By Alexander Wood
When it comes to Academy Award winners, we often root for the underdog – the lesser-known filmmakers who somehow find their names up in neon lights with audiences around the globe eagerly lining up to discover what all the buzz is about. John Kahrs’s ‘Paperman’, this year’s Oscar winner for best animated short, wasn’t made in someone’s basement on a shoestring budget; rather, it came to life in the slick studios of Walt Disney. Despite the filmmakers having hundreds of Disney employees and state-of-the-art equipment at their disposal, the film feels more small-scale than one might expect. The black-and-white styling, copious paper airplanes and depiction of an unconventional love story set in the corporate America of the 40s creates an intimate snapshot of love and life in a time before our own.
The attention to detail is outstanding, from the main character’s bespoke suit to the classic cars that line the streets. Scenes are equal parts authentic 40s NYC and artistic interpretation, which fosters the perfect environment for a narrative defined by a romantic sense of chance. The unnamed paperman meets a beautiful girl at a train station; the wind whisks away a piece of paper that becomes marked with a kiss by the mystery woman, who steps onto a train and disappears. The imprint of the red lipstick is the only colour element in the film, and it helps the paperman to navigate the dull, grey landscape of the city, and to discover excitement outside the monotony of being a brick in the corporate wall.
The use of light and shadow plays a significant role in focusing the viewer’s attention and creating a sense of two juxtaposed worlds that exist simultaneously; one the refined, stark city, the other the passions that exist within it. If some elements of the style seem familiar, that could be because Kahrs worked on the animated classics ‘A Bug’s Life’, ‘Toy Story 2’, ‘The Incredibles’ and ‘Bolt’.
In a world where animation is increasingly becoming digital, it is refreshing to watch a film that is hand-drawn, albeit with some help from modern technology. Using an in-house technology called Meander, the filmmaking team was able to capture the expressiveness of 2D drawing while coupling it with the realism of CGI. A unique element of Meander is the animators’ ability to adjust and revise the film by actually erasing away the CGI elements if they so desire. This fluidity of process helped create a more homegrown style that is lacking in many animation projects taken on by other big studios.
With a runtime of only six-and-a-half minutes, ‘Paperman’ does an impeccable job of creating a nostalgic world and bringing the viewer into the narrative. Not every animated film makes us feel for the animated strokes of pencil. This one delivers a unique style and a quality of visual storytelling that will have viewers longing for an adventure on the streets of New York City. If you haven’t had the chance to watch this award-winning short, click here and get better acquainted.