accrued six million views in three days. Paperman's unique, loveable style is thanks to new tech the studio has developed that blends old with new.
The studio calls the technology "Meander" and as Paperman director John Kahrs explains, the idea behind it was to bring across the expressiveness and individuality imparted to characters by an artist's hand and merge it with the power and flexibility of computer generated imagery.
He also mentions Disney's legacy and talent with traditional 2D animation; being able to leverage that history and make it relevant in an age dominated by 3D was something he felt important.
How is this blending achieved exactly? An article on Entertainment Weekly provides more specifics:
First the characters and backgrounds were rendered digitally, and then hand-drawn art was layered over those shapes, giving the figures a kind of 3D quality unseen in old-school animation. "What you’re seeing is a very stylised CG layer [underneath], but the feel of the image is very flat and lives in between the two," Kahrs says.
The Meander program, created by Disney software engineer Brian Whited, allows the 2D hand-drawn artwork to "stick" to the dimensional CG layer underneath. "A cynic would say it's high-tech rotoscoping," Kahrs says, referring to an old animation technique of tracing over live-action film stills. "Really it's more than that. It's meant to celebrate the line, and bring it back up to the front of the image again."
But you certainly don't need to know the details to enjoy Paperman. It's easily the best six-and-a-half-minutes you'll spend today.