January 31, 2013

Academy Award Nominated Animation 'Paperman' is a Gorgeous Blend of 2D and 3D

Academy Award nominees are rarely available for free (legally) online before the actual Oscar ceremonies, but that's exactly the case with the short animation Paperman, produced with the help of Disney. The film is getting attention for more than just the nomination -- the technique used is an interesting blend of 2D hand-drawn animation mixed with a 3D world. It's not the first time that we've seen techniques like this used, but it may very well bring back some of the things many of us loved about traditional 2D animation. Check out Paperman and some behind the scenes videos below.


Here's a brief excerpt from Short of the Week on the film:

The key phrase is “classical-looking”. The buzz of animation circles for well over a year, Paperman is the beta test of a potentially momentous shift in animation technology. Using 3D modeling to create the world and models, 2D hand-drawn animation is directly applied to the image in a novel new process developed in-house. French schools have been experimenting for a while with 2D aesthetics in 3D, most notably Bastien Dubois’ Oscar-nominee Madagascar: Carnet de Voyagebut this takes the proceedings to another level of loveliness.

Here is a visual breakdown of the animation:


Check out some behind the scenes videos Disney has posted on their YouTube page:




I think delightful would be an understatement. Paperman does what I think is missing from a lot of animation: it brings the life back. Computer animation will never be the same as real life (though it may be indistinguishable some day), but hand-drawn animation has a certain charm about it. It's one thing that I think Pixar has been able to capture in their films -- they tend to feel more "lived-in" than some other computer animations out there.

If you want an example of showing and not telling, Paperman is it.

What do you think of the technique used? Would you like to see more of it in animation? What is your preference -- 2D or 3D?

Link: Paperman -- Short of the Week

Your Comment


I saw this and loved it. Unfortunately, I saw waaay too many similarities in plot to the Australian award-winning short film "Signs" from 2008, and although I'm sure the idea isn't wholly original, some of the shots that are used (him looking out the window, seeing her, trying to get her attention) alongside the plot similarities make it seem a bit too similar to just be a coincidence.


January 31, 2013 at 6:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Beat me to it! Gah I was so excited to bring this to discussion but yeah I 110% agree with you. I really want to know what others are thinking.

January 31, 2013 at 7:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Thought the same!

January 31, 2013 at 10:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Glad someone else noticed!

February 1, 2013 at 3:54AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Thanks for sharing that short. That's a better short anyway - and wow, that does seem more than coincidence. The animation is nice is the Disney but the story bored me.

February 1, 2013 at 1:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Haha glad I wasnt the only one! The animated short is nice but a total rip off

February 1, 2013 at 7:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Cool film! Thanks for sharing it.

February 13, 2013 at 11:37AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


In my opinion Disney is too predictable. They are not good storytellers anymore.

January 31, 2013 at 7:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

Pablo Saldana

Visually it was fantastic, I especially loved the dramatic lighting, it reminded me of the work of Pascal Campion, the character design and dramatic lighting.
I don't think the story was all together original but I think it was well told.
The 2D/3D hybrid has been tried many times with mixed success in my opinion. The Japanese and the French seem to do it with most success. Blood, triplets of Belleville and lots of Goeblins productions are good examples.
Watching the process video I can't help but think how silly it seems to have such a complex process to re-create a traditional process. However, the visuals speak for themselves.

January 31, 2013 at 8:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM



January 31, 2013 at 8:25PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Cool thanks for the post :). I really do admire this short, it's very appealing. Thanks for that post above wes, I'd say it defenitely resembles SIGNS.

This effect actually isn't a "blend of 2D hand-drawn animation mixed with a 3D world". It's all 3D. The characters, the set, etc. They just used a toon shader on the characters giving them a flat rendering, no different than what Iron Giant, for example, like you stated as well. It can be done quite easily in most 3D packages, like Maya: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TF6pPQnzSCE.

January 31, 2013 at 9:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Sorry, you're wrong about the effect. Cel shading effects are very limited because they're trying to create a hand drawn artistic effect without an artist hand drawing anything. What Disney did with this is very different...they're using the 3d animation to calculate motion vectors...then they draw the characters and animate those 2d drawings using the 3d motion vectors. Very clever, and it makes a huge difference. And it allows them to hand tweak the 2d stuff at every moment if they want to.

January 31, 2013 at 11:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Ah, yes I stand corrected. Thanks Gabe.

I assumed that the animators just moved their controls based on a perpendicular plane against the camera, but this is completely different.

February 1, 2013 at 12:22AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Saw this when I went to see Wreck-It-Ralph. Fun little animation. Don't think there was amazing innovative story telling going on, but I thought it was a great lil short.

February 1, 2013 at 6:43AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


I liked the animation style. At times it felt lifelike in the shading, like when the guy is walking down the street after the girl.

February 1, 2013 at 8:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


I, like a lot of the others here, watched it with the sense that I'd seen it before. Couldn't place where until I saw Wes' post at the top of these comments.

February 1, 2013 at 9:21AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


I loved the animation. From the start I said “ooooh, this will be one gorgeous looking short“. The story, however, does not stand up to the challenge. Although the first few minutes were compelling, the whole thing went downhill the moment the magical mystical paper airplanes appeared. There was no indication at all that something like that was likely to happen. Something tells me they had some great idea while writing the first few pages, and then couldn‘t decide how to end it, so they just threw a bunch of Disney magic in.

February 1, 2013 at 12:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Gets worse. This short also came out in 2009. Throwing paper airplanes from window to window. Interesting both shorts released in the same year. Paroles en l air http://youtu.be/Z3fCNSR3m8M

February 1, 2013 at 1:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


It looks like fake 2D, doesn't really get to me. I liked the gray look and lighting though. Story? Well, it's Disney, what can you expect...

February 1, 2013 at 2:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM