The wife-o-tron and I went to see Wreck-It Ralph last night and the experience has stuck with me. It was a wonderful date night filled with film and food. But it’s not the feature itself that really resonated with me. Albeit Wreck-It Ralph is an incredibly good movie, carefully handled and lovingly crafted, it’s more the short film that preceded the movie that I can’t get out of my head.
The name of the short is “Paperman”, you can probably find stuff about it on Google or any of the other menagerie of search engines out there. But if you can’t, here’s a small taste of it:
Here’s a video of the director of the short, John Kahrs describing the look, which basically pares down to hand-drawn characters interacting with pre-rendered three dimensional backgrounds. And you’re probably like, “Yeah? So what? It’s been done, who cares?” Yes, it has, but it’s never been done quite this well, at least not that I can remember. Usually when studios try that kind of integration, they do some cheap cel-shaded look which, in my opinion, looks absolutely godawful and kludgy a majority of the time. But here it looks like the characters fit with everything. There’s some subtlety to the way that the characters are animated, they’re fluid, they’re not stuck in some weird axial movement like CG rendered characters.
In this article Mr. Kahrs describes the expressiveness of the drawn line. How just a few strokes of a pen here or there can change something so incredibly. A shift from a zenith to a nadir can mean that the character is happy as opposed to sad, and yes, this is obvious. But it’s not so much what’s relegated to the paper, but also the feelings of the person behind the tool. A hard line might mean that the artist was upset with something, or it could mean that he was trying to convey that the thing he was jotting down was an impressive or imposing figure. You can’t easily get that kind of nuance with CG animated characters at this juncture in technology.
Wreck-It Ralph does look incredible, fluid and wonderful. It’s incredibly polished as a film, but why couldn’t it have been drawn in this style instead? Ease of use? Probably not, it still takes one and a half to two years to finish one of these productions with the same amount of manpower. It probably has to do with the industry standard, Pixar and their ilk, much to their credit, has made it so that it’s incredibly hard to market a traditionally animated film, which I think stanches the overall output of animation, which I hold in incredibly high esteem. In fact, I regularly wanted to do something in animation, though I never cared enough about my art to begin even trying.
I love cartoons, and anime, and 3D CGI stuff, but there’s room for all of these things in the marketplace. I remember watching Kung-Fu Panda years ago and being really disappointed that more of the movie wasn’t done in the very fluid, traditionally drawn style of the opening sequence. I thought it looked gorgeous, and I think there’s just something soulless to everything just being rendered out from a giant server farm in polygons, as opposed to done in some sort of Photoshop equivalent on a handful of drawing tablets. We have the technology. Let’s start doing something like that.
Let’s change the paradigm so that all forms of animation are openly accepted and released in the consumer space. I’m game to start something if anyone else is. It’s not like I do anything else.