Walt Disney Animation have tried, though you may argue about how hard they have tried, to resuscitate big-screen, big-budget hand drawn animation over the last few years. Having said that, they may already have thrown in the towel as there appears to be nothing on their slate that will employ the medium – at least, not in the next three or fours years worth of releases.
But fans of hand-drawn animation who are lucky enough to have seen one of the studio's new, CG-rendered projects have positively exploded with excitement.
Though it's hard to boil the technology down to a simple explanation, the new short film Paperman has been created with some rather revolutionary techniques. What the viewer can see on screen will be a computer generated image, albeit one stylised in a very painterly way. It has not, however, been animated in the standard computer graphics fashion.
Instead, Paperman was animated using an input interface that works a lot like hand drawing onto paper, and these "pencil strokes" are then interpreted by the computer interface, and the CG model is posed accordingly. Not every frame needs to be drawn and, if I understand, not every part of the image has to be drawn, just where input is necessary. It sounds quite a bit like key-framing via a hand drawn interface.
And when the shots are done, the images appear to be fully three dimensional, and move with a mass and solidity that's familiar from CG work, but also have the graphic qualities of something created "flat."
Disney have several posters for the film, and they're on display around the Hat Building, where their animation teams work. A good-quality version of one of them has been released via a Facebook page set up for the film.
Impressive as a still image might look, it's only when the footage is moving that the full effect can be seen. I believe we'll all get a chance to be blown away by Paperman in motion when Wreck-It Ralph opens later this year.
Here's the official blurb for the film:
Introducing a groundbreaking technique 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.
Using a minimalist black-and-white style, the short follows the story of a lonely young man in mid-century New York City, whose destiny takes an unexpected turn after a chance meeting with a beautiful woman on his morning commute. Convinced 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.
Created by a small, innovative team working at Walt Disney Animation Studios, Paperman pushes the animation medium in an exciting new direction.
If the rumours are true, Ron Clements and John Musker are experimenting with the idea of using this technology for their upcoming feature film. Only time will tell if this pans out, but I'm sure we've not seen the last of this technique, not by a long shot.