• Country: United States / Japan
  • Initial release: November 2, 2012
  • Film Director: John Kahrs
  • Running Time: 7 Minutes
  • IMDB Grade: 8.2

In a groundbreaking move, Disney Animation captivated audiences in 2012 with a short film that accompanied the release of Wreck-It Ralph. Titled Paperman, this charming animated short not only told a heartwarming story but also showcased a revolutionary animation technique. Combining classic hand-drawn 2D animation with 3D computer-generated art, Paperman broke new ground by seamlessly merging these two distinct styles. In this article, we delve into the magic of Paperman, exploring the innovative techniques employed, the inspiration behind the story, and the future of this hybrid animation approach.

The Story of Paperman

A Chance Encounter

Paperman introduces us to an ordinary protagonist, an everyday guy commuting to his ordinary job in the bustling city. One windy day, fate intervenes, and he accidentally crosses paths with a lovely young woman. However, before he can gather the courage to speak to her, she boards her train and disappears from his life. Left pondering the missed connection, our protagonist sits dejectedly at his desk, surrounded by a mountain of paperwork. As he gazes out the window, hope flickers within him when he spots the object of his affection sitting near an open window in a building across the street.

The Power of Paper

Desperate to capture her attention, our protagonist turns to the stack of paper on his desk. With nimble fingers, he crafts paper airplanes one after another, launching them into the air with the hope that just one will find its way into her hands. What unfolds is a delightful, sweet, and magical sequence that showcases the power of determination, love, and the unexpected.

The Revolutionary Animation Technique

Merging Hand-drawn and Computer-generated Art

What sets Paperman apart is the groundbreaking technology employed in its creation. For the first time, Disney Animation seamlessly merged classic hand-drawn 2D animation with 3D computer-generated art. While computer-generated imagery (CGI) had been previously used for vehicles, architecture, and inanimate objects in traditional animation, Paperman took this integration a step further by merging both styles within the same character. The characters were initially modeled in CG and rendered in high contrast to create the modeling and shading. Then, using a proprietary software program called Meander, hand-drawn linework was integrated, resulting in a final product that resembled traditional “classic” animation but with a sense of solidity and volume more commonly seen in CGI films.

The Vision Behind the Technique

The visionary behind Paperman is director John Kahrs, whose personal experiences and observations inspired the story. Kahrs, a reverse commuter who lived in New York City and worked in the suburbs, found himself contemplating the disparity between his life and the city’s vibrant energy. He often wondered why he felt lonely despite being a single man in a bustling metropolis. These musings led him to explore the theme of missed connections, which became the core of Paperman. The short film allowed Kahrs to convey his emotions and experiences, capturing the essence of longing and the hope of finding love in unexpected places.

The Journey of Paperman

A Cohesive Approach to Animation

Paperman’s creation marked Disney’s return to hand-drawn animation after a hiatus during Michael Eisner’s tenure. The studio had previously separated hand-drawn talent from CG talent, leading to disjointed workflows. However, with the production of The Princess and the Frog and the simultaneous development of Tangled, Disney recognized the need for a more cohesive approach. Producer Kristina Reed championed this cause, advocating for the matching of hand-drawn and CG talent to explore new visual frontiers. The convergence of these two animation styles not only showcased the studio’s breadth of talent but also opened doors for future artistic exploration.

The Beauty of Hand-drawn Animation

Reed, who herself had experience in computer graphics, emphasized the beauty and expressiveness of hand-drawn animation. She, along with director John Kahrs, was captivated by the ability of line artists to convey emotions and create depth with just a single stroke. In contrast, achieving the same level of expressiveness in the CG world proved challenging and detached from the art itself. The simplicity and elegance of hand-drawn animation, with its ability to capture raw emotions with a single line or subtle movement, served as a driving force behind the creation of Paperman.

The Artistic Choices of Paperman

A Black and White Visual Metaphor

One of the striking artistic choices in Paperman was the decision to present the film in black and white. Director John Kahrs drew inspiration from black and white photography of New York, using the cityscape as a visual metaphor for the protagonist’s isolation. The towering skyscrapers represented canyons and valleys, with the protagonist navigating the inhospitable landscape surrounded by a sea of people. The absence of color heightened the emotions and emphasized the longing for connection, highlighting the stark contrast between the protagonist’s inner world and the vibrant city around him.

The Timeless Setting of the 20th Century

Paperman’s narrative unfolds in the middle of the 20th century, a deliberate choice made by director John Kahrs. This era, with its vintage aesthetics and nostalgic charm, perfectly complemented the story’s themes of missed connections and timeless romance. By setting the film in a bygone era, Kahrs created a sense of timelessness, allowing audiences to relate to the story regardless of their own experiences. The choice of the 20th century also facilitated the integration of hand-drawn and CG animation, as the styles seamlessly blended into the classic backdrop.

The Making of Paperman

A Labor of Love

The production of Paperman spanned approximately 14 months, with a small core crew working on the project. Due to the short film’s creation fitting within the gaps between larger feature releases, the team could never exceed ten people at once. The availability of animators determined the project’s timeline, with bursts of intense work followed by periods of relative calm. Despite the logistical challenges, the dedicated team poured their hearts and souls into bringing Paperman to life, resulting in a visually stunning and emotionally resonant masterpiece.

Pioneering New Visual Looks

Disney Animation views itself not only as a premiere animation house but also as a torchbearer for new visual styles and techniques. The success of Paperman reinforced the studio’s commitment to pushing boundaries and exploring uncharted territories. By merging hand-drawn and CG animation, Disney aims to inspire other artists and expand the horizons of animation. Director John Kahrs has already embarked on further explorations, testing the technique in color and venturing beyond the cityscape of the 1940s. These endeavors aim to showcase the versatility of the technique and its potential for diverse storytelling.


Paperman stands as a testament to the power of innovation and artistic vision. By seamlessly blending hand-drawn and CG animation, Disney Animation created a visually stunning masterpiece that captured the hearts of audiences worldwide. The timeless story of missed connections, the beauty of hand-drawn artistry, and the pioneering spirit of Disney Animation have paved the way for a new era in animation. As technology continues to advance, we can only anticipate the further evolution of this hybrid animation approach, as Disney and other studios continue to experiment, inspire, and captivate us with their unparalleled creativity. So, let us embrace the magic of Paperman and the boundless possibilities that lie ahead in the world of animation.

1 Film Review

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  • One of the striking creative decisions in Paperman was the choice to introduce the film clearly. Chief John Kahrs drew motivation from high contrast photography of New York, involving the cityscape as a visual illustration for the hero’s confinement. The transcending high rises addressed gulches and valleys, with the hero exploring the ungracious scene encompassed by an ocean of individuals. The shortfall of variety elevated the feelings and stressed the yearning for association, featuring the glaring difference between the hero’s internal world and the lively city around him.